2008 Iowa Caucus: a report from the trenches
This piece has appeared on Signs of the Times website:
Barak Obama has won the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus with 37% of the popular vote, closely followed by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, with about 29% each. Mike Huckabee has won the Republican Caucus, with 34% of the popular vote.
Here are some thoughts from an Iowa resident and a witness to the process.
The caucuses were packed! Long-time participants say they don't remember there ever being such a high voter turnout. The town was eerily empty after 6:00 pm, while in the precincts there was no parking for blocks around. A family member, who went to a local democratic caucus, said that there were more than 200 people from our small neighborhood alone, and she has seen almost no one at all that she knew, which is unusual. The same thing was happening in the local republican caucus, which was in the same building. And, once the caucuses started rolling, the decision has been reached very quickly - ours was one of the first in Iowa to come to a conclusion. In short, people seemed to already have made up their minds, and have come out en masse to show it.
Barak Obama's supporters were the most numerous, from all walks of life - middle-age people, college cheerleaders, elderly, young families. They radiated excitement and were obviously on a roll. A lot of young non-voters were there to observe, as well - it was truly a community affair.
Overall, I had two main impressions about the caucuses and the preceeding campaign.
First, both candidates who won, Obama and Huckabee, had the most grass-root support and had largely relied on it to win. Obama's campaign people have by this time bothered the living daylights out of me, having called every week, personally and with prerecorded messages; earlier in the day of the caucus they stopped by no less than 3 times with leaflets and caucus reminders.
Mike Huckabee had also come out of nowhere with very little funding and quickly gained ground because of volunteer support. I don't watch TV and therefore missed his controversial Christmas ad. But apparently he has been courting religious home-schoolers for support and volunteering (after all, they have large families and unlimited schedules; plus, volunteering for a candidate is a great practical addition to any social studies curriculum). However, people have been digging up his record regarding his stand on education, which is less than stellar from the home-schooling prospective.
First, during his tenure as an Arkansas governor, he signed a bill restricting home-schooling freedoms; and second, he has played both sides of the debate, managing to get the endorsement of both the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and their arch-enemy, a teacher's union. This has generated quite a backlash against him, judging from the discussions in my homeschooling groups. Additionally, the conservatives have begun to criticize him for only giving lip service to the traditional values while being a closet "liberal". Still, he seems to have generated enough momentum to rise to the top.
Second, the entertainment factor is really prominent in this election; moreover, it has never been as obvious that the so-called 'democratic process' is simply a part of the 'bread and circus' package for the masses. For example, as the caucuses are rolling across Iowa, there is an exhibit on the history of caucuses through the years in the State Historical Building - made as if to provide a perfect backdrop for the candidates' campaigning efforts.
In addition to that, a show called "Caucus! The musical", written by a local author and presented by local actors and comedians, has opened to rave reviews. It may be in your neighborhood soon, too, as a spin-off of the show is going to be performed during the New Hampshire primaries, and possibly also during the respective party conventions in Denver and Minneapolis.
It seems that Barak Obama, for whatever reason, is perceived as fresh, interesting and glamorous and is able to tap into this demand and stream of supply -- in other words, he has a high entertainment value and this is what drives his rise in the ratings. Otherwise you simply can't explain what's happening. Critics have pointed out long ago that Obama is a nobody with no political experience or accomplishments, that the average person knows very little about him (besides the random facts from his books, including former drug use and school failures, which he managed to spin off in a positive way), that his actual program is wishy-washy and status-quo oriented.
According to some analysts, he is a blank slate on which everyone seems to project whatever hopes and dreams they may have. With the help of the spirit of entertainment, it appears to work very well.
This shows on both corporate and grass root levels. Oprah has endorsed Obama and has personally campaigned for him in Iowa. Of all people, she knows what sells in the industry, and as many lucky people have already learned to their advantage, if she gets behind something, be it a book or a concept, it starts selling like hotcakes.
The grass root support, or, more accurately, perverse fascination, has produced projects like barelypolitical.com with its "Obama Girl" videos. The whole thing is a joke, or so they say, but the concept reflects some truth, as exemplified in the tongue-and-cheek slogan, "join the political party". The "fun factor" helps to sell both t-shirts and politics.
All of this suggests that many, many people are ready for a sweeping change and are willing to come out and do a show of hands for it - but, being unaware and asleep, they go by their instinctive, visceral likes and dislikes. Nobody votes on issues anymore, and not in the least because there are no real issues on the table by design.
Based on how the Iowa caucus went, I am wondering whether the 'powers that be' have a plan B just for this kind of situation. If both of the obviously evil candidates, Giuliani and Clinton - high on the Israel factor and backed by psychopathic corporations - are overturned by a populist tide and neither of them gets the nomination, then it is very likely that a festive match-up and a hair-split decision between two nobodies, like Obama and Huckabee, will be engineered. Meanwhile the normal sordid business of manipulation of the population will continue as usual. That is of course if this years Presidential election is not stolen out from under the noses of the American people much like the last two were.
All of it remains to be seen. Either way, the prognosis is not good for "the greatest Democracy on earth".