The caucuses in Iowa are really amazing. They combine the best and worst of comedy, tragedy, drama, surprise, boredom, suspense and, most important of all, a tiny peek at the genius of the American political system at a microscopic level.
When we compare the political scenery from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and too many other places to enumerate, with Iowa, it boggles the mind to behold the basic differences. I can recall no political killings in Iowa. In fact, people with very strong disagreements get together and caucus and try to persuade each other. There rarely is shouting. It is plainly civilized politics at work. But what does it tell us?
The comedy is stressed candidates trying not to look stupid but "real smart and qualified." The OOPS moment for Perry got the blue ribbon this year and did him in.
The tragedy is that the opportunity for a serious look at what real people have to offer is not really working. This year's blue ribbon in this category is Huntsman. There he is -- a basically good, experienced, attractive looking, balanced, honest guy. But he never got noticed. Perhaps two Mormons overloaded the circuits?
The drama was "who's next?" on and off the roller coaster. The cause and effect of silly moments, both positive and negative, sure kept the world glued to CNN's coverage for weeks.
The big surprise was Gingrich's ascent and collapse. He obviously has a lot of relevant experience to offer. And the simple word that did him in was valise -- sorry, I meant baggage. Wow, I guess he could have lived without that, but he sure should have seen it coming.
The boredom was listening to endless recitations of the same over-simplistic, ideological cant from people trying deliberately to stumble on some phrase that might catch on and launch a thousand votes. I would declare a tie among Paul, Santorum, Cain and Bachmann for the blue ribbon for boredom, despite Santorum's photo finish.
And, the final suspense blue ribbon has to go to Santorum for going from near-last to eight votes short of an outright win in the last week.
All the ingredients of great political theatrics were on display and despite all the shortcomings I still think the process is important and essential to America's political system, broken though it may be. Another day it may be useful to contemplate how the caucus system could be improved. For the moment there are two basic observations to take away from the whole performance.
The first is that it seems a shame that there is no prequalification to becoming a candidate other than money, gall, ambition and a desire to smell "ink." On one level that seems right and ok, but wouldn't it be a good idea for the old fashioned "boys/girls from the smoke-filled room" to "encourage" at least a couple of politically tried and true pros to join in the game and offer that alternative too? I never to this moment would have thought I'd ever say that, but perhaps we are coming full circle to what once was deemed the only way, has now been totally debunked and now may be useful again in not having the country waste a lot of money and time on vetting a bunch of pure amateur thrill-seeking semi nut cases.
The second observation is that the biggest loser in Iowa was Obama. The "field" of six "other than Romney" candidates did an amazing job of painting Romney for the whole country to see as a moderate, balanced centrist, independent pragmatist with executive experience. In their collective effort to oust him from carrying the Republican flag this year, they have massively strengthened him as a general election candidate. Perhaps that was his strategy from the beginning. If it was, he is abler and more cunning than I would have imagined. In either event the threat to the sitting President is greater than ever. Obama surely will try to dent the picture America now has obtained (in a backhanded way) by whatever he can dig up. But, the 'real truth' as endlessly repeated by Romney's competitors in Iowa may have more Teflon than anyone imagined.