A: Generally, when a group of Iowans get together to declare a preference about something, the rest of the country ignores them. But on Jan. 3, 2012, this pattern shifts, and the rest of the country watches, rapt, as Iowans declare their preference for president. Iowans do so by registering as Republicans and showing up somewhere to group themselves in favor of one candidate or another.
Q: Why do they do that?
A: Iowans are a notoriously indecisive bunch. A few days ago, four out of 10 of them insisted that they still hadn’t made up their minds. It turns out, as Archie comics have demonstrated since the Cenozoic Era, that if you spend a lot of time waffling entrancingly between multiple options, the public will sit up and take notice. But in the Archie comics, the choice is between Betty and Veronica, two nice girls with whom you will no doubt be very happy. For Iowans, the choice is between a stream of Republican candidates who have shown up on your doorstep to compete in boring you to death. Sometimes attention has its price.
Q: Why does the media care about this?
A: The media lack hobbies, and their idea of a good New Year’s Eve is to sit across the street from the Mitt Romney campaign headquarters trying to ask drunk people questions about their political beliefs. It is because of something that happened to the media in their childhoods, and they are to be pitied rather than censured.
Q: Can I caucus?
A: Are you Iowan?
This also marks the only time, every four years, that DC insider political operatives can be heard to go about saying, “Dang, I wish I were Iowan!”
Are you a registered Republican?
Great! Head down to your local caucusing area!
Q: But for whom should I vote?
A: Well, that’s tough. What appeals to you in a candidate?
The Candidate Who Resembles Me — Pick Romney. Mitt Romney is the only candidate who has vacillated as much as you, the average Republican voter, in the course of the past several years. “Romney! No, Perry! No, Cain! No, Gingrich! No, Santorum!” You’ll get along great.
The Candidate Who Resembles Me But Not Romney — Are you sure? He’s really been trying so hard, and it would mean the world to him.
Seriously, Not Romney – Go for Ron Paul.
The Candidate The Media Has Been Pointedly Ignoring — Ron Paul’s your best bet, despite what Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann will tell you. And as an added bonus, he’ll legalize marijuana, which will help you cope with the foreign policy decisions he’s likely to make.
The Candidate Most Like Tim Tebow — Pick Michele Bachmann, whose strategy over the past several days has been, literally, to hope for divine intervention.
The Candidate With The Funniest Name — Santorum, for reasons that have been discussed almost as often as Santorum himself hasn’t.
The Candidate With The Best Hair — It’s a close call between Romney and Huntsman, but Huntsman isn’t running in Iowa, and Romney is Romney. Go for Michele Bachmann.
The Candidate With The Best Ads — Rick Perry, by a landslide. Who else could, without apparent irony, walk along a hillside complaining that Barack Obama’s support for gay soldiers has ended Christmas, all while wearing what astute commenters have noted is the jacket from “Brokeback Mountain”? Give the man some credit.
The Candidate Nobody Realized Was Running Until A Day or Two Ago, Even Though He Bought Them Dinner That One Time And Listened To Their Problems — Rick Santorum.
The Candidate Best Able to Handle Things If We Are Trapped In A Time Vortex And Returned to the 1990s — Newt Gingrich, also by a lucky chance the candidate whose ideas — hang mirrors in space to light the streets! Mine the moon! — most closely resemble those proposed by Bond villains.
The Candidate Everyone Else Is Picking — Your guess is as good as mine. Given that my guess was “Santorum,” I assume your guess isn’t very good either.
Q: Is Herman Cain still an option?
A: If I had a nickel for every Iowan who had commented that he or she missed Herman Cain, I’d be able to buy half a dozen cheese balls. Try it and see!
Q: Do the Iowa caucuses matter?
A: Probably not.
While we’re on the subject ...