“NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE REAL THE PROMISES OF DEMOCRACY”
Dr. Martin Luther King, from his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963.
“THEY SAID THIS DAY WOULD NEVER COME”
– Barack Obama, Victory Speech in Iowa, January 3, 2008
Last night, America changed forever — and for the better.
Last night, Democratic voters in Iowa shocked the world — and the political establishment.
Last night, 12 days before his birthday and in the 40th year since his assassination, the people of Iowa made Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream come true. They judged a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.
Last night, Iowa Democrats honored the highest ideals that President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy stood and fought for — the ideals that Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and so many other lesser-known but equally brave Americans gave their lives for. They handed Senator Barack Obama a clear and decisive victory in the first caucus of the 2008 presidential race.
Last night, history was made, a massive milestone reached in what JFK once called the long twilight struggle. The struggle is far from over; we cannot for one moment forget the sacrifices it took to get us where we are — right now, right here in America.
Few under the age of 30 who were fortunate enough to grow up in a largely colorblind and desegregated society can imagine a time when their black brothers and sisters could not even sit beside them at a public lunch counter. Not so long ago in this country, a black American simply seeking to attend a state-run university had to be escorted in by federal troops after riots erupted in the streets. The very act of casting a vote was enough to put one’s safety in danger. In 1961 — the year Barack Obama was born — merely asserting a citizen’s right to travel subjected the Freedom Riders to brutal beatings, assault with firehoses, and the teeth of Bull Connor’s unforgiving, bloodthirsty police dogs.
Few of us over the age of 30 could have imagined the reality of an African-American man being a serious contender for President of the United States in our lifetimes. Few could honestly believe that in the American heartland, in a state whose population is nearly 95% white, Iowans would choose a black man as the candidate best qualified to lead our country.
But they did. And it’s wonderful. Somewhere, MLK is smiling.
“WE ARE ONE PEOPLE. AND OUR TIME FOR CHANGE HAS COME.” – OBAMA
While Barack Obama is not the first black candidate to win a presidential primary (that honor goes to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who won five primaries in 1984 and 11 contests in 1988), he has upped the stakes considerably. Jackson’s wins made history, but his long history as a civil rights activist unfortunately caused him to be labeled as a radical. Many said Jackson was too liberal, too polarizing a figure to be the party nominee, and gave him little hope of winning a general election. By contrast, Obama appeals to mainstream American voters of both parties, giving him a far better chance to compete in November.
Jackson, a former King aide, was standing beside him on the balcony of the Hotel Lorraine in Memphis when MLK was murdered. His presidential bids in `84 and `88 revived the spirit of Dr. King and this helped propel Jackson’s candidacy to victory in several primaries. Jackson carried mostly left-leaning states with large black populations (Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi in 1984, adding Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Michigan, Delaware and Vermont four years later), and was considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination early in 1988.
Can it happen again? Can Obama do even better? Many believe that he can. What made his surprise win in Iowa so remarkable was not just the fact that he pulled it off in a a key early primary state which is almost all white, but the David-and-Goliath aspect of this race made his victory even more interesting. His opponent was a former first lady and the projected winner in nearly every pre-caucus poll. Jesse Jackson did not have to campaign against a former president (stumping for his wife) of his own party — and an incredibly powerful, well-financed political machine.
But perhaps the most critical difference of all is that Obama seems to be bringing the right message for the times in which we live. A message of hope, of change, of unity — and that this message is clearly striking a deep chord with America’s youth, who will be our future.
In his victory speech last night, Senator Obama spoke of hope winning over fear. “We are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.
“We are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States!”
It doesn’t matter if Barack Obama is your candidate or not. At present, he is not my candidate. He is not Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s candidate. What matters is the seismic change in American society and culture Obama’s victory last night represents. And that will reverberate forever.
“THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED” – JOHN EDWARDS
Obama’s inspirational victory speech will perhaps eclipse the brilliant and heartfelt one delivered by John Edwards, who pulled off an impressive second-place showing last night. This is unfortunate indeed, because one need look no further than Edwards’ words to hear the populist echoes of RFK.
