Living in Society

When Fools Rush In

Atmospheric Haze

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” was written by Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism in 1711. I’m no angel yet it’s time to let the dust settle from the disastrous general election before devising schemes to react to the loss.

With two key races waiting for certification of results, for president and for the Second Congressional District, we should be in no hurry to implement solutions when we don’t understand the problems. We can wait for the haze to dissipate so we can survey the landscape in better light.

The delays provide needed time to collect data and discuss the future of Democratic politics in Iowa. Brainstorming of solutions is to be expected, politically active Democrats will not be suppressed. Settling on a course of action should wait at least until the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party is elected and has a chance to organize their team.

As recently as a few hours ago National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters in the Philippines, “On Jan. 20 we’ll have continuity of government. We’ll either have a second Trump term or we’ll have a Biden-Harris administration.” Republican elected officials have begun to weigh in that it will be the latter and transition assets should be released by the GSA. The president’s legal challenges to the election have proven in court to be like the slight of hand trick of an aging carnival magician in the last weeks before leaving to winter in Florida. There will be a 46th president.

The recount in the Mariannette Miller-Meeks – Rita Hart contest is ongoing. It’s anyone’s guess how things will turn out. In a press release last night, the Hart campaign said, “The Secretary of State’s office has repeatedly made clear that the Recount Boards have discretion over the mechanics of conducting the recount.” As the difference between the two candidates is revealed, and Miller-Meeks loses ground, her campaign questions the integrity of the Recount Board in Scott County, the district’s largest. With Secretary of State certification of the election on Nov. 30, this can only be seen as an attempt to run out the clock before all votes are recounted. We need to let the county boards do their work.

While we wait, a couple of things seem clear.

Centralized political organizing using current technology to text, mail and phone voters did not work for Democrats. Republicans appear to have had the same kinds of tools. Republican political action groups I follow offered the same kinds of volunteer opportunities as did Democrats. In fact, the solicitations for volunteers were almost interchangeable. Neither party seemed short of volunteers. Both parties had the technology to canvass during the coronavirus pandemic.

What we don’t know is whether the organizers were slug-a-beds or whether the electorate has changed. Well, we do know. It’s not the organizing effort that was the problem. The electorate has changed. It’s a change that has been coming for some time and the stark difference between Democrats and Republicans was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic by the Secretary of State’s decision to send an absentee ballot request to every active voter. Voter turnout was notably high this cycle as a result. As I’ve written before increased absentee voting served Republican interests. If I were the Republican Party chair, I’d lobby the legislature and governor to convert our voting process to universal vote by mail because other factors are driving people to become Republicans in large numbers and vote by mail makes it easier for people to vote. No need to mention this to Jeff Kaufmann. He’s smart enough to see the efficacy of what I’m saying.

Democrats don’t need solutions yet as we don’t adequately understand the problem. I saw an analysis of Iowa voting trends Sunday afternoon and there were no surprises. Counties with less population favor Republicans, larger counties favor Democrats. Those in between appear to be in transition from Democratic to Republican. There is little the Iowa Democratic Party, on its own, can do about this other than to let go of a focus on campaigns and work on improving our cultural presence. That’s not their role.

My colleague Dave Bradley at Blog for Iowa posted an Iowa Democratic Election Post-Mortem on Saturday. In explaining what happened in the general election he points to cultural differences between Democrats and Republicans. Specifically, he discussed the impact of right wing talk radio and television on the electorate after President Ronald Reagan’s FCC abolished the fairness doctrine. The impact of this relatively new media is significant in small and medium-sized counties. President Barack Obama was unsuccessful in putting the genie back in the bottle regarding the policy so we are stuck with FOX News and right wing talkers. Creating left wing talk radio has been attempted yet none of them survived on public air waves and folks like Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartmann moved to the internet and satellite radio.

