This morning, I received an email from my friend Myles Berkowitz, with his highly-informative, insightful (and occasionally inciteful), detailed and funny rant analyzing the Iowa caucus. (He had devoted much effort supporting Joseph Biden, so he was in spew-mourning)
This is noteworthy for two reasons. One, he pointed out something he believes is the most significant matter from the results that was largely overlooked by pundits -- which I fully agreed with him on, having mentioned the same thing the night before. And two, ever since I've been writing Huffery here, Myles- - who has more political opinions than bread has crumbs -- has been trying to get me to mention him.
We'll get to point #1 in a moment. But as for point two, you must understand, Myles Berkowitz is ripped-at-birth from Lewis Black. One of them should either sue for copyright infringement, and organize a lost-family reunion. Myles is extremely bright and well-read about most things, but politics is his passion, and over the years he's put his efforts where his hard-working mouth is, working on campaigns. His politics are unique, not one party, but someone who demands the best of everyone and gets pissed off when that doesn't happen. As you can imagine, he gets pissed off a lot.
I hardly agree with everything he expels from his body -- though the percentage is good -- but it's all so passionate, thoughtful, hilarious and informed that I'll happily listen to any rant at the drop of a hat, and occasionally debate it. And this passion is not limited to matters of importance. It's about anything. A-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. If my phone rings on Monday night during the football season, I know what's coming: "Did you hear what Al-f*#!-ing-Michaels just said?!!" Game show hosts, economics, whatever. The luckiest person in the world is Myles's saint-like wife, Elisabeth, who only has to say, "How was your day?", and she doesn't need anything else for an evening's entertainment.
Yes, I know that was a digression. But if I'm finally going to comment on one of his voluminous opinions, I just figured it helped to know the source.
Clearly there were many significant issues to come from the Iowa caucus. Most were not as significant as reported. Iowa is hardly a typical state in its voter makeup. The attention paid to it is not because it's so meaningful, but because it's first. It's not even a primary -- it's a caucus, so the rules are different and...well, bizarre. But for all the topics deemed "significant" last night, what I -- and Myles Berkowitz -- think is the most significant is the "huge, huge" voter turnout. It's an issue "almost as big news an Obama's win."
Indeed, it is big news. Huge, huge.
It was a large turnout on both sides, but massive for Democrats. In a red state. The Democrats had 227,000 people attending caucuses. In 2004, it was 124,000. That's double, a 100% increase. Republicans went up, too -- but only from 87,000 attendees to 120,000, an increase of 38%. Excellent, but -- significantly -- it pales compared to 100%. Yet it pales further when you consider an important factor, little mentioned:
In 2004, President George Bush was running for re-election. There was no reason for Republicans to go caucus. There was no choice. To head out in the blistering winter and spend hours debating if you wanted George Bush or George Bush for president is hardly a recipe for high turnout. This year, though, there was a choice. So, of course, the turnout went up -- but just 38%. For Democrats, however, it nearly tripled. It's worth noting, too, that biting temperatures were in the teens. Democrats braved that cutting weather to show up in huge, huge numbers. That's significant, too.
And then there's the matter of the youth vote.
The important matter here is not that a much-higher percentage of voters under-30 took part in the Iowa caucus -- although they did. (How much higher? In 2000, youth turnout in the Iowa caucus was a mere 3%. Four years later, it held at only 4%. This year, however, it more than, again, tripled -- to a significant 13%.)
Most critical is how that split by party lines. The percent of Republican caucus-attendants under-30 was 11%. But the percent of Democrats under-30 who took part in the caucus was double that - 22%.
And again, that's significant.
All the opinions you read about what the Iowa caucus means -- take them for what they're worth. Important or not. But cold numbers (and in Iowa, they were very cold) speak volumes and are irrefutable. Whether they translate to other states remains to be seen. But the differences are significant.
My friend Myles puts a caveat on the numbers, saying "It's not that the Dems are so, so popular now. It's that Bush is so so loathesome. Even to Middle America."
While I agree with his reasoning in part, there's a more important point. Whatever the reason for the turnout, Democrats -- and Democratic youth -- showed themselves incredibly motivated to vote. And that may well be the most significant story of the night.
I have heard back from Mr. Berkowitz. He wishes me to let people know that when he attended the University of Pennsylvania, he he got an "A" in every political science course he took, except for one "B" -- which was taught by William Kristol. Pissed off as he was (not surprisingly), he today considers it a badge of honor as proof of the criticism that Kristol does not know what he's talking about.