The following article was written by Steffen Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science.
As a political scientist studying and analyzing the presidential selection process since 1970 from my perch at Iowa State I’ve had conversations with thousands of reporters from all over the world.
I’ve had to explain to German Television, in German, from the caucus reporting center in the old Polk County convention center why Iowa, rural and mostly European gets to be first in the nation in fingering the likely presidential candidate of both parties.
There was the team from CNN en Español that came to Iowa and had me as their caucus night analyst. I also have done the general election night analysis from their HQ in Atlanta in Spanish. They set up in the Iowa Supreme Court building, shot their updates from an outdoor balcony, on a freezing cold caucus night with the State Capitol in the background, and one of their anchors almost caught on fire right next to me from the propane heaters they had going.
I could share more but let me jump ahead to a few weeks ago when I got a call from a producer for the Daily Show with Jon Stuart on Comedy Central. He wanted to know if I was interested in taping an interview on the Iowa caucuses. No person in his or her right mind especially a political scientist could say no to that.
Besides, I know that the Daily Show uses razor sharp humor to make fun of politicians and others and I figured it was my duty as an Iowan and a big fan of the first in the nation caucuses to defend that process.
The interviewer turned out to be Al Madrigal “Senior Latino Correspondent” of the Daily Show. He was named Best Stand-Up Comedian by the HBO/U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, so it was exciting to be ‘”interviewed” by him.
I put that in parentheses because the “interview” turned out to be a fascinating two and a half hour marathon session. There was a camera and production crew of three, two cameras, lighting, and the full nine yards in a tiny room at a Holiday Inn in Des Moines.
The two chairs facing each other were literally within knee bumping distance from each other. I could see every whisker and wrinkle in Madrigals face; every bead of sweat that slowly had built up on his forehead in this overheated, tiny space.
The questions came as fast as machine gun fire. “Tell me what are Iowan’s like?’ “Why should Iowa be first in choosing a presidential candidate?” “Iowa is so white that’s a good thing for choosing the president.”
He wanted to know why ethanol was chosen to blend with gasoline. Could it be because presidential contenders are forced to agree to make ethanol the fuel of choice because of the Iowa caucuses?
The questioning continued more I imagined, like an interrogation in a foreign immigration detention center. I was fascinated and followed the instructions to answer each question. My answers were, as they have always been, that the Iowa caucuses are a great way to begin the story every four years of how Americans select their presidential candidates. ‘”Is it just the tradition?” “ Yes, tradition is a good thing?” He seemed dubious.
The hours of questions and answers and often very humorous but biting question/comments” Madrigal made during this session will be sliced, diced, and spliced into a short an no doubt very funny episode on the Iowa caucuses. I have no idea what it will look and sound like when it airs which they tell me will probably be in early June.
Would I do it again? Yes I would because an experience like that only comes along once in a career. And besides it was a “terrific boot camp” for me going forward. The same questions in less intense form and the same doubts that Iowa should be first in the nation are coming at me almost daily from media around the world especially now that I’m launching a free Internet course open to anyone on the Iowa caucuses.
So, I need to be super sharp and ready to deal with whatever is thrown at me. I know I’m ready.
Thanks Al Madrigal. You are an excellent drill sergeant.