Some people point to Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter as the moment of change. But it was Dwight Eisenhower whose campaign ran on the slogan, “It’s time for a change”. While there are significant differences between Ike and Barack Obama, there are also some similarities. First and foremost is that the catalyst for the country’s mood shift and hunger for change was an unpopular war. Second is that both in 1952 and today, the country was looking back at an, albeit different, twenty year rule. Then it was Roosevelt and Truman; now Bush, Clinton and Bush. Experience was also an issue in 1952. To be sure Eisenhower had been the Allied Commander in World War II, but he was a political neophyte. In that regard, Obama is more experienced, but with a resume leaning heavily on the years before he entered the Illinois Senate. Of course there is that unmistakable contrast. Ike was then the oldest man to take the oath of office; Barak Obama would be among the youngest.
Needless to say, having first voiced support for Obama more than a year ago, last night was a happy one for me. It is also important to remember that Yogi was right, “it’s not over till it’s over”. Nevertheless, yesterday’s vote in Iowa confirmed the country’s hunger for change that I have been writing about over the last twelve months. Nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the “entrance polls” taken of Democratic caucus participants. 20% of them said experience was most important; 50% change. That finding was confirmed in the vote where 68% (combining Obama and Edwards) voted for change candidates while only 29% (Clinton) went for experience.
It was a bad night for Hillary Clinton, not only because she came in third, but because her dual central message of experience and electability was undermined. In her concession speech she “talked” about change, but could not help herself in inserting her thirty-five years of service. It was a look back that Iowa voters were rejecting. CNBC’s Keith Obermann pointed out in the post-vote analysis that, were it not for the independent vote, Obama and Clinton were but 1% apart. He meant it as a cautionary note. In fact, the independent vote (even more important in New Hampshire) is exactly what puts her electability claim into question. Democrats alone can’t elect a President; it will take independents. In that scenario, Iowa suggests that Obama may be the more electable candidate. It was also very bad news for John Edwards. He did a tad better than Clinton, and he did it despite more limited resources, but he has been working Iowa for four years. At the start it was he who was considered the preemptive favorite and all of those man-hours just didn’t pay off. He moves on to New Hampshire with less than he he started with in Iowa. He couldn’t turn his second place into a nomination four years ago it probably is less likely today. Moreover, while his populist message is powerful, the shrill tone that he has adopted seems out-of-sync with a country yearning for calm. In contrast to Clinton and Edwards, it was a good night for Obama, but as yet not definitive.
I would be remiss in not saying a word about Huckabee and the GOP. Here too the pundits say his victory expressed a vote for change. I am not sure that it does. In fact, I see it more as the last gasp of the so-called “value voters” hold on the country. However fresh his approach may be in contrast to his rivals, his underlying hyper-conservative message (he would prosecute doctors who perform abortions) not to mention his leaning so heavily on religion are, in my view, yesterday’s news not tomorrow’s. Conservatives may be imbued with a Crusade approach to today’s global problems, but I don’t think the country really sees us involved in a religious war, or more importantly wanting that to be the case. Also, the numbers suggest that the Republicans are not even close to narrowing their field. Huckabee faces almost all of the contenders who entered Iowa, Obama just two – Bill Richardson is still running for Vice President.
Finally, I can’t end this without commenting on the other big news of the Obama victory. Regardless of what happens ahead, everyone agrees that when an African American can prevail in a virtually all-Caucasian state that is big news indeed. In that context, America won on January 3rd in Iowa. For any of us who were involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, it was especially poignant and gratifying. Again, the jury remains out for the months ahead, but the country may well be ready. The victory is for tolerance, of course, but perhaps for something much more profound. Our reputation has been sullied during these last seven years, our moral compass seemingly out of kilter. The potential election of Barack Obama may suggest not merely our desire for change, but our determination to take back our heritage of being that beacon on the hill. I hope, for both our sake and the world’s, that it is.