The drill begins at the State Fair. First come the vaguely familiar figures in shirt-sleeves, admiring the sculptured butter cow or beaming at the camera from behind a piglet or a corn dog. Then comes the Ames Straw Poll, that curious non-event, whose winners have included Pat Robertson, Phil Gramm and now Michele Bachmann.
Then come the 99-county bus tours, the so-called debates that can only make the Iowa High School Speech Association cringe, the rediscovery of Grant Wood by reporters who don’t realize that “American Gothic” was meant to be funny and at least $12 million worth of TV ads. It’s finally Iowa caucus night again.
Last time there were two open races and a platoon of candidates with what looked like Shakespearean potential. Full disclosure: That year, my neighborhood caucus of some 800 people in a room built for 700 might have gladdened the heart of Pericles.
With only one race, this year’s reprise was a slow starter for anyone not hooked on Fox News. Its roller coaster profile, and the glorious vituperation in recent days, have made up for lost time. But the redeeming virtue of caucus night 2012 might be the challenge to the rest of us to think about Iowa’s other peculiar institution and its lessons for the rest of the country.
The first peculiar institution, of course, is the caucusing itself, the kick-off in a four-step process of electing delegates that leads from the neighborhood firehouse or school gym to a county convention, a district convention, and the state convention that finally elects the delegates to the national convention.
Even natives need to be reminded that the caucuses go back to statehood in 1846. But until the invention of the presidential primary over half a century later, caucuses were everybody’s standard operating procedure. Though as many as 20 states switched to primaries between 1910 and 1920, Iowa saw no need for reform.
Full Article: Iowa’s Other Peculiar Institution – NYTimes.com.