TV and daily print pundits will tell us that Iowa's vote will have some effect on the New Hampshire primary the following week, which in turn will lead to further influence on the decisions coming in February, including Missouri's own primary on February 3.
But this porterhouse of pontification ain't falling for it.
Forget the primaries. By next week, the usual media suspects -- Dan, Tom and Peter, as well as the Times, the Tribune, the Post and even The Kansas City Star -- will have decided who's going to appear on our presidential ballot in November.
How does this tenderloin know that the outcome of the Democratic Party's nomination is only a formality? Because this ever-lovin' slab of lean has been tenderizin' itself with the wisdom of Park University's Andrew Cline, a professor with a deep understanding of the nation's press -- and how it chooses presidential candidates.
A former scribe for The Kansas City Business Journal, Cline operates Rhetorica.net, a smart Web log of media criticism. For months, Cline has been trying, with no success, to get reporters at daily papers to acknowledge how their coverage shapes the nomination process.
See, Cline points to a remarkable fact about past Democratic primary seasons, first discovered by Northeastern University political egghead William Mayer.
Since 1980, after the Democratic Party changed some rules in its nominating process, the leading candidate in the final national Gallup poll before the Iowa caucuses has nearly always gone on to win the party's nomination. The only exception was in 1988, when front-runner Gary Hart crashed and burned after the dumbass was caught banging model Donna Rice in an extramarital affair.
In the most recent national poll, Howard Dean held a slim four-point lead over Wesley Clark. But before Dean lovers go celebratin' prematurely, Cline cautions that Gallup may release one more tally before January 19. He also notes that Dean's lead is within the poll's five-point margin of error, and a Democratic race at this point in the campaign has never been this close. The Mayer theory, Cline says, will be put to the test like never before. "We'll learn new things," he says.
But here's what we already know: Long before the primaries roll around, the press turns the fight for the nomination into a drama not about issues but about "electability." Regardless of how individual state primaries go, Cline says, the country time and again predictably chooses a front-runner anointed by the press.
What's behind it all, Cline says, is human nature, which compels voters to succumb to emotional rather than rational decisions.
"Research shows overwhelmingly that voters have an emotional attachment to perceived winners," the professor says. Many voters don't want to feel that they're throwing their vote away on a candidate who has no chance of winning, even if that candidate best represents their interests.
"How do voters get a perception of who the winners are? The press begins speculating about who the top dog is from the very beginning," Cline says. "They were calling Howard Dean a front-runner back when he was actually polling in the single digits, but he had a great Internet campaign going." In reality, Cline points out, Dean was a long shot, but his Internet acumen made for a great story. And that's what journalists are trained to seize on.
Cline is not naïve; he doesn't expect the media to stop talking about momentum and electability anytime soon. But he'd like to see the press at least question its own methods. And, he says, he'd like to see more thorough coverage of candidates and issues when it really counts: much earlier in the process -- at least before the summer prior to the primaries.
Cline tried just that, e-mailing reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as Kansas City Star political columnist Steve Kraske last May and June when there was still time to make a difference. He got no response.
Kraske tells the Strip that he seems to remember getting Cline's e-mails, and he admits that the professor makes some good points. But he warns that convincing editors to devote comprehensive coverage to candidates and their policies nearly a year before the primaries is a long shot. "The practicality of selling readers on long stories about issues that early [in the campaign season] is a tough sell," Kraske says.
And now the mainstream media is fully consumed with calling the nomination as a horse race. Last week, the Star's E. Thomas McClanahan went one step further and began handicapping the November outcome, writing that a Dean nomination would be "suicide" for the Democratic Party.
Cline calls the column "typical foolish punditry."
"McClanahan or anyone, Republican or Democrat, who wants to make a claim about Dean's electability at this point is dealing in nonsense," Cline says.
But he was just being polite. In reality, McClanahan's a jackass.
The liberal Star's resident crusty conservative expressed complete shock that anyone would be unhappy with the Bush administration in a land of plenty. He gushed about how Bush's tax cuts have helped those of modest incomes. Which leads this meat patty to wonder:
What are they paying McClanahan that he's so freaking out of touch with the unemployed and bankrupt masses?