Surreal Iowa TV Coverage – Need To Declare A Winner, Even If Romney Won By 8 Votes – Politics As A Sporting Event?

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By Paolo von Schirach

January 7, 2012

WASHINGTON – There was something surreal in following cable TV doggedly pursuing the final outcome of the Iowa caucuses, as if the final tally would make a real difference. Indeed, as the results were coming in, after a while it became pretty clear to all that the first place was going to be a tie between Santorum and Romney. Of course, the big news was and is the Santorum surge. Alright, so that was the juice of the Iowa caucuses story: some, even if not all, of the anti-Romney Iowa Republicans found their champion in Rick Santorum.

Who won Iowa?

That said, late into the night, with 92% of the votes already counted and Santorum ahead of Romney by 100 votes or so, what was the point of pursuing this story until the very end? With almost all votes in, it was clear that, whatever the final outcome, the vote difference between the two would be minute.

Or are we really saying that 70 or 80 votes separating the two candidates who were both getting around 30,000 each is newsworthy because knowing who the winner is, even in this tied contest, makes a huge difference?

If this had been a major sporting event like the Olympics of course it would have mattered a lot to know who won, even if by the smallest margin. After all, the difference between a gold or a silver medal is quite often a small fraction of a second.

Romney the “winner”, even if by 8 votes

But this is politics, not sports. And yet I suspect that American media do treat political contests just like sports events. If this is so, then obsessing about who is the “technical” winner, even in the Iowa situation in which there is no real winner, is made to matter. Therefore the American public is sold the idea that “winning” or “losing” Iowa by 8 votes is really important, because by the logic of the numbers, a winner is a winner, and therefore he can brag about his “victory”, even though this has no real meaning.

And what is it was Santorum?

By the same token, the subsequent news indicating that there may have been small errors in the Iowa vote count and that the revised numbers may flip the results, with Santorum, and not Romney, the “winner”, again by 10 votes or so, has been duly reported, with some emphasis, as if this new count could be a major upset. “Look at that, all along we have been thinking that Romney had won Iowa. But, no folks, it was Santorum. Now, this really changes everything.

Does Iowa decide for everybody?

To all this I add that it is even more surreal how the Iowa obsessed media for weeks opined that this vote, in a state with a small population of only 3 million and a small numbers of caucus goers, would finally reveal the real mood of the Nation.

With no disrespect for all the Iowans who voted their numbers are really small. Only 30,000 voted for Romney and Santorum each. Add the votes for Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and it gets to around 100,000, split among the top four. These are really small numbers in America, a country of 310 million people.

The idea that the rest of America somehow will follow this lead and will do as this thin slice of tiny Iowa did is insane, while it shows disrespect for the democratic process in which millions of people make up their own minds and vote, as individuals, as they please. The notion that 30,000 elderly and conservative Evangelical Iowans who like Rick Santorum have essentially determined that this sanctimonious Christian candidate is equally likable elsewhere is somewhat crazy.

Can Americans think for themselves?

Unless the implicit assumption of the pundits is that Americans are stupid sheep, incapable of formulating their own opinions, and so they will just happily replicate nationwide what Iowans have already done. If this were the case, we could just change the whole electoral process and declare that Iowa decides for the rest of the country. This way it would be a lot faster and cheaper to choose a new president.

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