Tag Archives: Iowa

Conspiracy Theories In One..Two..Three…

I still remember a meeting I attended many years ago, when I was in City Hall. A number of neighborhood groups–aggrieved about something I no longer recall–met with Mayor Hudnut and a small group of city officials and accused us of engaging in a devious conspiracy to undermine whatever it was they were exercised about. Bob Cross, then Deputy Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, responded that incompetence usually explains far more than conspiracy. (Actually, as he remarked after the meeting, we would have been incapable of pulling off a conspiracy.)

It was a bit of wisdom I’ve not forgotten.

There are all sorts of ongoing problems with the Iowa Caucuses–working folks often can’t participate, Iowa is over 95% white and unrepresentative of the nation as a whole, and the parties and media pay far too much attention to the results. Perhaps the monumental cluster-f**k this year will prompt a re-evaluation. (I personally favor a national primary…or at this point, even a retreat to those despised “smoke filled rooms.” Trump would never have emerged from a smoke-filled room.)

In the wake of Iowa’s inability to issue immediate results, Talking Points Memo blamed complexity and an app that was definitely “not ready for prime time.”

Experts in cybersecurity and election administration told TPM on Tuesday that the app chosen by the Iowa Democratic Party failed to handle the complexity, providing an example of what not to do in administering an election.

But incompetence isn’t an explanation that feeds the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders identified a donor who had given money to both Mayor Pete and to the company that developed the flawed app (as had four of the Democratic contenders) and concluded that Pete was part of a clandestine effort to rig the election. Anti-Bernie folks responded by identifying a guy with a “commie background” who has  donated to Bernie, so Bernie’s a commie.

For the record, Bernie’s campaign has said the caucuses were not rigged.

Business Insider reported that GOP operatives were gleefully piling on.

Amid the chaos surrounding the delayed results of the Iowa caucuses, multiple Republicans have pushed conspiracy theories that imply the process was rigged against Sen. Bernie Sanders.

With so much confusion in Iowa, some in the GOP saw an opportunity to be exploited.

There is no evidence whatsoever the caucuses were rigged, but some Republicans are pushing this conspiratorial narrative in what appears to be a fairly transparent effort to divide Democratic voters. The primary season is already heated, with supporters of the various Democratic candidates often duking it out online.

A column in the Washington Post summed up the various elements of this mess that should genuinely trouble Democrats, and the lessons this exercise in breathtaking incompetence should teach.

Transmitting results digitally opens up a whole cyber-world of hacking risk — yet Iowa insisted on doing it anyway. Organizers did try to guard against disaster by requiring precincts to include snapshots of an on-paper count. But there’s a lot more they didn’t do, such as test their system statewide or tell any security experts the name of the for-profit company that constructed the app in a hurried two months. (That name, by the way, is “Shadow, Inc.” Now don’t you feel better?)…

Iowa party officials started by crying “user error” to explain the struggles many precinct captains had downloading and uploading. Okay, if “user error” means very few people could use the app without encountering an error. Some encountered limited bandwidth because so many individuals were accessing the program at the same time, which the party might have anticipated considering they were running 1,681 caucuses simultaneously. Some in rural areas ran into poor wireless service, which the party also should have anticipated considering, well, it is Iowa. The next day, officials began to blame a “coding issue.”

The Iowa imbroglio, in other words, so far reveals lots of incompetence and little insidiousness. More tech isn’t always better, and, in this case, it was worse because a product wasn’t fully tested and didn’t function as it was supposed to.

The first two sentences of the column pointed to the real issue: Americans’ widespread distrust– distrust that encourages belief in conspiracy theories.

Want to cause countrywide confusion and sow doubt in the integrity of our democracy? Apparently there’s an app for that.

Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Primary Racism?

With political attention focused on the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire are rapidly disappearing in the media’s rear-view mirror. But before we bury ourselves in more current analyses and prognostications, it might be well to consider the peculiar order of America’s primary lineup.

I thought about this because I recently came across a post raising an issue I had not previously considered; that the choice of Iowa and New Hampshire as the sites of our earliest political primaries operates to support racism—or at least white privilege—in American life.

This is my epiphany of 2016. Our primary system – like the rest of our political system – is one more example of the racism we so deeply entrench and protect. I don’t pretend that moving the first primaries to more representative states would end racism, but, like pulling down Confederate flags, it couldn’t hurt.

In defense of this conclusion, he points to media coverage of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries—coverage strongly suggesting that the results from these two states tells us something important about the desires of the “American people”— and he places the outsized importance attributed to those contests alongside voting requirements, slating, and gerrymandering, as examples of structures “designed to exclude minorities and protect white privilege.”

