As the Iowa-born writer Bill Bryson once apologetically wrote, “I come from Des Moines, somebody had to.” Bryson added — understatedly — that Des Moines was “the most powerful hypnotic known to man.” Not that you’d know it from the amount of column inches his seedy little home state generates. For roughly two years out of every quadrennial, groveling politicians, not to mention journalists and the electorate at large, have to pretend to give a rip what Iowans think. Which is unfortunate, as even Iowans don’t know what Iowans think. I’m not saying they’re dumb. But in the nineties, Iowa experienced the second largest brain drain of any state in the nation, with its young educated classes fleeing in droves. Economists say it was to find better employment or higher education opportunities. But one could hardly blame the evacuees for just wanting to get away from other rubber-necking, carb-loading, undecided Iowa voters.
Even as late as this past Saturday, a Des Moines Register poll showed 41 percent of Iowans could still be persuaded to change their minds. This, after every man, woman, and child in the state had benefited from 17 or 18 opportunities apiece to eat pancakes, have their photos snapped in front of butter sculptures, or to otherwise be sucked up to, back-slapped or belly-scratched in person by or with every single candidate, plus their spouses. If you don’t know what you think of a candidate after watching Marcus Bachmann deep-throat a foot-long corn dog just to impress you, then maybe you don’t deserve first-in-the-nation privileges.
And we continue this charade every four years, why? So that we can pretend as though Iowa is the rural, Platonic ideal of America, when its hype isn’t even accurately representative of itself, according to my Wikipedia sources. While reporters are fond of interviewing salt-of the-earth farmers over Iowa’s bevy of meth dealers or government employees (the latter of which account for 10.4 percent of their economy), over 60 percent of Iowa’s population now lives in urban areas, and only 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product is attributable to the production of raw agricultural goods. Meanwhile, less than one percent of the tallgrass prairie that formerly covered the state remains intact. The better to plant more corn to suck up ethanol subsidies (one third of Iowa’s corn is consumed by ethanol production), subsidies which until recently being allowed to expire, were a $5-billion-a-year-racket that caused corn prices to surge as much as 17 percent for the rest of us. Thanks, Hawkeye State!