The sheep will get checks

The caucuses are over, we’re NeVAWda again when the nation speaks of us at all, and the circus has left town. Whether it comes back before November depends, I imagine, on how the polls look in September.

Watching the traveling show ricochet around the country, though, raises some questions:

What is momentum, and why does it matter?

Whoever came out on top last claims it, along with (say it with me) an Inside Track To The Nomination. But why should anyone care how a candidate placed in some other state?

If you caucused last week, did the results from, say, Iowa determine where you stood? When all the marbles are on the table on Super Tuesday, will a significant number of Californians care what people in South Carolina did?

Many experts say they will. Tens of millions of dollars are spent based on that belief. Ordinarily, that would incline me to reconsider my doubts, but the thought that the nation’s fate rests in the hands of sheep is just so depressing I can’t sustain it.

Why do polls swing the way they do?

You don’t hear the phrase “stump speech” much anymore. It refers to a standard talk, one a candidate gives at every stop. I assume without bothering to look it up that it comes from the days when the speaker would stand on a tree stump to address the crowd.

Modern communications have made the word-for-word stump speech less common than it was. Still, what candidates say in Florida usually isn’t much different from what they said in Michigan.

So why does it change people’s minds? A candidate swings through town, gives the same talk we’ve all seen on TV to a group at the Union Hall (or, if he’s Republican, the Executives’ Club), and his popularity goes up six points.

“He changed my mind,” some onlooker will tell a reporter. “He sounded sincere.” And well he might—he’s given the same talk four times since Monday.

Why do we fall for manufactured distractions?

Bill Clinton did not call Barack Obama’s drive for the White House a “fairy tale.” Check it on YouTube: He didn’t say that.

You can’t blame Obama’s handlers for trying to fog the issue. (Sure you can, and maybe you should, but we’ll get to that another time.) For so many other people to jump aboard without bothering to listen, though, walks that fine line between stupidity and mass hysteria.

And in a related matter:

Why a tax rebate?

If you don’t see the proposed economy-boosting rebate as part of the campaign, sit down for a minute and think.

I don’t have a position on the disbursement of funds—if I get a check, I’ll spend it, and if I don’t, I can keep complaining that Bush favors the rich.

Making it a rebate, though, is pathetically transparent. We’re supposed to overpay our taxes, spend millions on postage, suck down energy and foul the air with exhaust fumes hauling tons of paperwork to the IRS. Then the government will cut down a few hundred thousand trees to print millions of checks and ship them back to us? There’s an efficient use of resources. Why would they—

Wait! I might be on to something here.

Let me go out on a limb and suggest that the checks will arrive in fall, just in time for pre-election trumpeting about whose administration loves you enough to give back the money the tax-and-spend Evildoers wanted to throw away on frills. You know: health care, education, clean water . . .