The Iowa Democratic Party is not well equipped to address cultural issues in Iowa anyway. The party should focus on key things we’ll need during future election cycles. We need good candidates (we had those in 2020), we need a source of financial support (money didn’t seem to be a problem in 2020), and we need someone to host access to the voter contact software for campaigns and continuously improve the integrity of data and user interface (also did not seem a problem in 2020). Where IDP did poorly was in messaging and to be honest they should just give it up since they and the consultants they engage are no good at it. Messaging is better left to be grassroots driven by candidates familiar with voters in their district, including those who are not Democrats. I’m going to scream if I see another “Bobble-head Bobby” ad out of the minds in Des Moines and Washington, D.C.

It can’t be said enough the dust should settle on this election before getting too carried away with “what Democrats should do,” or “what needs to be worked on,” or “IDP should do this.” For my money, what matters more is collection of observations at this point. What did we see happening that should be addressed? We should let everyone who wants provide input.

The end of year holidays are here and we’re in the middle of a devastating pandemic. Let’s just stop, take a deep breath, and let the folks analyzing the results do their work. Let’s elect a great party chair and let them get organized. It’s not unlike what I’m saying about the Second District recount. For the time being, I’m okay with being a blue dot in my red precinct. There is another opportunity to flip it coming up soon.

2 replies on “When Fools Rush In”

Interesting reflections. If I read you right, you suspect (at least in Iowa) that greater mail (absentee) voting favored the GOP, which is counter to a lot of expectations, and at least in the races with a “Red Mirage” early voting lead that changed as the mail votes were counted, seemingly not so across the country. I’m curious. Iowa could be different, and the areas that we were interested nationally that weren’t Iowa could be different. Why do you think that was the case?
One intuition that I have is that two things worked in the GOP’s favor, particularly with on the uncommitted/perusables and late deciders: Covid-19 and race fear. As you know, the idea that (however illogical, incorrect, and context-free it is) that the Democrats want to shut down all business/public gathering was widespread. Biden tried the right messaging on this I think, that competent epidemic management has things to try outside of that and before that, but what gets through. This fear hits people right where they live and so even the suspicion planted that this is so outweighs the pubic health needs of sensible restrictions, some no doubt increased in necessity by lack of mask wearing. And race fear is still possible to gin up so easily in some folks. All it takes is a modicum of window smashing/looting/fires (enter sarcasm mode\ which I can testify was thoroughly integrated in my town, and maybe even in need of some cod-anarchist affirmative action to include more POC /exit sarcasm mode) and it comes right back out of the shadows. Was the later a factor in Iowa generally? I suspect the former was a large factor, but then I’ve been been away from Iowa.
It seems plausible the Covid-19 issue may not be ongoing. If that’s so, and it was a significant cause, that will help Democrats going forward. And too: will folks see the Covid-19 response differently in retrospect as opposed to how they view it as a fear for the immediate future now.
I highly skeptical of the “bring back the Fairness Doctrine” idea/goal. First off, a revival of it as it was would do nothing regarding the Internet nor cable news (not limited allocation Federal allocated broadcast rights), so Fox, OANN, etc would have “kings X.” I’m not sure how important broadcast Talk Radio still is (I’m out of the radio world now for several years), but I suspect (that like radio in general) it’s lower than it once was. And can one imagine an in effect Fairness Doctrine administered by a Trump administration? Or even a G W Bush admin or Ted Cruz admin etc.
Sorry for the long winded reply.

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Thanks for commenting, Frank.

A lot to unpack here.

Re: pandemic voting, I worked as a poll observer most of election day. When I saw the results, with vast majority of in person voting being for Republicans, it became clear that conventional wisdom about early voting and vote by mail is incorrect. This election was 76% turnout and the SOS mailing ABRs to everyone served Rs because that’s who lives here. Whoever was here would have turned out.

Re: fairness doctrine: Reagan FCC repealing it let the genie out of the bottle. Obama tried to fix it but couldn’t. Talk radio is still huge here, but it combines with FOX News. I highly recommend the movie The Brainwashing of My Dad as an explainer. I met many people like the Dad while door knocking.

Starting to get bleary eyed.

Thanks again for the comment.


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