“Hiya, Keith,” the farmer says. “How’s it going?”
“Couldn’t be better,” Lazar says. “Life is good.”
Life is good. It has become Lazar’s default greeting, the motto he inscribed on the wall of his kitchen and printed on T-shirts to distribute at family gatherings. What could be better at the beginning of 2012 in this other city called Washington, a rural town of 7,200 surrounded by the corn and soybean fields of eastern Iowa? This is the Washington with a 4 percent unemployment rate, with record-breaking hog and cattle production, with a new high school and a $6 million library, with a newspaper that doesn’t bother to print a crime blotter, with heated sidewalks in front of the bank so customers never have to walk in the snow.
This is the place that officially refers to itself in all marketing materials as “Washington — Voted One of the Best 100 Small Towns in America Three Times!”
It is also a place where, day after day, presidential candidates make their case that the country is a horrific mess.
‘Life is good’
When Iowa holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses Tuesday, a major campaign moment will unfold here, in one of the most robust towns in one of the country’s most robust states. It is an ironic way for the 2012 election to begin: Politicians come here to talk about the problems of someplace else. Lazar and his friends in Washington can render a crucial verdict on issues from which they often feel disconnected.
“This is a nation in crisis,” Rick Perry said at a campaign stop at the local coffee shop last week.
“The Washington machine is strangling our economy,” said a local TV ad for Ron Paul.
“We’re seeing a war on our values,” Rick Santorum said on the evening news.
“Life is good,” Lazar says again, still at the bank, four days before the caucuses. He is a lifelong Republican who likes Mitt Romney best, although he doesn’t like any of them enough to participate in the caucuses. He has no problems in his life that require an election to fix, and he believes politicians rarely fix problems anyway. The economy is stable in some early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, so for some voters like Lazar the calculus is different. The population around the town square in Washington is growing, along with small businesses and the middle class.