Yesterday, the nation waited breathlessly for the results from the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa.
We wanted to know which of the host of candidates would receive the most votes from the tiny fraction of Iowans attending the event — many of whom were bussed there, fed, clad in t-shirts, entertained, and even had their entrance fee paid by one candidate or another. The suspense was so great it took a herculean effort to go about our daily lives. And then, this morning, we learned that Representative Michele Bachmann scored a victory for the ages by collecting 4,823 straw poll votes, barely edging out Representative Ron Paul, who tallied 4,671 votes. Former Governor Tim Pawlenty finished third with 2,293 votes — and he found his performance so disappointing that he promptly dropped out the race, before most of us even had a chance to figure out who in the heck he was.
The endless drum-beating about the significance of the Iowa straw poll, with its paid admission, its miniscule sample of voters, and its wholly non-binding results, is so stunningly absurd that it somehow makes perverse sense that the results would convince a largely unknown candidate to leave the “race” for the Republican presidential nomination before the “race” has even begun. It is hard to believe that a major party would use something as phony and contrived as the Iowa straw poll as part of its process of selecting a serious presidential candidate. I think it makes Republicans look ridiculous.
Anyone who wonders why middle America thinks the national media and party establishments are out of touch need look no further than this weekend’s Iowa straw poll, which drew political journalists and party bigwigs like flies — but was ignored by everyone else.
Today, on a whim, I made pancakes, because pancakes are fun to make.
Get your box of pancake mix, measure the amount you need, and dump it into a bowl. Deftly crack a few eggs and plop them into the bowl. Splash some milk in there. Get out your hand-cranked beater and whale away, seeing if you can create a rooster tail in the mixture — or whether you’ve become a weakling wuss since the last time you made some pancakes. Ladle big spoonfuls onto a sizzling, butter-coated frying pan and watch for the bubbles to form. And then, the final test: get out your spatula and see whether you have the eye-hand coordination needed to flip the pancakes over into the vacated portion of the pan.
When I was a kid, our family used to have big Sunday morning breakfasts after church, and I was in charge of the pancakes. They may have been the first food item I ever cooked. I made them on a big electric griddle that allowed you to make about 12 at a time. Making pancakes was fun then, and it’s still fun now. Today’s batch tasted pretty good, too.
On Friday the index that purports to measure consumer confidence in the United States fell to its lowest point since May 1980. May 1980, of course, came during the grim, final months of the Jimmy Carter presidency — and I’m sure the fact that consumer confidence has fallen to Carter presidency levels probably doesn’t make President Obama very happy.
Why is consumer confidence so low? Well, wouldn’t it be fairer to ask why consumer confidence should be higher? The American consumer is like a punch-drunk fighter that has been absorbing repeated haymakers for months now. Whether it is the continued high unemployment rate, record numbers of home foreclosures, unending deficit spending, or paltry economic growth, there just isn’t any good news to grab onto. Why should consumers have confidence when the trading patterns of the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street have all of the stock exchange indices jacking up and down like a bungee jumper and our political leaders can’t or won’t present any plans that plausibly seem capable of changing things for the better?
Consumer confidence needs to be inspired. There just isn’t much inspiration out there right now, and more tired speeches from the President and congressional leaders aren’t going to provide any. I’d be surprised if the consumer confidence index surges anytime soon.