Iowa from Across the Pond

British media reports on the Iowa Caucuses could have been written by anthropologist Margaret Mead. Well, perhaps not. She’s dead.  Attempts to explain the caucus process often sounded similar to descriptions of an island tribe that eats funny mushrooms and then conducts mysterious rituals in order to select a new chieftain.

As outside (albeit not always unbiased) observers, British and European reporters, editorialists, and bloggers offered any number of nuanced assessments of what had happened in Iowa and what it suggested about America’s immediate political future.

Three distinct ideas emerged.
For a start, the press agreed that the aloof and arrogant Mrs. Clinton had gotten her nose bloodied.  A post caucus photo of Hillary – looking quizzical and perplexed  – became instantly iconic. Much was made of boos and groans emitted from the crowds she was trolling for support.  A reporter from The Independent somewhat gleefully wrote that Hillary had,  “been forced to drink from the bitter cup of defeat.”  Another journalist opined that a third place finish in Iowa was a good thing for Hillary because it placed her in the position of being an underdog as opposed to being seen as the ultimate ice queen.  Perhaps so, and what a frightening thought — Hillary unleashed. It was as if, one wag asserted, Hillary had shot Bambi and was  being shunned.  Comeuppance makes for jolly good copy.
The extent of her Party’s rejection of Hillary was dead simple math.  The majority of Iowa’s caucusing Democrats had pledged their allegiance to either Obama or Edwards.  This put paid to the notion that Hillary had a lock on the Party ticket.  The shift away from Hillary was personified by old Clintonian team member, Bill Richardson. It was whispered that he had encouraged his limited number of supporters to throw in their lot with Obama because Richardson could more comfortably see himself as the first Hispanic running mate for the first Black — male — candidate for the Presidency. (Richardson’s Mother was Mexican).  This line of thought concluded — not so subtly — with the notion that Hillary’s reputation as a ball-busting harridan would make any male running mate tense.

The Independent on Sunday reported that Obama-mania had spread like wildfire into New Hampshire and predicted Mrs. Clinton “faced a mincing” at the polls on Tuesday. David Usborne’s article also noted the irony of hearing a mixed demographic crowd shouting “O BA MA,” in the state which was the last to adopt the Martin Luther King holiday.

The second set of observations were all quizzes: what about Obama? The short answer is that he is now the man to beat.   Self proclaimed conservative commentator, Andrew Sullivan, writing for The Sunday Times, listed all the cliché Obama analogies (rock star, cult leader, new JFK but more like Bobby) then made a bold leap by suggesting that Obama could become a liberal version of Ronald Reagan.  That is to say, Reagan won the Presidency by gaining a following among disaffected Democrats and now Obama could do likewise by attracting support from disaffected Republicans.  Sullivan goes on to claim that Obama could even become “the Thatcher of the left,” which might be just a bit over the top and would require skill sets usually found only among circus contortionists.  But it is not impossible and that’s the point. The dream.

But leave it to The Daily Mail to make a personal tabloid-style connection. Mail reporter, Elizabeth Sanderson went to the wilds of Bracknell (in the Berkshires) and got an exclusive interview with — wait for it — Obama’s stepmother, Kezia.  Now 67, Kezia was the first of the Senior Barack’s three wives. They married when he was (according to her) a modest Muslim goat herder in Kenya.  There were three sons from that marriage. When the Senior Obama got a scholarship to the US, he met Obama Junior’s Mother and at this point the family history gets a bit confusing because it appears that the Senior Obama’s third marriage to a woman named Ruth made him a bigamist.

The bottom line of the interview with Kezia is that Barack Junior takes all his family obligations seriously, is well mannered, affectionate, has read a lot of history books, and looks and sounds a great deal like his Dad. Here’s the interesting bit. The article was highlighted in a box on the front page of the Daily’s Sunday edition, but by early evening London time, it had been taken down and buried in the paper’s archives.  Even for our press, that’s a suspicious turn of events.

This brings us to the final tier of overseas observations,  the socio-political trend spotting.  Several pundits assessed Iowa as being the harbinger of a new American populist revival. By voting for Huckabee and Obama, Iowans had rejected the status quo.  This led Leonard Doyle of the Independent to describe the Iowa results as “a polite insurgency.”

Indeed, the BCC informed the British public, this American election is quite unique. It is the first time in half a century that neither a sitting President, nor a serving Vice President, is up for election or re-election – a perfect point for a change in direction.

“The Huckabama Phenomenon” as one journalist tagged it, is seen as an expression of America’s need for a renewal of values and spirit.  This accounted for the victories of man who once was a preacher and the other whose charismatic speeches are continually compared to those of Dr. King.    This makes European secularists nervous.

But Sam Leith, writing in the UK Telegraph, notes that although America’s religiosity puts   some people off, it indicates the robust structure which girds the country.  Leith posits that America maintains enough of a common identity for the people to know what they want and to go out and get it.    Americans, Leith asserts, do not simply have fervor about political creeds. They are still true believers in the system itself.  

Who will win the Presidency in November?  Cynics fret and grumble about how no politician can be trusted. But the odds in the betting parlours are that Americans will elect that person who best embodies America’s national faith in itself — the one who can stir up visions for a better day ahead. As it says in the Bible: “Without a vision, the people perish.”