Friday, January 29, 2016

Disparate Impact

Right now Iowa and New Hampshire are in winter's grasp, though their respective landscapes will reveal themselves after snow and ice give way to the thaws of spring and summer.

Iowa's corn fields will produce the kind of harvest that is the envy of nations, while the jagged peaks of New Hampshire's White Mountains attract outdoorsmen like moths to a flame. Iowa's largest city (recession-proof, insurance-centric Des Moines) will again prove to be one of America's most stable, and New Hampshire's median household income will again be among America's top ten.

These states embody much of what is good about our nation, from family values to covered bridges and so on... Over the years Iowa has given us Buffalo Bill, John Wayne, Johnny Carson, and five Nobel Prize winners... New Hampshire has given us Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, Alan Shephard, and Carlton Fisk... Generally speaking, Iowans embrace the virtues of diligence and neighborliness; New Hampsherites, the virtues of diligence and thrift.

In short, these states contribute more than their share and the USA would not be the USA without them. But with the 2016 election process about to kick off in earnest, I find myself, for the umpteenth time, wondering why it is that they have such an outsize impact on who it is that the rest of the USA will be able to vote for come November.

Combined, they account for 1.38 percent of the nation's population and 1.73 percent of its size. The Tampa Bay, Florida metropolitan area (where I live) has never been mistaken for Los Angeles or Chicago, yet it has more than three times as many people as the state of New Hampshire and over a million more than the state of Iowa. Almost 20 American cities have larger metro-area populations than the combined statewide populations of these two states.

Nonetheless -- and almost entirely because Iowa and New Hampshire are the first two states to vote in the primary process -- it is axiomatic that a candidate who doesn't make a big splash in the former's caucuses or the latter's primary cannot wind up being his party's nominee for the presidential election.

Why is that? Where is the logic in that?

Why should candidates be written off before the likes of Texas, Florida, New York, California, and Ohio (to say nothing of Wyoming, West Virginia, and Vermont) have even had a chance to have their say?

Sure, smart campaigning and smart allocation of resources are important; and if a candidate fails to smartly orchestrate his campaign through the first handful of states that vote for who will become the party nominees, that must give us a clue about whether he will smartly execute the duties of the office he seeks. But still, why is it that quality candidates must face the prospect of being financially and "media-ly" driven to bow out simply because voters in these two small states -- just these two -- don't flock to them? How is that fair to the rest of the nation?

Right now there are more than a dozen Republican candidates vying for the nomination, all of whom bring significant ideas and talents to the table. Yet, despite all that variety lined up in the starting gate, the smart money is prognosticating that it could all be over (or at least be nearly over) before the other 48 states ever make it to the batter's box.

Up until a hew hiccups ago, the smart money was saying that Ted Cruz will win Iowa and Donald Trump New Hampshire, and that the race will then transfigure into a two-man contest between them and them alone -- unless, that is, Marco Rubio happens to finish third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire, in which case he still won't have a chance to win the nomination, but will at least be able to influence the outcome by eventually persuading his supporters to back either Cruz or Trump.

Now, that smart money is saying that Trump will win both states and then nobody -- nobody! -- will stand a chance of overcoming his juggernaut momentum.

To which I say: What?!?!

And to which I also say: How can it be that winning two states with 1.38 percent of the population equals the momentum of invincibility?

To repeat: There is an unprecedented wealth of talent on the GOP side, with more than a dozen candidates offering a multitude of robust and often conflicting ideas. Yet I am being told that the votes of less than two percent of my fellow Republicans can go almost all the way to deciding things even before more than ninety-eight percent of my fellow Republicans have even touched a ballot.

In other words, I am being told that the "less than two percent" can prevent the "greater than nine-eight percent" from offering America's non-Republicans any choice other than Trump or Cruz. And, that the "less than two percent" could even prevent the "greater than ninety-eight percent" from offering any choice other than Trump. How can that be good?

Granted, an axiom is not a rule, and the axiom that you must win Iowa and/or New Hampshire to win your party's nomination does not always hold true... But it usually does. The last time a Republican won his party's nomination after not winning either of those states' contests was 52 years ago, when Iowa did not hold its caucuses and thus nobody could win them. The last time a Democrat won his party's nomination after not winning either of those states' contests was 26 years ago, when Bill Clinton finished fourth in Iowa and second in New Hampshire.

I do not mind that some states have an amount of influence which outweighs their share of the population. Such an arrangement helps protect against tyranny by the majority, and in a nation founded on individual liberty, protecting against tyranny by the majority is every bit as important as protecting against tyranny by the minority.

However, the amount by which Iowa and New Hampshire disproportionately affect presidential politics is just not good.

I don't have an answer for this situation. By which I mean that I don't have an answer I'm comfortable with, since every possible solution has flaws of its own. But I do know that this situation is a problem, and we would be better off without it.

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