Roger L. Simon

Des Moines Diary #1: Watching Television in Iowa

For the next seventy-two hours or so — and possibly longer because of the impending snowstorm late caucus night — Iowa is the political capital of the known world.  My Uber driver from the airport — a Sudanese man who has lived in Des Moines for eight years (yes, he likes it) — said he had picked up journalists from Denmark, Brazil, Colombia and the UK in the last three hours.

All of them seemed to have turned up that night at the bar of the 801 Chophouse — ground zero for caucus gossip and Black Angus steaks in Des Moines.  The wait was two hours to get a table.  Being a New Yorker by way of Los Angeles, I pushed over a half-dozen people (okay, three or four) and secured a seat at the bar.

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There I engaged in a conversation with four longtime caucus voters who happened to be Democrats. (Remember: this is Iowa. Unlike New York, California and France, people talk to each other and are actually nice.) They explained to me how the caucuses work. The interesting difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Dems assemble in corners according to the candidate they prefer in order to be counted. Republicans write down their preferences and stuff them in a box — ye olde secret ballot. I favor the latter, but the former would certainly be more interesting to watch.

It was fascinating to see the look on the Democrats’ faces when I informed them that Obama had once again lied and written eighteen emails to Hillary’s private account, the one he said he had only heard about in the media with the rest of us.  They were distinctly uncomfortable. Well-heeled types who dined at the 810 Chophouse, they were more than likely Hillary supporters. To say this will be an interesting election is an understatement.

Being a nice guy myself (and anxious not to make a complete enemy of my cardiologist), I offered to share with them some of my frighteningly large side order of hashbrowns with aged cheddar — a house specialty. Everyone went home happy.

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I was anxious to get back to my hotel because I had an eight a.m. interview with Carly Fiorina, a woman who is alway good for a soundbite. But being on L.A. time, I was unable to sleep and watched television for a couple of  hours — which means I viewed a non-stop orgy of political ads, some 96% of which were of the attack variety with some 96% of those completely phony nonsense. There wasn’t even time for one measly Cialis ad. The amount of money spent on this swill — $30 million against Marco Rubio alone, according to a press release from his campaign (and I tend to believe it) — is mind-boggling and tests the limits of your belief in free speech.  Mine survived, but barely.

Having been in New Hampshire in 2012, I knew what to expect and had asked my new Democrat friends at the bar whether they were at all influenced by this non-stop onslaught.  None of them were. Since most Americans are deluged with television advertising from approximately the age of six months, it’s hard to believe too many people are suckers for this cheesy propaganda.  Maybe some are, but most of us observe them as a curiosity while rating their aesthetic qualities, much as we do during the Super Bowl.

But few, if any, of these political ads approach anything close to the Super Bowl standard.  I don’t mean to sound like a snot nose from Hollywood but, no matter what you think of our politics, we do know something about film.  These ads wouldn’t make the cut at Warner Brothers, to put it mildly.  But even if they were the next thing to Citizen Kane, I have a strong suspicion they wouldn’t have much impact.  But that’s American politics.  And in these hard times, we don’t want to put people out of work.

More to come…