Now that the damned Iowa caucuses are—finally!—here, let’s take a moment to reflect on the quality of the electorate to whom politicians on both sides have to plead or pander.
Those of us who follow this democracy stuff closely—or who spend some time talking to our family, friends, or neighbors—understand one thing about the electorate. It’s a messy mix of folks, some very familiar with the political landscape, some vaguely familiar, and many fooled by their favorite guides who lead them into bias-confirming cul-de-sacs. And there are still others, perhaps a majority, who are lost in a wilderness of ignorance and superstition and, well, bigotry.
It’s that last group of voters I want to highlight today by giving a couple of examples. First, we have this article from The Huffington Post:
This Iowan, Rebecca Thoeni, says she “was all for women’s power” and caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2008. But now she is disillusioned with Democrats for, as HuffPo summarized it, “failing to adequately turn things around.” I suppose it matters what you mean by adequately. Going from losing 800,000 jobs every month to gaining 200,000 jobs every month seems like a pretty good turnaround, but then facts have some rudimentary value to me, if not to Ms. Thoeni.
These days this proud and enthusiastic Iowan proudly and enthusiastically supports Donald J. Trump because, as we all know, “He’s down to earth and seems to have a lot of common sense.” Yes, from the minute he opened his presidential campaign by riding down that escalator in Midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower, adorned by his newest young and glamorous wife, we could all see how down to earth he is. In fact, one might look at that grand entrance as really The Donald signaling to the rabble that he is descending from on high to become one of them, just like that Jesus guy did in the New Testament. And common sense? Why, the man is full of it. His opening campaign speech that day, what Trump-supporting Ann Coulter called “That Mexican Rapist Speech,” was as commonsensical as anything the other Republicans had been saying before or have been saying since.
In any case, this working-class white woman who once loved Hillary but now fawns over Donald said,
I like how he wants to take back our country. That’s the main thing; it’s our country. And the respect. We’re getting screwed over.
“Our country,” of course, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I’ll leave you to imagine what it means to a white gal from Dubuque who thinks Trump is a down-to-earth purveyor of common sense. As she excitedly watched 69-year-old Donald Trump’s plane land and then taxi toward her, our Iowan lady said the following, which helps me to understand, at least partly, why democracy is so frustrating at times:
He seems like such a young man. He seems my age. He’s got a full head of hair.
Down to earth. Head full of hair and common sense. How do you even begin to reach out to someone that far into the wilderness?
I’ll end with another example of someone in the political wilderness, one that requires little commentary. New York magazine recently did a piece featuring “Conversations with 100 Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire.” You can go through it yourself and pick your favorite conversation. They talked to insurance brokers, IT people, doctors, students, business people, politicians, and even a taxidermist. But they also talked to an unemployed guy named Earle Kolb, who is from Salem, New Hampshire, and who is a Ted Cruz supporter. I will share with you Earle’s entire response, mainly because it illustrates so vividly just how scary democracy can be at times:
Ted Cruz is the most conservative guy in the bunch and he’s frankly the smartest guy in the bunch. I was leaning toward Rand Paul until Rand started to give me the impression that he was a little soft. Largely, the reason why I’m a conservative is because I’ve been on public assistance my whole life, and I have always felt ashamed of it. I have two major health conditions — cerebral palsy and an injury to my left hemidiaphragm. The whole idea of welfare and entitlements is to create a permanent underclass. They’ll give you plenty of handouts, but they won’t give you any hand-ups.
If anyone out there can explain Earle Kolb to me, I would greatly appreciate it. Because as much as I love and trust democracy; as much as I believe that self-government is the only legitimate political system; as much as I want to believe that people generally use their noggins for something other than hat-holders, I have to confess that, in terms of our experiment with democracy, Earle Kolb—the kind of person the Democratic Party has been trying to rescue from Tea Party conservatism—scares me.