Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Running for Prez huh? Take a number

So, you're running for President, you say. You want to come to Storm Lake to talk to those genuine, hardworking, stereotypically flanneled Iowa folks you love soooo much and hardly ever refer to as "photo ops" anywhere that the general public can hear.

Here you go, sporto, take a number and stand on line.

I think we had four candidates or candidates' wives in four days this past week - half a dozen in the two weeks leading up to the straw poll. I almost cringe when the phone rings.

They roam in packs. So do ferrets and alternative rock bass players, I believe, but that's a column for another day.

The preferred method of political appearance for 2007 is to wave a cute child around - preferably one that is the candidate's own prop - er, child or grandchild. If one of those is not available, I believe the state party headquarters has some specially-trained youngsters available for rent (these could be midget actors, I'm not positive on that one.)

Nothing like a cute kid to distract the soft-hearted heartlanders from the fact that a candidate is basically feeding the audience whatever it wishes to hear, and never quite explaining how they plan to pay for all of the outrageous promises.

Somewhere, in the Candidate's Iowa Owner's Manual, it must suggest that politics and cuisine are somehow intertwined.

In Storm Lake, that means hitting Lakeshore Cafe, Coffee Plus, throwing an ice cream social, or latching onto a dinner meeting of teachers union reps with freebie brewskies in hand. Is there no place non-food-related they could go?

I've been thinking about that. Appetite is said to be closely related to the brain's pleasure center. Eating equals happy. Happy equals vote for the person who happens to be speaking to you as you eat. Just like baby ducks imprint on their parent during their first feeding... or so the odd theory must go.

On the other hand, the politician may just be afraid no one is going to show to listen to them. By bringing the campaign to a restaurant, they can at least address the unsuspecting diners and pretend they have drawn an adoring crowd.

The campaigns seem none too organized yet. The common approach seems to be to e-mail the newspaper office about a day before the speech - the public may not ever know the candidate is in town. Sometimes, they only call you as they hit the cafe and want the local media to drop everything and rush to cover their impromptu, often cookie-cuttered speech.

Tancredo is an exception, I must say. He not only promoted his visit like Barnum and Bailey, he actually bought ads in the small-city media to alert the public, instead of expecting the local media to serve as a free publicity staff. Imagine that.

If a person can't plan a weekly schedule, it's hard to believe they can plan the future of the country.

It's an almost surreal experience, being in Iowa at this heady time in the election cycle, in a crowded and wide-open field with no president or vice president running, and before the stragglers go broke and begin to fall to the wayside. The first caucus locks the hopefuls into racing around a relatively low-population, rural state like Paris and Nicole on Rodeo Drive during fashion week.

Candidates are everywhere. If you aren't careful, you'll step in one. After a while, it makes Iowans jaded. Immense, famous national leaders available to sign your body part of choice at the local cafe today? Yawwwwn... again?

For a vote, Hillary Clinton will pose in a personal photo gripping and grinning like a long-lost buddy. Mitt Romney will flirt with your grandmother. John Edwards will wash your car. The spouse, a show business aquaintence or hometown supporters - all are fair game to deploy to chat up a half dozen Iowans. What next - the family golden retreiver on tour?

When I talk to journalist friends in other states, they are amazed. If a frontrunner presidential candidate deemed to pass through their burgs, they'd stop the presses and consider it the story of the year. Even in small-town Iowa, it's everyday stuff. The future leader of the free world maybe gets a brief on page 3 or 15 seconds after commercial on the radio news.

In this coverage, each candidate will carefully feel bad about what is happening in Iraq but fail to say what they would have done after 9/11 instead. The candidate who has been divorced what, eight times? will tell you how to restore the sanctity of the family unit. They will offer huge pay raises to teachers, free medical care for all, cheap fuel with no dependency and a reversal of global warming, all to be accomplished in their first 45 minutes in office, with no mention of where all the magic money comes from to do it all. Niiiiiiiice.

They will close with a rubber-stamp comment about how Iowa reminds them of their dear old home town (as opposed to the upscale suburb where their 16 bedroom mansions with indoor polo arenas are now located).

And the day after the causus, nothing will be left but a puff of exhaust and skid marks. Not an ice cream social, a candidate grandchild waving or breakfast interruption at the local cafe to be had. We may miss them then, and feel a little left out, and hope that the eventual winner remembers Iowa just a little.

The crowds seem to be getting smaller as the campaign goes on, and perhaps we are not doing a very good job of taking our unprecedented opportunity to impress our values on the hit parade of national leaders who traipse through our state and city. What we tell them, I suspect, may actually be a heck of a lot more important than what they have to tell us.