In Iowa and NH, Every Day is Presidents' Day

Arnie Alpert on February 13, 2015

One issue on our minds now is whether we have a democracy or governing-under-the-influence. 

In Iowa and New Hampshire, Every Day is Presidents' Day

While the rest of the country takes a day to reflect on the legacy of presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the campaign to determine the next president is well underway in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Yes, the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary are less than a year off.   The two states are still first in line to express their preferences for the Republican and Democratic Party candidates for president in the 2016 general election.  Possible candidates have been “testing the waters” on a regular basis pretty much since the 2012 election. 

Joe Biden has just come and gone from Iowa.  Rick Perry made a quick trip to New Hampshire and said he’ll be back soon.  Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Bob Ehrlich will visit one state or the other in the next two weeks, with Martin O’Malley, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and George Pataki hot on their heels.  Then the pace will quicken. 

What is most important is that Iowa and New Hampshire voters expect to see the candidates close up.  To use a Presidents Day car shopping metaphor, we like to kick their tires and take them for test drives before we decide which ones we want.   We insist on meeting them in person and hearing them tell us their views on the issues we think are most important.

One issue on our minds now is whether we have a democracy or governing-under-the-influence. 

To use another seasonal metaphor, billionaires and corporate barons have the leading parts while ordinary citizens are in danger of getting only supporting roles. 

Iowa and New Hampshire voters should be wary of the ways big money can corrupt a system we’d prefer was still based on the voices and votes of the people.   But money also matters and it’s flowing through a variety of channels.  For example, the Center for Public Integrity recently reported, “During the past two years, six high-profile Republicans collectively spread $340,000 through their PACs — about 25 percent of their overall contributions — to nearly 100 beneficiaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Still, people in New Hampshire and Iowa really do have the opportunity to make the presidential election be about more than money.

Perhaps we should look to the legacies of Washington and Lincoln after all.  Our first president is held in such high regard in part because he insisted on a republican form of government and left office voluntarily when he could have held kingly power.  He is also remembered for his “Farewell Address,” in which he warned against involvement in foreign wars.

Lincoln’s reputation stems largely from his recognition that ultimately democracy and slavery cannot coexist, and his vision of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

And if we want to shine a light on a 20th Century president, let’s not forget Dwight Eisenhower, who warned us in 1961 to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”   Since then, the military-industrial-complex has only grown stronger, and is now side-by-side with the Wall Street Industrial Complex, the Health Care-Industrial-Complex, the Energy-Industrial-Complex, and more.   In Eisenhower’s words, “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

In general, that path of the nation’s history has been toward more inclusion and more democracy, from direct election of Senators to the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and more.   

But as we observe Presidents' Day 2015, we cannot fail to note that a widening gap between the mega-rich and everyone else, coupled with Court rulings that enable unlimited funds from corporations and billionaires to flood our election system, threaten to undo our small-d democratic and small-r republican traditions.    

Let’s hope we can count on New Hampshire and Iowa voters to keep kicking those tires so that we can get a president accountable to “we the people.”   




Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program, which he has led since 1981.  In that time he has been involved in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.