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Are Iowans Still Pacifists?

I'll say this for Peter Beinart: He's been editing a great magazine lately. But his op-ed in the Washington Post on Friday attempting to connect his call for a more explicitly hawkish Democratic party with the internal DNC debate about the primary schedule is unpersuasive and, sadly, outdated.

Beinart argues that the Iowa caucuses are "a critical part of the [Democrats'] problem" on national security, because "for starters, Iowa Democrats are dovish even by Democratic standards." Actually, that's not just "for starters," it's the entire argument. But you would not know from Beinart that the two candidates who together won almost 70% of the vote in Iowa in 2004 had both voted in favor of the Iraq war. Beinart argues that the candidates had to mimic Dean because Dean was doing well in the Iowa polls (just as he was in New Hampshire), but then, Dean didn't win Iowa. The others also worred about Dick Gephardt winning Iowa, even though Gephardt had the most pro-war position other than Lieberman and could actually be blamed for allowing Bush's war resolution to sail through Congress without an alternative, would win.

Beinart argues also that "in 2004, Joseph Lieberman and Wesley Clark, the two major candidates who placed the greatest emphasis on fighting terrorism, skipped Iowa." There are two logical flaws here. First, Iowa rewards organization above all else and Clark's late entry into the race made an Iowa contest impossible. Lieberman made the sensible judgment that he did not have a natural constituency in Iowa, but then he didn't have a natural constituency anywhere for the kind of non-Democrat Democrat he was presenting himself as in the primaries. (And which, I have argued, tragically squanders his actual stature as a responsible moderate-liberal northeastern Senator) It also requres Beinart to once again redefine Michael Moore's candidate -- General Clark -- into his "hawkish" camp, whereas Clark might just as easily be put into the dovish camp where he found much of his support. (Do a thought experiment: If Clark had been the Democratic nominee, is there any doubt that he would have been savaged by ads noting his association with Moore and that Rove would have concocted a group much like the Swift Boat veterans to denigrate Clark? And after he lost, would Beinart would be making exactly the same argument that he now makes regarding Kerry.)

I don't intend to defend the Iowa caucuses, and I'm continually surprised that candidates who have little of the organizational backing to win Iowa continue to throw themselves into their pit. The more candidates stay out of Iowa, the more irrelevant it becomes, as it has been for Republicans recently. But the argument that Iowa produces Democratic nominees too dovish to succeed has only one data point: "the caucuses proved disastrous for hawkish Washington state Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who finished last there in both 1972 and 1976." I'd leave the nostalgia for an imagined Scoop Jackson presidency to Richard Perle.

But here's the interesting question: Does Iowa still have a pacifist tradition? As Beinart acknowledges, it was very much a bipartisan tradition, and Republican Senator Grassley even voted against the first Gulf War and a previous Iowa Republican, Bourke Hickenlooper was a vicious, dimwitted anti-communist, but an isolationist who opposed even the creation of NATO. However Grassley felt no such pressure under the much more dubious circumstances of 2002, and given the significance of the Iraq war, if Iowa is such a pacifist state, how is it that Kerry lost the state, ending a string of Democratic victories in Iowa in presidential elections that goes back to, and includes, Michael Dukakis??

(I'll admit, I just enjoy writing "Bourke Hickenlooper." He has very little to do with this point.)

I asked an Iowan who is also an extremely astute political analyst about this a few weeks ago, and he agreed that the Iowa pacifist tradition was "a generational thing," of a generation now passed. He pointed to changes in religion, particularly the decline of what Beinart calls the "peace churches" such as Mennonites and the growth of more familiar evangelical churches, and also a significant change in the Catholic hierarchy in the upper Midwest from one that was extremely liberal -- liberation theology, seamless garment and all that -- to a near single-minded focus on abortion as the principal political issue. I'm sure there's much more to the explanation, but Beinart's argument belongs to the era of Scoop Jackson, not our own.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on January 17, 2005 | Permalink


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Other than Karen Kubby, no.

Posted by: Rob W | Jan 18, 2005 12:34:58 AM

Its pretty sad how abortion and sexuality in general have consumed american churches. I really am not sure how this came about.

Posted by: | Jan 18, 2005 4:02:25 AM

And that data point isn't even a data point -- Jackson (like Lieberman) didn't run in Iowa in 1972 and 1976.

Posted by: Ted | Jun 1, 2006 11:10:59 PM