12/30/2008 01:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From Iowa to Inauguration (Vol. 2): A Retrospective on the Precariousness of Primary Politics

This post is the second in a week-long series. In an effort to remind people of the absurdity that dictates who makes the most important decisions on planet earth, this week I am publishing my private emails from the time I spent in Iowa last winter while making a video about the caucus process. I went as a concerned citizen who felt marginalized by the process looking for answers. What I discovered was quite complicated: a struggle to preserve grassroots political discourse in a humongous nation versus an inherently exclusive and precarious system. Please enjoy my stories from the road, where antics and adventure were certainly abound for my posse of newly-mobilized millennials. You can read yesterday's post here.


DISPATCHES FROM IOWA (Vol. 2) December 30, 2007

I've long maintained that there are only three people on earth capable of turning me into an absolute star-struck mush. I've always wondered how well I'd keep my cool in their presence, and today I found out.

Don't worry: Unlike the time I interviewed Debbie Gibson (who signed my arm and I didn't wash it for two days!), I was able to maintain some semblance of decorum when I met Bill Clinton in a tiny middle school gym today in Storm Lake, Iowa. The experience was absolutely magnetic.

Under the excellent leadership of Research Captain Jillian, a map-questing machine who guided us safely through Iowa's weathered western roads on today's tour-de-candidates, we managed to snag seats at the 100-person event. (We did not manage to blend in with the locals, a feat that continues to elude us wherever we go. Perhaps it was the "Keepin' it Rural" sweatshirt I bought in Des Moines yesterday that gave me away. Maybe that's only ironic in Los Angeles? Although we developed several theories in the two hours we had to sit tight waiting for the former Prez, including my obsessive Blackberry-ing, our flat-ironed hair, Ugg boots and Team Leader Jessica's oversized, bejeweled sunglasses.)

I actually saw Bill speak earlier in the year, and was floored by his unique ability to be entertaining while threading big-picture concepts throughout an organized narrative that underscores key points. Likewise, his brain seems to function in a contextual, methodical system without compromising the subtly sexy, jovial qualities of a born charmer.

Trap that in a makeshift stage on half a basketball court in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, and I was instantly enamored. No other candidate has this quality, even my beloved Barack. In his defense, he's got the hard part that you can't teach or fake: the demeanor and ability to connect individually and inspire. But Clinton put on a clinic in how to showcase the breadth of one's own knowledge in layman's terms by teasing an audience's intellect with a few juicy, substantive facts. Even when he was yanking my heartstrings with the tritest of regular-people anecdotes, I had three or four tears running down my cheeks. I imagine that this is what it's like to hook up with George Clooney: You both know he'll be gone in the morning, but you're going to savor the lipservice with reckless abandon as part of the experience.

The interns and I all shook hands with him and posed for pictures. It was certainly the highlight of the trip for us thus far.

I spent much of today thinking about our perceptions of momentum. To walk around Iowa, you wouldn't necessarily get the vibe that the fate of the leader of the free world is at stake this week. Sure, there's people with buttons and a few signs. The ads are on TV and phones ringing with pesky callers (that will be us tomorrow!) asking the locals to caucus. But it would definitely be within the realm of possibility to completely ignore it.

People always argue that Iowans deserve to be First in the Nation (which reminds me, for a good laugh watch this hilarious video below from because they take their responsibility seriously, and that the state's geography enables intimate, thoughtful decision-making. I haven't gotten the impression that civically-engaged Iowans are any different from the politically active people of California. (Except for our good looks, of course. Although, they might be gaining on us: There's a bizarre and disproportionate number of tanning salons around town, given the ratio of pasty:orange people.)

We were also able to catch Edwards tonight in Sioux City (we hung with his bus driver, Gene, for a bit in the parking lot; cool guy!); and we'll see other candidates this week. What's impressive is the access and the gravity. The power players are all here, within a short drive of each other. And it feels heavier because an individual's vote really does matter.

I can't help but be irritated by this. More Americans should be able to have the experience we had today. Their states should be more than ATM machines. They should feel the weight of their own individual civic influence. Their participation in the process SHOULD matter. It DOES NOT matter in June, when the last voters in Montana and North Dakota will cast their ballots for the presumptive nominee picked by half the country on Feb. 5.

Still, we're only midway through this expedition, and the edge-of-your-seat bit has yet to descend upon us. I am excited and eager to see how it unfolds. We'll be doing Obama field work tomorrow, and I've scheduled some interviews for the documentary project (including the notorious COW segment); the camera crew ( i.e. BRETT!) arrives tomorrow.

I'd like to also take a minute to commend my awesome interns: It's bold and brave for 21-year-olds to pack up for a strange land, skip New Year's Eve (and the Rose Bowl!) to have a life adventure at a critical moment in history. And even more brave to let me drive you in the foggy streets of Moville armed with only our laughter and that one Justin Timberlake CD we bought at WalMart.

**NOTE: The other two are Madonna and Paul McCartney. Just checking to see if you read this far!