Okay, I’ll admit it—it’s the horserace aspect of politics that I enjoy. But the seriousness of the problems confronting the country is taking the fun out of politics.

The excitement of getting the early numbers, hearing projections from the “decision desk,” and watching excited crowds brave the cold to participate in democracy has a certain tense edge this year.

The results of the Iowa caucus weren’t that surprising in the end: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in a dead heat. Ron Paul’s third place showing was perhaps a bit of a surprise, given the dedication of his troops. Needless to say, the eight vote difference between Romney and Santorum reminds us how important it is to vote. (It also reminds us how important it is to be vigilant about voter fraud.)

I was sorry that Michele Bachmann, who came in last (fickle Iowa: she won the Ames straw poll last August), played the gender card at the last moment. It was unworthy of this conservative stalwart. And here's somebody else who's not enjoying the rough and tumble of politics right now.

In a post on “Romney’s Flat Line Victory,” Jonathan Tobin observed before the results were in:

Mitt Romney?’s critics are pointing out right now that the candidate who claims to be the frontrunner and the most electable is still unable to get more than a quarter of Iowa Republicans to back him. They’re right about the fact that social conservatives and Tea Partiers simply can’t abide him, but in a six-way race, the idea that a top three finish (right now, he’s in a virtual tie with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul) is some kind of defeat is a misreading of his situation.

This is the first time I’ve wanted the primaries to Just End, dammit, so we can start talking about the seriousness of the American predicament (though we all know that this is going to be an election about mudslinging, not issues), but democracy is messy.

Janet Daley, one of my favorite Brit columnists, notes that, though astonishing by U.K. standards, the GOP turnout in Iowa last night was lower than in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two candidates with star power, were fighting for the Democratic nomination. But Daley makes this observation:

All is not lost, however, from the point of view of political debate: even the "moderate" Romney is staking his case on arguing for a "merit society" rather than an "entitlement society".

This election will be fought on the very fundamental principles of the role and size of government which could usefully be imported to Britain and (a wildly remote hope) to the EU as well. Keep watching.

   When this long slog is over, the voters will indeed have to decide what kind of society we are going to be.

No amount of mud will obscure that this is the matter before us.