There were two major contests within the last 72 hours. Both resulted in someone being proclaimed "the winner."
First was the Iowa Republicans' "straw poll" Saturday [August 13] afternoon.
The headline proclaimed, ""Michele Bachmann wins Iowa Straw Poll." Jennifer Jacobs, "Michele Bachmann wins Iowa Straw Poll," Des Moines Register, August 14, 2011. (Other quotes from the story: "Michele Bachmann, the first woman to win the Iowa straw poll, is now the official front-runner in Iowa . . .. With 16,892 Iowans casting ballots, Bachmann won with 4,823 votes. . . . Bachmann’s win . . ..) [Photo credit: Charles Dharapak, Associated Press.]
What does "win" mean in this context?
Even if one candidate got 50% or more of the vote, they still wouldn't have won enough to buy deep fat fried butter on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.
Moreover, on this occasion (a) Bachmann only got 28% of the vote, and (b) Ron Paul virtually tied her with 27%. They were separated by only 152 votes out of 16,891. Does it make any sense to proclaim one a "winner" and the other a "loser," given those numbers out of 55 million registered Republicans?
Here is Jon Stewart's take on the mainstream media's virtual total dismissal of second place finisher Ron Paul:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Indecision 2012 - Corn Polled Edition - Ron Paul & the Top Tier|
"Indecision 2012 - Corn Polled Edition - Ron Paul & the Top Tier," August 15, 2011.
I have a lot more problems with that straw poll.
For starters, two of the Party's frontrunners -- Mitt Romney and Rick Perry -- weren't even on the ballot. Jon Huntsman was, but made no effort to garner votes. What does it mean to "win" a vote in which the two leaders haven't participated?
The straw poll is about as far as one can get from scientific polling. It's a fund raiser; it's a poll tax on steroids. It's Chicago politics with no holds barred.
To vote you first have to pay the $30 poll tax -- except that "you" don't have to pay, because the candidate will pay you to vote. Moreover, candidates can bus in voters from anywhere -- and do. Last time Romney paid $10 million to bus in and turn out straw poll voters. (This time he wisely chose to save the money.) [Thanks to "baune" for Aug. 17 blog correction/comment, below, "Not that it matters that much, but Mitt Romney's name was on the ballot for the straw poll." Thus, the first sentence, two paragraphs above, should have read: "For starters, two of the Party's frontrunners -- Mitt Romney and Rick Perry -- weren't even campaigning for votes."]
Maybe the vote is a measure of how much money candidates were able to raise, and willing to spend, on staff, organization, buses and poll tax tickets, but it's not much indication of Republican voters' preferences at this point.
Indeed, there is a suspicion that some voters "refused to stay bought." They went to the tent of the candidate with the best food and entertainment, accepted their $30 ticket, and then voted for whomever they pleased.
Finally, there's the matter of Republicans' judgment, to the extent the results were a measure of their genuine choice. Not that there aren't Democrats equally capable of snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, mind you, but it does say something about Iowa Republicans that less than 1/2 of 1% of them are willing to support the one candidate actually capable of attracting enough independents and even Democrats to defeat Obama in a head-to-head general election once it is heavily covered by the media. That candidate? Jon Huntsman.
The other contest finished up on Sunday, August 14. It was the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia.
Golf has always been more honorable than politics. Players' actual, and reported, numbers of strokes are far less likely to have been manipulated or distorted than a straw poll's number of votes.
And so it is that we know Keegan Bradley took one less stroke to finish a three-hole playoff than Jason Dufner required.[Photo credit: Kohjiro Kinno, Sports Illustrated.]
Thus, the headline proclaims that Bradley "wins PGA Championship." Gary Van Sickle, "First time's a charm for Bradley as he wins PGA Championship in a playoff," Sports Illustrated, August 15, 2011.
He deserved to win. He played spectacular golf throughout. I tend to agree with SI that "Bradley just might be that new golf star America so badly needs" -- though I may not be as confident as SI that America "badly needs" a golf star, as much as, say, to bring some of our wars to a close, create a few million jobs, and get our economy back on a growth curve.
How any human is capable of hitting a little golf ball with a stick some 200 to 300 yards and have it land within 15 feet of a flag is beyond me -- especially when most of that distance is over a lake. In fact, the only thing Bradley's game had in common with mine was his triple bogey on the 15th (where he did leave one in the lake).
The difference in ultimate outcome was that he was able to recover and Dufner was not, which is what sent them into a three-hole playoff which Bradley managed to finish with one stroke less than Dufner.
I understand about winning in sports. A baseball team can have better hitting and batting than their opponent for eight innings and still lose the game in the bottom of the ninth. A 1/100th of a second can make the difference between the gold and silver medals in swimming or downhill skiing. And some of the world's best golfers may be separated by no more than one to three strokes at the end of a tournament.
But after a sporting contest between the world's finest is over, it often seems to me that more needs to be said about the accomplishments of all the participants, not just the final score, or "winner's" time. I know that's not what some of the participants think. They want to "win." But it's what I think, as I review in my mind the unbelievable catch in the football game, the golfer's 30-foot putt, or approach shot that comes within a half inch of a hole in one.
Bradley and Dufner were no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, of whom it was said, he was great, but she did everything he did, backwards and in high heels.
Neither Keegan Bradley nor Jason Dufner were were wearing high heels or walking backwards; both were playing on the same golf course.
But before the playoff, don't forget that out of all the championship golfers who made the cut for this tournament, it was only Jason Dufner who was able to tie the tournament score of America's new young golfing superstar -- who won the first major championship in which he played -- "that new golf star America so badly needs."
In my book Dufner's accomplishment is worthy of a little more recognition and respect than the characterization of Bradley as the "winner" and Dufner the "loser" of that championship. Clearly, Dufner is also a "golf star America needs."
And I'd say the same for Ron Paul's accomplishment in the straw poll -- brought about, I suspect, more from the wild enthusiasm from his Libertarian supporters than with busloads of strangers and lots of money.
Here's how the 16,892 straw poll votes ended up:
1st Michele Bachmann 4823 28.551977%
2nd Ron Paul 4671 27.652143%
3rd Tim Pawlenty 2293
4th Rick Santorum, 1657
5th Herman Cin 1456
6th Newt Gingrich 385
7th Jon Huntsman 69
8th Thaddeus McCotter 35