Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won what's been called everything from a "solid" to a "resounding" victory in the Ames Iowa Republican Straw Poll. Strange, isn't it, that supposedly credible news analysts on supposedly credible TV networks all said so -- all spoke glowingly about Ms. Bachmann's "important win" -- when Rep. Bachmann was actually rejected by 72% of the voters at this event, a GOP-sponsored affair which draws the most dedicated and devoted partisans in the Iowa Republican Party? When the party's most fervent supporters gather together and nearly three-quarters of them don't vote for you, how is it you can go on TV with a straight face and claim a great victory while being congratulated for your achievement by all those supposedly credible pundits? Explain that, if you can. Just who's crazy here?
Who is crazier, Michele Bachmann or the mainstream media? All of them from ABC, CBS, NBC and all through the cable-shouters like MSNBC and Fox News to the bore-you-to-death ghost of once powerful and influential CNN? We all know about Ms. Bachmann. What more is there to say about her? But, what could possibly pass for crazy at each and every one of the nation's most watched and listened to media outlets?
How about the insanity of coverage that accompanied this thing called the Ames Straw Poll? What exactly is this Republican hayride that bills itself as an indicator of who the next President of the United States will be? Well, it's a state fair, sort of more or less -- 1950s style. And all as white and puffy as the clouds in the sunny Iowa sky. After everyone eats, drinks and gets their fill of mid-list country music "once-weres" or "has-beens," all these happy "I Want My Country Back" Republicans cast a vote for somebody who's trying to get the next Republican nomination. They've been doing it -- the Ames Straw Poll -- for more than 30 years. How many future presidents have been this event's winners? Go on, take a guess. How does "one" sound? It better sound right because that's exactly how many Ames Straw Poll winners who weren't already president have gone on to become the President of the United States -- the "one" was George W. Bush in 2000. In no other such contest did any presidential hopeful emerge victorious to march all the way from Ames, Iowa to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In fact, since 1980 the Republican winner in Ames hasn't even won the for-real Iowa caucus but twice.
And let's face it -- the Iowa caucus isn't very important either. In the whole history of the Iowa caucuses, both Republican and Democratic -- often mistakenly referred to as the Iowa primary - since 1972 they've only produced 2 winners, excepting presidents running unopposed for reelection, who went on to become the new president. That's both parties! They were, of course, George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008. All other winners, Republicans as well as Democrats, either failed to get their party's nomination or lost in the general election.
Historically, Iowa means practically nothing in presidential politics. Who wins -- who cares? Iowans cast 1,537,123 votes in the 2008 election. This year the Ames Straw Poll had a total of 16,836 voters -- only 4,823 of whom bothered to check off Michelle Bachmann's name. Big win, right? Huge! Remember past would-be Republicans Bob Barr and Wayne Root? Never heard of them? They got twice as many votes in that 2008 general election as Ms. Bachmann rolled up in her "smashing victory" in Ames. Really now, ask yourself -- why is Iowa supposedly vital to the choice of the next President of the United States? Says who?
Why then is there all this coverage -- of Iowa -- on TV? The answer is the same one you get when, befuddled, you ask why do we have so many of these faux-reality shows like Housewives Of (fill in the blank)? Where does all this awful television come from, and why? You see, the monster that is commercial television never sleeps. It never even rests. It can't even close its eyes for just a moment. It runs at full speed for all 168 hours every week, 52 weeks a year. And something -- in many cases anything at all! -- has to fill those hours. Some kind of programming must be there to slip itself in between the commercials.
Nowhere is this more evident than in news programming and nowhere in news programming more so than the cable news channels. You don't still think CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, plus all the others with less familiar initials, are in the News Business, do you? They -- and all of commercial television -- are in the Advertising Business. The constant demand, the primal scream is for "content!" There's only so much sports and weather. And lately nothing seems to make for better, easier and more convenient content than the sheer nonsense of the Ames Straw Poll. In a few months we shall see this all again -- same actors, same script -- with the Iowa caucus itself.