January 10, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 22
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Melvin B. Miller
Editor & Publisher

The politics of change

A 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 equally strong.

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.”

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