September 20, 2007

High stakes steak fry

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin held his 30th annual steak fry in Indianola, IA last week. I've always wanted to go and check it out, and it's hard to imagine a better year to do it than this one, but this time it snuck up on me and I didn't realize it was happening until too late to make any plans.

If you made it, and could give a report beyond, "The speeches were great, my guy had the best speech, the food was good, there were lots of people there.", please do.

I caught some of it on C-Span (video clips available on their website Click here to watch 2 1/2 hour video. Tom Harkin's site has a handy way to view video clips of the event as well.) and it seems like candidates "people", volunteers and organizers, are getting more, well, crazy all the time.

The campaigns are hooked on "visibility" at such events, which means more eye polution and things blocking people's view than you can imagine (not to mention the expense and waste involved) and trying to monopolize the background to every conceivable camera shot.

I say that due to the new wrinkle for campaign events evidently, in which besides errecting a ridiculously crazy amount of campaign signs in their visibility effort, they've now begun assembling young volunteers to produce "audiability", I guess you could call it.

In other words, they have gangs of supporters with shakers, horns, anything to bang on, and who try to outshout and outchant other groups as they harass visitors as they arrive or surround the candidates. Really pleasant. They also crowd around their candidates and yell and make noise as if they're the second coming. It's kind of fun to see kids doing this, and it's admirable that they get involved, but in a lot of respects, it begins to take away from things, rather than being a plus.

For one thing, I'm not sure what purpose is served by having people that you know are committed to a candidate, or perhaps actually paid by their campaign, standing around whoo-hooing and waving signs around their candidate. Do they think this is going to make people think that this is somehow a reflection of actually support?

But I have to admit that I really like the design of the Obama hand signs at the event. No text, not even the candidate's name, and a very, very creative design with a blue "O" evoking a rising sun over a sweeping landscape of red and white stripes. And they sure seemed to win the "visibility" sweepstakes judging from this shot of the audience.

And as with such things, it doesn't matter if it makes sense or is even slightly effective, what matters is that you outdo the other candidates. This "arms race" factor is what leads to a lot of seriously goofy and rather stupid activities.

So if one candidate's people put up 4 mungogingdillion signs, you put up 6, and if they patch 39 yard signs together into on huge sign 4 stories tall, you patch together 80 and make one the size of a small high-rise. If they start putting up signs 12 miles away from the event, you start putting them up 20 miles out. (eventually the signs could reach Kansas City)

Now apparently someone got their trons to start chanting embarassingly lame chants and making all the noise possible with bells and horns, and so now we have a contest among them all which will end..... where? With one campaign renting the Grateful Dead's sound setup and making attendee's ears bleed listening to a few dozen 20 something's screech "Go John! Go John! We want to see you on the White House lawn!" for maybe 45 minutes?

Yes, it's all good clean fun and part of the competition, but, boy, it makes you wonder where it will end. People arriving for the event were ducking and winceing almost as if they were being assaulted, (which they were) as they ran the gauntlett between these crowds of campaign people all wearing matching tee-shirts and standing on either side of the passage to the event screaming themselves hoarse in an attempt to be louder than the other candidate's supporters.

I'm just wondering what it's really like to be at this event. What was the scene like? What was the media presence like? How was it all managed? Was security tight? Did you have to walk for miles to get to the place? Who and what did you see?

It seems like a very good idea for an event, as it allows Dems to meet and talk and visit a bit more than the usual rushed event. It's obviously getting bigger and bigger every year. Hopefully someone who's been there can share what their experience was like.


At 9/20/2007 2:51 PM, Anonymous the final countdown said...

I went to the Steak Fry in 2004 with the Dean people. It was a pretty huge event then, but I don't remember the crazy screaming or anything of that sort. All of the major candidates spoke, and Bill Clinton headlined, which was of course, amazing.

My food was not all that awesome, but I don't expect much when you're cooking for thousands.

Indianola really is in the middle of nowhere. Security wasn't much of an issue then. However, I don't know if any of this helps, since things have changed in the last few years.

At 9/20/2007 5:42 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

final countdown, thanks for that.

That year was the year it was really cool and it rained all day, wasn't it?

That of course would, no pun intended, put a damper on things.


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