What made winners in Iowa? It was hope

Saturday, January 5, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If, like me, you’re doubly burdened as both a Democrat and a Tiger fan, you probably spent way too much time in front of the television last week. Outcomes in politics and football were a double delight, with the bonus of leaving a lot of the so-called experts befuddled.

Football, at least the football we care about, is over til next fall, while the political season is just beginning. That being the case, let’s spend our few minutes together today chewing over the results of the Iowa Bowl.

One thing that’s absolutely clear is that the Democrats with the best credentials won’t be president. Senators Biden and Dodd dropped out before midnight Thursday. Hardly anybody seemed to notice. The other clear outcome is that the establishments in both parties took a licking. Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton weren’t able to parlay their big bucks and big-name endorsements into popular support.

Not nearly so clear is what, if anything, it all means. Even before the caucuses, David Broder, the dean of American politics observers, wrote a cautionary column arguing that New Hampshire is and has proven to be a much more telling test of candidacies than Iowa. We’ll see about that in a couple of days.

To me, the most striking development last Thursday was the remarkable similarity between the winners. An analyst in the New York Times wrote that both relied on messages of “insurgency and change.” That was both true and obvious. Even more important was the theme that both Sen. Obama and Gov. Huckabee emphasized in their post-victory speeches. That was hope.

As the reign of King George the Last lurches to its close, we’re a people hungry for hope. It’s a quality that has been in short supply for most of the last seven years. The war seems endless. The economy is sliding toward recession. Gas prices and global temperatures are up. Real wages and America’s reputation in the world are down. Even the national pastime is corrupt.

So a big-eared, big-smiling newcomer with Kenyan-Kansan roots captured the hearts and the votes of the biggest Democratic turnout ever in white-bread Iowa. And a guitar-plucking preacher who seems to care more about the poor than the plutocrats upset the Republican bandwagon.

For Democratic caucus participants, policy differences seemed less important — possibly because those differences aren’t all that big — than personality. Clinton was meticulously programmed; Edwards was shrilly angry. Obama was relentlessly positive.

On the Republican side, Romney was slick, Thompson was grumpy and Giuliani and McCain were mainly absent. Huckabee played to his evangelical base, all right, but he also played the common-man chord that used to work so well for that other guy from that little town in Arkansas.

Everything could turn around Tuesday, of course. Romney still has his millions. Clinton still has her organization. McCain and Edwards are still alive.

My guess, though, is that hope is going to be hard to beat in a year that yearns for it.

And speaking of beatings, here’s a slogan a friend spotted in Dallas: “Razorback: tastes like Jayhawk.”

Happy New Year.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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