Normally, I don't write about politics all that often on these pages. But after watching last night's stunning results in the Iowa caucuses with a considerable amount of awe as they unfolded on my television, I've simply got to ask the question:
Is it just me?
While it is obviously too early to be able to predict anything in what is already — five days into the new year — looking to be one of the most fascinating presidential elections that I'll witness in my lifetime, didn't it feel, even if only for the moment, like something absolutely huge had just happened? Like possibly, just maybe, an actual shift in the national political consciousness had just taken place?
I'm not just talking about the fact that this is the first time an African American has won a major presidential contest — in a largely all-white state, no less. Nor am I talking about the fact — huge as it is — that Obama is now being regarded as the first African American with a serious shot at actually becoming President of the United States. Substitute gender for race, and you could say much the same thing about Hillary Clinton.
No, I'm talking about something potentially bigger. Much bigger. Something evident not only in Thursday's results on the Democratic side, but on the Republican side as well. Watching the usual cable news pundits try to break down the how and why of the Iowa results — Obama carried the youth vote (and somewhat surprisingly, the women), while Huckabee took the evangelical Christians seemed to be the conventional wisdom — everybody seemed to be missing the most obvious point.
The fact that the two newest, freshest faces on each side beat out the more established, better known "names" to me spoke volumes about the mood of the American voting public this year. Although many of the candidates — Obama included — may be spouting the "change" mantra as a slogan this year, the American people may finally be actually ready to demand it.
That's how the Iowa results struck me.
It was as though the political consciousness of the nation had finally awakened from a long, prolonged sleep to say that the divisive, partisan politics of the past several years are no longer going to cut it. On the democratic side, the Clinton campaign's thinly veiled attempts to pin everything from past drug use, to Islamic prejudices connected to the name Obama, clearly backfired. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the big bucks and attack ads of the Mitt Romney campaign likewise failed to hold off a late surge for the folksier, more likable everyman Mike Huckabee.
While we are on the subject of Mike Huckabee, what is it I like so much about this guy?
As a life long Democrat, who at this point knows little about Huckabee's actual political views, I'm still relatively certain that I'm going to find little common political ground with anyone described as a social conservative. Still, when I hear him speak about things like wanting to unite the country and having compassion for the working man, I'm actually somewhat inclined to believe it. On an initial look at least, Huckabee strikes me as a sincere, prinicpled man who is the very antithesis of the smarmy politics of expedience that we've become so accustomed to in recent years. Huckabee's brand of "unity" strikes me as being far truer than Bush's "compassionate conservatism."
The thing that amazes me most is that Republicans — at least the ones in Iowa — appear to agree.
It's often been said that the original appeal of candidate George W. Bush was his folksiness. That he was a guy a lot of people could envision themselves having a beer with, compared to intellectual wonks like Al Gore or John Kerry. Personally I never bought it, nor did I buy that whole deal where Bush wrapped himself up in the Bible. Something about that whole nervous tick of his…
Huckabee, on the other hand, strikes me as a guy I'd be quite comfortable sharing an adult beverage with — though as a Baptist preacher, I doubt he even drinks. He just seems to be a genuinely decent guy motivated by principle rather than politics.
The amazing thing is that at least this past Thursday, the Republicans in Iowa seemed to agree. In the party where every damn time they seem to go for whichever slickly packaged poltician is shouting the "God, Guns, and Gays" thing the loudest — regardless of actual, sincere conviction — is it possible the nicest guy can actually win?
Well, okay. About that deal with Huckabee playing the bass guitar, you can't tell me that didn't come straight from Bill Clinton's playbook with the sax. Well the guy is from Arkansas after all, right?
I don't get quite the same feeling about Obama. Truth be told, at this point I'm leaning towards John Edwards, and until I've heard a policy speech from Obama that addresses the shrinking middle class, universal health care, and corporate greed as strongly as Edwards does, I'm not likely to change my mind.
Still, even as a lukewarm Edwards supporter at this point, hearing Obama's victory speech in Iowa the other night, you could almost feel a shift in the political wind, if only for that one moment. After that speech, Obama was being likened to Robert F. Kennedy by some of the Friday Morning political Quarterbacks. Hearing that speech it wasn't hard to see why.
If the American people truly have had enough of "politics as usual," as the Iowa results seem to indicate, Obama could actually be the real deal. I know that I'm a lot more impressed with him today, than I was earlier this week.
So I'm no politico. At least not in the same way that Dave Nalle and some of the commenters who frequent the BC politics section here are. But that speech nearly gave me shivers.
What I do go by a lot though, is the talk I hear in bars and at diners by regular common people. I call it the "bar talk" factor. And the "bar talk" I've heard for the past several months says in a nutshell that they all suck, and we need change. From what I can tell the Iowa results seem to back this up — with an additional, and emphatic exclamation point saying "we won't get fooled again" (to quote the Who's Peter Townshend).
And while it remains to be seen if this shift in consciousness will actually hold until November, for one night it still felt like nothing less than the overdue awakening of the people from a long sleep.
The earth hasn't quite moved. At least not yet. But on Thursday night, you could almost imagine an American landscape where being a union working stiff doesn't mean you sacrifice babies to Satan while fornicating with the communists. And where being a Christian doesn't mean driving a pick-up truck with a pro-Bush sticker next to the gun rack and the Confederate battle flag sticker. And right now I think we could do a lot worse than Obama's RFK going up against Huckabee's modern day "I Like Ike" come November.
One can only hope.