Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: To Iowa — a hate letter, a New Year’s resolution, and liberal media suppression

Matt Labash Columnist
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What’s your favorite thing about the Iowa caucuses?  — M. Berry

When they’re over. As the Iowa-born writer Bill Bryson once apologetically wrote, “I come from Des Moines, somebody had to.” Bryson added — understatedly — that Des Moines was “the most powerful hypnotic known to man.” Not that you’d know it from the amount of column inches his seedy little home state generates. For roughly two years out of every quadrennial, groveling politicians, not to mention journalists and the electorate at large, have to pretend to give a rip what Iowans think. Which is unfortunate, as even Iowans don’t know what Iowans think. I’m not saying they’re dumb. But in the nineties, Iowa experienced the second largest brain drain of any state in the nation, with its young educated classes fleeing in droves. Economists say it was to find better employment or higher education opportunities. But one could hardly blame the evacuees for just wanting to get away from other rubber-necking, carb-loading, undecided Iowa voters.

Even as late as this past Saturday, a Des Moines Register poll showed 41 percent of Iowans could still be persuaded to change their minds. This, after every man, woman, and child in the state had benefited from 17 or 18 opportunities apiece to eat pancakes, have their photos snapped in front of butter sculptures, or to otherwise be sucked up to, back-slapped or belly-scratched in person by or with every single candidate, plus their spouses. If you don’t know what you think of a candidate after watching Marcus Bachmann deep-throat a foot-long corn dog just to impress you, then maybe you don’t deserve first-in-the-nation privileges.

And we continue this charade every four years, why? So that we can pretend as though Iowa is the rural, Platonic ideal of America, when its hype isn’t even accurately representative of itself, according to my Wikipedia sources. While reporters are fond of interviewing salt-of the-earth farmers over Iowa’s bevy of meth dealers or government employees (the latter of which account for 10.4 percent of their economy), over 60 percent of Iowa’s population now lives in urban areas, and only 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product is attributable to the production of raw agricultural goods. Meanwhile, less than one percent of the tallgrass prairie that formerly covered the state remains intact. The better to plant more corn to suck up ethanol subsidies (one third of Iowa’s corn is consumed  by ethanol production), subsidies which until recently being allowed to expire, were a $5-billion-a-year-racket that caused corn prices to surge as much as 17 percent for the rest of us. Thanks, Hawkeye State!

So we are again encouraging the funny little people of Iowa to pack their school gyms with their aluminum-foil covered sheet cakes and pork products so they can jawbone at each other before holding their adorable little non-binding vote. Meanwhile, the punditry dutifully stands by in stuck-record fashion, dusting off all the old cliches, such as “There are three tickets out of Iowa.” Really? Tell that to Fred Thompson, who finished third in Iowa in 2008 with 13 percent of the vote, went on to a resounding 1 percent finish in New Hampshire, and quit the race by Jan. 22. Thompson, however, was one of the lucky ones. He at least put himself out of his misery, and returned to some semblance of a normal, happy life. But in two more years, ambitious politicians will again start flocking to Iowa, and our misery will begin anew.

Matt, Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? — Larry G.

Just one. To never speak of Iowa again. It’s dead to me.

Dear Matt, Sometimes you update your column every week; other times a whole month passes before you update. Don’t you think we deserve an explanation?  — Ron

Maybe I do owe you an explanation. But what do you owe me? If nothing, why is this relationship so one-sided?  I give. You take. Maybe you should try asking yourself that, first.

In fairness, however, this column isn’t called “Ask Yourself.” It’s called “Ask Matt.” Which you have done, despite your quarrelsome tone, thus honoring the letter of this uneasy compact we have forged. So it’s only fair for me to explain the intermittent nature of my column updating. While I am not as irregular as some (anyone seen Pussy Per Se lately?), neither am I as regular as others (Jim Treacher. Though he doesn’t write a column. He writes a blog. Which is like a column for people who can’t figure out an ending.) Throughout this column’s two-year tenure on this two-year-old site (happy birthday to us), it has appeared on Tuesdays. Then, it switched sometimes to Wednesdays. Thursdays are a possibility, too. It never appears Fridays, since the Internet’s closed on Fridays. Then there are weeks when it doesn’t appear at all.

Which is to say that if you’re counting on me, don’t. Think of me as Patrick Swayze’s Jonathan Castle thought of Jennifer Grey’s Frances “Baby” Houseman in his hit “Dirty Dancing” song, “She’s Like The Wind.”

She’s like the wind through my tree
She rides the night next to me.

You can’t lasso the wind, anymore than you can put Baby in a corner. The wind blows when it needs to blow. I could blame the sporadic nature of my blowing wind on the muse taking her sweet time to visit. Or I could blame it on you, dear reader, for sending lower quality questions than even I am prepared to answer. Or I could blame it on my taxing day job down at the pet store. Sometimes, after swabbing out the turtle cages, I have just enough left in me to put a pot pie in the microwave, slump into the Lay-Z-Boy, and fix my catatonic gaze on a Hoarder’s marathon. (Watching people accumulate junk makes my own baggage feel less heavy.)

But I won’t blame my dereliction of duty on any of those things. Instead, I’ll do what everybody else does these days. I’ll blame it on liberal media bias. Does the liberal media really have anything to do with the unpredictable appearances of my column? Probably not. But that doesn’t stop every other self-respecting conservative from blaming the liberal media for any and all infractions. The way the rules of the game go today, there’s nothing you can’t blame the liberal media for. If it weren’t for the liberal media, I’d be a better husband to my wife, a better father to my children, and a better boyfriend to my mistress. So if I’m not hitting the mark often enough for your taste, don’t take it up with me. Take it up with The New York Times.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.