Why is Iowa first? The question is ubiquitous during the presidential election season, and was the subject of a segment on Wednesday night’s episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In that nearly six-minute segment, Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper dons a winter coat and heads to Des Moines and the surrounding cities to conduct a series of on-the-street (and in-a-brewery) interviews with Iowans.
After asking several people how their state earned its first-in-the-nation status, and getting a range of noncommittal answers — “I don’t know.” “Because we’ve always been, maybe?” “It is what it is, man.” — Keppler sits down for a more focused interview with Lyz Lenz, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and author of God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America and Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women.
Lenz begins with a brief history of the Iowa Caucus. “It happened in 1972 because of paperwork, and then in 1976, Jimmy Carter came in, won the caucuses and showed that if you came to Iowa you could grab the attention of the nation. So it is basically thanks to Jimmy Carter that Iowa became a thing.”
“Those poor little peanut farmers who one day dreamed of being president,” Keppler said, “they’re like, ‘Now there’s a place I can go, a place where there are farmers but they’re different than me, they farm corn –”
“And soy!” Lenz interjects.
“You guys do soy, as well?”
“Yeah,” Lenz said. “It’s very varied.”
“It’s very diverse here, that’s what I’ve noticed,” replied Keppler, tongue-in-cheek.
“It’s actually not diverse,” said Lenz. “That’s the problem.”
Lenz has tackled this subject before. On Nov. 14, the Cedar Rapids-based author published an opinion piece in the Gazette titled “Abolish the undemocratic Iowa caucuses,” in which she agreed with Julián Castro’s critique of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status based on the fact Iowa is more than 90 percent white, while the United States is just over 72 percent white.
“We cannot sit here in our seats of corn, soy and power and preach racial justice and equality and then, by virtue of being a predominantly white state, exclude people of color from the caucuses,” Lenz wrote. “… Additionally, the bad weather and the drawn-out process of the caucuses means the voices of disabled people, low-income, third-shift workers and parents of young kids are not included.”
The piece received widespread attention, and a bipartisan response from the chairs of the Iowa GOP and Democratic Party. Jeff Kaufmann and Troy Price defended Iowa’s status, and implied that Castro and Lenz’s point about the lack of racial diversity in Iowa is merely “identity politics,” and Iowans’ responsibility to potentially pick a president is “unlike any other, and we do not take it for granted.”
This argument is more articulate but rather similar to defenses presented by many of Keppler’s other Iowan interviewees — though, granted, many were probably featured on the Daily Show segment in part because of their comedic value.
“I think they’re crazy,” said one man about critics of the caucuses. “… We’re not giving up first place, just so you know.”
“Iowa isn’t known for its diversity but I still contend that Iowa is very diverse,” said another.
“Rural could be a minority, in the whole nation?” one woman posited, to which Keppler responds, “That’s a real hot Iowa take.”
Another woman gets a bit combative when Keppler suggests Iowa’s lack of diversity is an issue for the caucuses. “Please don’t go there with me,” she said. “I’ll go there with you. If you are a state that has civil discourse and is compassionate and open-minded — Obviously, we are diverse in our heart and by nature.”
“Diversity in your heart is kind of a white-privilegy thing,” Keppler deadpans, to applause from the Daily Show audience.