Americans have to add a line to the old song about "wonderful I-o-way. I-o-way, that'sm where the tall corn grows!" Something like that'sm where democracy grows tall. This week's presidential caucus results in Iowa have been dissected to prove everything else under the political sun -- why not at least to hint that maybe the poeple are beginning to snatch back politics from the pollsters and the press?
After Iowans' unexpectedly big turnout to make their preferences known, the people of New Hampshire are challenged to do as well or better in next month's primary. There Republican former Governor Gregg, state organizer for Iowa winner George Bush, is already on record about the alleged power of the press in the recent years of the media age: "I just don't like a bunch of guys from Washington coming up to New Hampshire and determining who our next president will be."
Similar comments have come from sources elsewhere. If they go too far in granting decisive clout to the press, they are valuable warnings not to let the kind of public vacuum of opinion develop into which the media could all too easily rush. The use of the media for advertising by candidates combines with the media's own dramatizing tendencies to make the media the potentially controlling factor they should never be. When commentators in any medium interpret results to "decide" candidates' standings on minimum actual voting evedince, they can contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies as they prepare the climate for the next contest.
That is why it is so important for citizens to look at the facts, consult their own best thoughts and feelings, and participate in the process -- rather than leaving it others and, perhaps, those self-fulfilling prophecies. And that is why the Iowa turnout offers such an auspicious beginning to the political year.
Look at the figures.
About 100,000 Democrats participated in their precinct caucuses, more than twice as many as showed up in 1976. In that year, when Jimmy Carter won two-to-one over his nearest rival, he received less than 30 percent of the vote -- and he made no point of the fact that he "lost" to the almost 40 percent of "uncommitted." This year his two-to-one victory over Senator Kennedy was based on Carter's 60 percent -- and only about 10 percent were "uncommitted." Local pols were said to be amazed at people arriving for the caucuses who had not been actively involved in party politics before.
Some 110,000 Republicans came out for their straw poll, four times as many as in 1976. They didn't go along with the mediaanointed front-runner. Ronald Reagan, but responded to the newcomer, George Bush.
For all the farmers Iowa has. President Carter did not seem to be penalized for his grain embargo. And Senator Dole, who made a patent appeal to farmers' presumably selfish interests, wound up at the bottom of the GOP heap, even below John Anderson who alone had supported the embargo. There seemed to be corroboration for the local pundit's view that Iowa farmers can look beyond the south forty and see the interests of the country as well as their own.
We are not, of course, implying that the media are all bad and the people all good. There is or should be a symbiotic relationship in the sense of association between people and press providing a mutual advantage. The national media eyes on Iowa, as well as the international situation, may have nudged Iowans into realizing the importance of fulfilling their citizenly responsibility.
If Americans keep going like this -- who knows? -- they might even decide to vote in November, as only 54 percent did last time.