The politics of change
number of old political axioms fell in Iowa after the Jan. 3
presidential caucuses. If those shifting trends hold, the nature of the
political process will be substantially changed in the future.
One old adage along the Potomac says that money is the mother’s milk of
politics. The assumption is that a well-financed campaign will always
beat one that is strapped for cash. In Iowa, however, former Arkansas
Gov. Mike Huckabee was outspent almost 20-to-1 by Mitt Romney, the
former governor of Massachusetts. Yet Huckabee beat Romney by nine
points to win the race.
Here’s another old saw: though the young might get excited about a
candidate, they will not turn out to vote. That did not hold true in
Iowa, where the number of caucus voters under 30 tripled from 2004. As
a result, 22 percent of all voters were under 30, the same percentage
that were 65 and older.
It should also be pointed out that participating in a caucus is much
more demanding than going to the polls at any convenient time between 8
a.m. and 8 p.m. Those interested in voting in a caucus must show up at
a specific time or else the opportunity will pass them by.
The youth vote was exceedingly significant in Iowa. Barack Obama won 57
percent of the under-30 vote, and he beat Hillary Clinton — who won
only 11 percent of the youth vote — by nine points. Huckabee got 40
percent of the under-30 vote, compared to 22 percent for Romney.
Ron Paul won only 9.8 percent of the vote in Iowa, but he polled 21
percent of the youth vote. His views were considered too radical to win
strong support from other segments of the voting public. Paul’s success
with young voters provides some insight into the kind of candidate that
will energize the young electorate.
Obama, Huckabee and Paul share one common characteristic: It can be
fairly asserted that they all have authenticity. Their positions on the
issues do not appear to be contrived from polls and political pundits;
they seem to be speaking from the heart about what they really believe.
That is a quality also shared by Sen. John McCain, but he did not
campaign vigorously in Iowa.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all, another long-held notion fell in Iowa.
Obama’s victory has put to rest the belief that an African American
cannot be elected president because a black candidate could not get
whites across America to vote for him. Less than 5 percent of the
population of Iowa is black, yet Obama won the Democratic caucus.
Support for Obama in New Hampshire, another almost all-white state, was
Political pundits might conclude that this shift in the electoral
environment is merely the result of Obama’s candidacy — that his
charisma has temporarily changed the nature of the game, and everything
will soon settle back to normal, with political operatives and
lobbyists once again calling the shots.
This cynical view will not prevail if America’s youth recognize their
potential for political power and demand authenticity from candidates.
Obama has set the bar very high. By inspiring the youth, Obama has
given a great gift to the nation, even before the final vote in the
presidential campaign is cast.
“I guess it takes authenticity to win.”