Frankly, it would difficult to find two states less representative of America than Iowa and New Hampshire. Only 3% of Iowans and 1% of New Hampshire residents are black in contrast to 13% of the nation. Only 5% of Iowans and 3% of New Hampshire residents are Latino in contrast to 17% of the rest of America. Indeed, having our first primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire is a little like reserving the front of the political bus for “whites only.” When the political parties suggest America has spoken in Iowa and New Hampshire, they imply that white America- the America that really matters to them – has spoken.

Indeed, Iowa and New Hampshire represent an America that hasn’t existed for two hundred years. Thirty-six percent of Iowans and forty percent of New Hampshire residents live in rural communities while only 19% of Americans are rural dwellers. Claiming white farmers and woodsmen are the most politically important people in our nation may have made some demographic sense in the 1800s, but it is patently ridiculous and racist in 2016. Allowing the opinions of whites in Iowa and New Hampshire to have such an inordinate influence on our national election is wrong.

I am less inclined to attribute the structures the author identifies to conscious racism; they are equally likely to be a result of partisanship and happenstance. That said, his larger point is worth considering: although this country has eliminated most of the legal disadvantages and inequities that operated to tilt the playing field in favor of white Americans, even people of good will have yet to recognize–let alone disassemble–the myriad social structures that facilitate racist practices and foster racist assumptions and stereotypes.

There are actually all sorts of good reasons to revisit the importance of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries—reasons having little or nothing to do with race. Even if one finds the post unpersuasive, even if moving the primaries to more representative states wouldn’t really represent a blow against racism, the author is clearly right about one thing: it sure couldn’t hurt.

Backlash

I’ve had two discussions lately that have raised—in very different ways—the strategic questions facing gay activists right now. One of those conversations was with a straight friend who is very savvy politically, and very “gay friendly,” but otherwise not connected to any of the campaigns for gay rights. The other was with a gay friend who spends virtually all his time on those campaigns.

 

My political friend and I were having one of our periodic lunches to discuss recent national and local politics. (Okay, the truth is, we meet every so often to swap political gossip…) Apropos of nothing in particular, he recounted a conversation he’d had with his wife about the apparent speed with which gay marriage is being accepted. “Who’d have thought Iowa! And who’d have expected that a state legislature—not a court, but a democratically-elected body—would support same-sex marriage to such a degree that it would be able to override a veto! It’s amazing! Does it seem to you that this issue is moving faster than other civil rights movements have moved?”

 

My response was the typical lawyer hedge: yes and no.

 

On the one hand, I know how long gay and lesbian people have struggled for the barest legal and social recognition. I remember vividly when the “Coming Out” movement was getting underway, and the amount of real courage it took for many people to simply live an honest, un-closeted existence. So the struggle didn’t just start a couple of years ago. On the marriage front alone, there have been enormous setbacks—just look at the number of states with constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage. Think about Matthew Shepard, and the long history of vicious gay-bashing.

 

On the other hand, it does seem to me that the gay rights movement, and particularly same-sex marriage, has reached what I’d call “critical mass” more quickly than other civil rights efforts. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in the 1950s, and there are still plenty of schools where segregation is countenanced, if not officially legal. And there’s good reason we still have the Voting Rights Act on the books in a number of southern states. By way of contrast, as I write this, same-sex marriage is legal in four states and pending in another two—not to mention California, where it’s likely to win another referendum even if the California court leaves Prop 8 intact. Marriage advocates face a landscape that would have been unimaginable a mere ten years ago.

 

Mention of Proposition 8 leads me to the second conversation, the one with my activist friend. He takes the long view, as he should, and he worries about backlash. Nearly every advance in civil liberties, he reminds me, has come at a price. Roe v. Wade energized the anti-choice movement we face today. Brown led to a massive exodus from our common, public schools—an exodus from which we still suffer more than a half-century later. When the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution required equality, the ruling triggered not only an amendment to Hawaii’s constitution, but the passage of DOMA and the so-called “little DOMAs.” My friend’s point was irrefutable, and I will admit I harbor many of the same fears. How do you achieve progress while at the same time minimizing the likelihood of reactions that could wipe that progress out and set the whole movement back? It’s a conundrum.

 

Or maybe not. Because this morning, as I began to write this column, I saw a brand-new CBS/New York Times poll that measured support for same-sex marriage. This poll was taken in the immediate aftermath of Iowa and Vermont—and it showed a level of support exceeding any that has previously been reported. According to CBS,

 

Forty-two percent of Americans now say same sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds. That’s up nine points from last month, when 33 percent supported legalizing same sex marriage.

Support for same sex marriage is now at its highest point since CBS News starting asking about it in 2004.

Twenty-eight percent say same sex couples should have no legal recognition – down from 35 percent in March – while 25 percent support civil unions, but not marriage, for gay couples.

 

I think gay rights activists are “over the hump” in this country. It won’t happen tomorrow, but it won’t be very long. There may be some backlash here and there, among the remnants of the reactionary right, but this battle is over.

 

And the good guys won.