These are the famous lyrics from the first ensemble tune of the classic “The Music Man”, set in 1912. The con-artist Harold Hill strolls into a rural Iowa town ready to spring his latest gimmick on an unsuspecting people. It’s almost a challenge from his fellow matchstick men to try to conquer the folks of River City who, being forewarned by his colleagues may be simple, but not stupid. This is not going to be an easy con.
Yet the words in this little ditty are quite revealing in their contradictory message – you’re always welcome here, but we’ll basically keep you at arms length. What worked for Meredith Willson’s plot setting also seems to be the backdrop for the “first in the Union” Iowa Caucuses. So, if we were to combine the two, we can indeed celebrate the Centennial of Iowa Stubborn.
As one experiences Willson’s great musical, one will realize that the term “Iowa Stubborn” is eventually one of endearment. As unusual as the townsfolk seem to be to outsiders, they also eventually approve to be genuine. At the same time, however, they also prove to have a gullible side, at least temporarily. Such can also be said of the very long processes of the Iowa Caucus.
For years (not quite a hundred), Iowa has been at the epicenter of the presidential primary universe because of its placement among the respective caucuses and primaries. Candidates who are truly serious about their party’s nomination will not just visit, but virtually inhabit the small, rural state in the heartland – shaking hands, kissing babies and consuming all manner of fried foods (hopefully not getting the three confused – shaking babies and kissing food is frowned upon in these parts). Yet despite the pre-season polls and the self-anointed talking heads making grandiose predictions, Iowa often seems to flash that “stubborn” to the rest of the nation at the last minute.
Perhaps it is not as random or naïve as one may think either. These are down to earth folks who know all too well that come January 4th, the political spring will dry up and the state will be hard pressed to see hide nor hair of a candidate except on television. As ingratiating (ok, brown-nosing) as the candidates have been and will be for the next several days, Iowans know that their small but significant mark on the political stage has an expiration date and they have perfected the art of keeping the candidate’s attention for as long as they can.
At the same time, the people of Iowa can allow the occasional “Harold Hill” to stir them up. All too often has the political snake-oil salesman been successful in convincing Iowans to buy their elixir in bulk. Sometimes, this boost out of the gate will propel these folks to eventual victory by way of their party’s nomination, but more often than not, it only results in a pop-shot that ends with a quiet thud out in the desert.
Still, the caucuses have yielded the intended fruit in times past. For the Democrats, the last three caucuses have produced nominees, dating back to the last century (if that doesn’t make you feel old..) and for the GOP, it goes back to 1992, with the exception of Mike Huckabee’s seeing-eye single that stranded him on first in 2008.
However, the question is, now that the GOP has moved to a more proportional system of appointing delegates, similar to that of the Democrats (I think I just tasted my lunch again), can Iowa stay the power player it has been in past election cycles or will the caucuses wonder into a far less relevant role? With our Centennial celebration of Iowa Stubborn, does this also mark the end of the reign of said stubbornness? What will the face of Iowa politics look like in 2016?
Unorthodox, stubborn, salt-of-the-earth or just downright quirky – this could possibly be the end of the Iowa heyday when it comes to the primary politics. But while the folks of the Hawkeye state have been a combination of inviting, yet standoffish, wise, yet gullible, there are one thing – enduring.
Still, you know, you ought to give Iowa, a try!