Friday, January 04, 2008

Hope Over Fear

For various reasons, I haven't been in the office much these past few weeks. As the resident political junkie, one of the LLWL* gang wanted to know my take on the Iowa caucuses.

Perhaps my view is somewhat tainted by sour grapes, since I know that I won't have a say in the selection of the Democratic nominee for President, living in the late primary state of Pennsylvania, but my overall reaction is -- it's just Iowa. A small state in the middle of the country, that is not particularly representative of the rest of the country. It should be but one voice among many, not the decisive word on the issue that the media makes it out to be.

As I've been watching the process on the sidelines, I'm again reminded of how influential the role of the media is in the process. The media creates such hype over the "importance" of Iowa that we get pulled in to the spin despite ourselves. For some reason, that was so much more obvious to me this time around.

It's also interesting that the media normally exalts objectivity in reporting -- to the extreme. If a politician says the moon is made of cabbage, the press won't just contradict that, even when the world knows it's made of cheese. Instead, it finds another politician or expert to say the moon is made of cheese and reports both, as though there are two sides to the story.

Yet in the electoral process, many in the media feel free to pick favorites among the candidates and spin their reportage based upon those views. Maybe it's because reporters are assigned to campaigns and get too close to the people they cover, so their personal feelings about the candidates seep through. Whatever the reason, it happens all too often.

It is pretty obvious that the press hates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and loves John McCain. The others -- they wax and wain. You can see it when someone like Tim Russert says that even if Hillary wins Iowa, unless she trounches the rest, she loses. Yet McCain, even if he's far behind, he's still a force to be reckoned with. I also noticed that even though Edwards came in 2nd in Iowa, most post-caucus reporting never even mentioned his name in relation to New Hampshire. A story I recently read mentioned that Hillary brought coffee to the press corp traveling with her, but was met with stony faced silence. Who does this reflect on? They should be embarrassed. They don't have to like her to report on her fairly, but I don't think it happens. This not only influences their writing, it ends up helping to shape the opinion of the public, as they analyze the race.

As for the post-Iowa scene, I have to say that Barack Obama & John Edwards both gave inspiring speeches that, for a moment, remind us of what we can aspire to. Sure, we can be cynical and say they're just words, but on occasion words can and do inspire change. I think the fact that both did well is indicative of a desire for change among many in the electorate. Will Bunch of Attytood noted this as well, as well as the historic importance "it is to see an African-American marching toward the White House in a nation where those of us as "young" as 48-going-on-49 still have dim memories of segregation." If you missed Obama's speech, you can watch it there and John Edwards' speech is at Crooks and Liars.

Finally, the shifting fortunes of the various players is best summed up by Steve Benen at Crooks & Liars, Cutting through the spin:

Barack Obama — What Obama fans are saying: Iowa is the spark that will propel Obama to the Democratic nomination. What Obama critics are saying: Iowa’s just one state.

Who’s right? It certainly looks like the fans are, doesn’t it? There’s a lot of campaigning yet to be done, but an amazing eight-point victory — exceeding all expectations — with broad support from every constituency not only makes Obama the frontrunner, it will likely give him a big boost in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And if he wins all three, the race is over. On the flip side, Obama, not Clinton, will now quickly become the center of attacks from all sides. We’ll see if he can handle the heat, though my hunch is he can.

John Edwards — What Edwards fans are saying: We beat Clinton and are alive to fight another day. What Edwards critics are saying: He needed to win Iowa to stay competitive.

Who’s right? A little bit of both, actually. Edwards’ strong second-place showing certainly won’t force him from the race, but it’s going to be difficult to boost fundraising and poll numbers in light of Obama’s big win.

Hillary Clinton — What Clinton fans are saying: It’s only the first round of a multi-round fight. What Clinton critics are saying: Say goodbye to “inevitability.”

Who’s right? Again, both. Clinton isn’t going anywhere; she has the resources to keep the fight going over the long haul, and has solid support in Feb. 5 states. But now, she’s the underdog, and has no obvious avenues to retaking the lead.

Go there to read the rest.

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* LLWL = Lady Lawyers Who Lunch (a/k/a, my officemates)

UPDATE (1/5/08): After I posted this essay, I read Shaun Mullen's piece, Iowa Post-Mortem: Caucuses & Carcasses, in which he expresses similar sentiments on Iowa and beyond, much better than I. His views on the top 3 Dems:

(1.) Obama: An historic triumph for an African-American whose message resonated with men and women, young and old, rich and middle class -- and perhaps most importantly, independents.

(2.) Edwards: His populist appeal wasn't nearly enough despite non-stop campaigning and he actually didn't do as well as in 2004. Unfortunately, the man with the $400 haircut probably won't last into the spring.

(3.) Clinton: Events are spinning out of control -- and may even be out of her control -- after a disastrous finish that shattered her aura of inevitability.

And then there's Jon Swift's don't miss view of the political landscape, Iowa Caucus Results Explained. I especially like his take on McCain:
The big winner was John McCain. McCain came in a very strong fourth with a whopping 13% of the vote, which makes him the man to beat in New Hampshire. In fact, he might have won the entire election last night. By giving up his quixotic crusades for immigrants, campaign finance reform and the Geneva Conventions, making up with the Christian Right and taking money from the people he once criticized for "swift-boating" John Kerry, McCain has proven that he is a serious candidate for President, maybe the only serious candidate.

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