Wait, How Does This Work? An Australian Perspective on Iowa Politics
The phenomenon of the Iowa precinct caucuses can be baffling to those from other parts of the country. When I talk with my family in New Jersey or my friends in Colorado, they can’t believe I get to meet presidential candidates face-to-face. But that’s the beauty of being an Iowan. There are millions of citizens who are of legal voting age in the United States but since I live in the Hawkeye State, I get special treatment.
Considering the bewilderment many Americans have with the Iowa caucuses, I was interested to hear what a foreigner would think. Enter Al Watson.
Al is my uncle. After getting his bachelor’s in political science and a degree in law, he now works for a telecommunications company in Sydney. Al is as Australian as a person can be, five generations deep. He met my aunt while she was studying abroad in college and now, 10 years later, they and their three little boys are living in the U.S. for a year while Al works on another degree from the University of California — Berkeley. They’ve been traveling across the country camping, fishing, hiking, and making pit stops along the way to see family. Lucky for them (or me, since it gave me a chance to brag) their jaunt through the Midwest coincided with caucus season.
I took my aunt and uncle to a meet and greet with Jeb Bush while they were in Cedar Rapids to see my family. We arrived, had our cookies and punch, and sat with a group of about 50 people to listen to Bush’s remarks.
Interested to hear my uncle’s opinions on our system and the characters in it, I debriefed with Al after the event.
Q: So how much do you know about the political systems in the U.S.?
A: I’m politically aware, particularly in American politics, because American foreign policy has a huge impact on Australia. When the U.S. economy is doing well, Australia is typically doing well, too. We pay close attention to what is going on in the U.S., as most people overseas do. Or should be doing.
Q: What did you think of the Bush event?
A: From my perspective, people in the Bush family, the Clinton family, the Kennedy family, these are major names: rock-star politicians from big political families. I was expecting to see the pomp and ceremony, the trumpets blaring and the secret service agents everywhere, but it was nothing like that. So to me that was a real eye-opener. It helped me shed a few preconceptions about what goes on here.
Q: How much do you know about the Iowa caucuses?
A: I have a grasp of the U.S. system. But this caucus thing is a somewhat of an outlier. I like it because you can go and actually have contact with the people who are going to have phenomenal power. That’s really special. There are very few countries in the world where that could actually happen. You’d have to go to a $500-a-plate, black-tie affair at the Sydney Opera House to meet Tony Abbott (former Prime Minister of Australia). The fact that we can be camping at Mesa Verde one night and the next day be meeting Jeb Bush? That’s astonishing to me. A story for the ages, that one.
“The fact that we can be camping at Mesa Verde one night and the next day be meeting Jeb Bush? That’s astonishing to me.”
Q: What’s concerning to you about the way this election cycle is going?
A: The sheer number of candidates in the Republican Party. That’s something I think the party should be worried about. They haven’t thrown up somebody who can encapsulate the values of the group. Ten-plus candidates is alarming because the spectrum of views that provides. From the hard, frightening right all the way through to some positions you could argue as quite liberal. The fact that that there are so many candidates tells me there are fault lines appearing. And that’s what worries people abroad. We wonder what it means. Some of the opinions being touted by these candidates are rather worrisome to us on the outside.
Access is important. Something happens when you are standing in a room listening to someone talk that doesn’t happen when you’re watching the news or reading a tweet. Lucky for us, most of those rooms are pretty close by.
Katie Ramsey is a senior public relations major with a concentration in politics. She is a proud Iowan who watches too much SNL and is the only journalism student in recorded history without a coffee habit. Follow her on Twitter.