Iowa City--The problem with courting the academic vote is that caucus-goers may not only criticize you, but use very big words to do it.
"Obama's speeches aren't enough like The Battle Hymn of the Republic," said Anna Hunter, a novelist at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. She and some other graduate students were having a reunion of sorts at George's Bar last night after returning from break just in time to caucus. "There's a sort of pusillanimous quality to that song that's anathema to Democrats and their aversion to negative campaigning. They have no sense of righteous anger."
Her classmate Jason England was no gentler. "If this were a workshop, you'd call the candidates' speeches trite, pedestrian, and inoffensive."
Only Dennis Kucinich, suggested Tom, an English doctoral student, had stepped out of the "pop novel" mode.
"Yeah," said Jason. "Kucinich is like the guy who writes science fiction. Everybody likes him, but nobody takes him seriously."
From a sample size of eight, it appeared that Barack Obama will get the student votes. For president maybe. But not for a Pulitzer.
"I was inspired by his memoir," said Elizabeth, who now teaches composition to college students. "But I wouldn't call it great prose."
Fiction writer Chris Leslie-Hynan said all the candidates remind him of Colonel Cathcart in Catch-22, the character who wants to become a general but is never sure which of his superiors he needs to impress. "For every action, he tries to figure out whether it will be a feather in his cap or a terrible black eye."
England called Rudy Giuliani "the personification of the Cormac McCarthy nightmare: the apocalypse on the road."
Among George's Bar intelligentsia, only Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton got the nod. "His grammar is so beautiful," said aspiring novelist Benjamin Hale. "You can hear the dashes and semi-colons in his speeches."