This February, people from all over the small and ethanol-subsidy-dependent state of Iowa will gather to cast the first votes in the 2000 presidential-nominating process. The method whereby this is done is understood by almost no one (click here for a summary of how the Democrats do it, and here for a summary of how the Republicans do it), and has been subjected to much intelligent criticism (click here to read Chatterbox's predecessor in this column, Mickey Kaus, on the subject). But Chatterbox is not one to knock the status quo without proposing a practical alternative. In that spirit, he suggests replacing the Iowa caucus with a Sorting Hat.
Readers of J.K. Rowling's phenomenally popular Harry Potter books will recognize the Sorting Hat as a magical wizard's hat, pointed and "patched and frayed and extremely dirty," that assigns new students at Hogwarts, the boarding school for aspiring wizards, to one of four houses--Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. Gryffindor is where the series' hero, Harry, is assigned, and Slytherin is where its murderous villain, Lord Voldemort, was assigned when he was a boy (it now houses Harry's obnoxious rival, Draco Malfoy, and Malfoy's half-wit sidekicks, Crabbe and Goyle). Chatterbox may as well quote (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) the song the Sorting Hat sings to the assembled new students in full:
Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!
The advantage of the Sorting Hat is that it doesn't tell you which candidate is best; it merely sorts the candidates according to their most pronounced characteristics. Chatterbox can't know, of course, how the Sorting Hat would assign the current candidates in the Democratic and Republican primary races, but in the spirit of political punditry offers the following prediction:
Chatterbox gratefully acknowledges technical assistance for this item from Rosina B. Williams, age 11, of Jersey City, N.J.