Column: An embarrassment of riches

Column: An embarrassment of riches

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Don Wooten

Call it a columnist’s embarrassment of riches: the Iowa caucus fiasco, President Trump’s State of the Union address and the conclusion of the Senate impeachment trial. Each deserves extended treatment, but there are limits. So, briefly I'll run through them all.

The meltdown last Monday of the Iowa caucus was a stunner. Networks set aside the whole evening to cover the results, only to admit that they had nothing to offer and were forced to vamp it.

There were several problems which should have been spotted. It began with a desire to satisfy multiple candidates with extra information: the raw vote total before attendees had to shift their support from a candidate who did not have sufficient numbers to another.

The task of reporting all this was given to a new company. Somewhere along the way, it seems that testing had not been thorough, that precinct leaders had not been adequately instructed in how to download the new app or how to fill in information.

All of which brings up the perennial question: why does Iowa get to use this method and why should it always go first? Just posing that query strikes panic among those who depend on the quadrennial glut of personnel, ads and money into the state. The thought of losses in massive TV revenue is enough to give station execs the vapors.

This might also serve as an omen of problems to come. The prospect of multiple candidates, each with their coterie of highly motivated followers, continuing through the next few months, does not bode well for uniting behind the ultimate winner.

Recall how many of Bernie Sanders' 2016 zealots found it just too hard to vote for Hillary Clinton. We now have several competing camps that are pulling further apart as the competition intensifies. If it all comes down to a brokered convention, party unity may prove too difficult to achieve. Politics succeeds through compromise, something hard to bring about when swallowing defeat after a long and passionate campaign.

Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday was more preaching to the choir, a rather more formal version of his campaign tirades. It's remarkable that he did almost no ad-libbing. Senate Republicans’ chanting of ”four more years” seemed somehow more appropriate than indecorous.

It was a curious blend of self-congratulation and reality television, with surprise appearances, monetary prizes and a truly outrageous cheapening of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by awarding it to "the spectacularly racist hate-monger Rush Limbaugh" as he was characterized by the Guardian.

All sympathy is due to anyone with stage four cancer, but not via a poke in the eye to everyone else.

Fact checkers have been busy tidying up Trump’s casual treatment of the facts (drug prices have gone up, not down) and dimming the rosy picture of his time in office. The state of the economy is what he leans on, but the picture is far murkier once you get past the stock market.

The number of job increases is about what it has been since Obama’s tenure and, once you dig into details, the unemployment figure is not quite what it seems. You might check this on the internet, just to see how the figure is arrived at and how many unemployed are omitted in the calculation.

But all that fades into insignificance when you remember that Mitch McConnell kept his promise to deliver an acquittal in the impeachment trial. True, there was an unsettling instance of conscience when Mitt Romney voted guilty, but then he is a bishop and stake leader in the Mormon Church, one with the quaint notion that an oath to be honest and impartial is to be taken seriously.

Now that the whole impeachment process has come to its preordained conclusion, what meaning may we draw from it? Foremost is that the Senate has given Trump carte blanche to break rules, even the law. Attorney General William Barr has sealed the deal by forbidding the FBI to initiate any investigation into the 2020 campaign without his personal approval. So Trump is now free to enlist Russia’s aid openly and do whatever else he wishes to secure a second term.

Which makes you wonder what the founders' fuss with King George III was about.

Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster. Contact him at donwooten@qconline.com.

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