“35 million people in America went hungry last year in the richest country on earth!” Edwards said with indignation. “We are better than this. Enough is enough!”
He told the assembled audience that “tonight, you have created and started a tidal wave of change that will sweep across the country,” and twice invoked President Kennedy’s message of “the torch being passed” to a new generation of Americans.
WHAT HAPPENED TO HILLARY?
For many, the biggest shocker of the night was Hillary coming in behind Obama and Edwards. Every poll going into the caucus showed her leading with at least a few percentage points over the competition. Not a single overpaid pundit predicted that Hillary would place third in Iowa. And nobody could seem to figure out what went wrong.
On the postgame CNN broadcast, Larry King asked former Clinton White House adviser David Gergen, “What happened to Hillary?”
“She got rolled by Barack Obama,” Gergen replied dryly.
Sacred cow Carl Bernstein was scratching his head in befuddlement over the results. “There’s something happening here…” the old man said, clearly unable to define exactly what it was.
Describing the group assembled around Hillary during her speech at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, he quite rightly observed: “You look at the faces behind Hillary and they’re all old faces. Barack Obama brings the youth. You could clearly see the devastation on Bill Clinton’s face.” David Gergen was quick to concur.
Meanwhile, over on Fox, Rush Limbaugh was having a field day, implying that Clinton brought this on herself with “an attitude of arrogant inevitability.” Calling it “the worst night of Hillary Clinton’s life,” Rush added with apparent glee that “this is a devastating and humiliating loss for Hillary.”
(PHOTO CAPTION: The look on Chelsea Clinton’s face pretty much says it all. After her mother’s devastating defeat in Iowa last night, Hillary brings out the big names to help her campaign in New Hampshire today. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at left. AP Photo.)
Not only did Obama prove the pollsters and pundits wrong with a 38%-to-29% win over Hillary Clinton, but former Arkanasas Governor Mike Huckabee made jaws drop on the Republican side, shutting out the predicted victor Mitt Romney with a nearly identical margin of victory.
Perhaps even sweeter still, Huckabee was outspent by his opponent 15 to one, and yet somehow managed to whup up on the former Massachusetts Governor at the polls. Is it just beginner’s luck for Huck? Or does this upset point to a much bigger trend? Huckabee thinks it does.
“Americans are sick of political dumpster diving,” he told Larry King, attributing the surprise victory to his strategy of staying above the mudslinging. “If you gain the whole world and lose your own soul, how does that benefit you?” Huckabee asked philosophically. “How does that qualify you to be president?
“Americans are clearly saying, `we want to give new people, a new generation, a chance to lead this country.‘ Here’s what we had that was better than money: we had people who gave their heart and soul. It’s a new day in American politics.”
You can say that again, Huck.
SO MUCH FOR CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
The 2008 Iowa Caucus will be remembered as a night of outrageous upsets for the favored frontrunners and unexpected underdog victories. It also signaled the end of at least two campaigns, with Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd dropping out of the race.
What will happen next is anybody’s guess. The dynamics in New Hampshire are far different politically, as is the voting process itself. Unlike the Iowa Caucus, where votes were counted by real human beings with hands (for the Democrats) and paper ballots (for the Republicans), New Hampshire’s will be tallied mostly by electronic voting machines.
Three of Robert Kennedy’s children traveled to New Hampshire today to help their candidate turn things around. Bobby Kennedy Jr., Kerry Kennedy and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made several campaign stops in the Granite state, stumping for Hillary in Nashua, Salem, Manchester and Milford. Rest assured that Clinton will be pulling out all the stops to ensure a solid victory over the next four days – and the Kennedy star power certainly won’t hurt a bit.
As all the candidates man their cannons and prepare for the “second Battle of Concord,” it is perhaps well to remember that 1775 battle was the first serious engagement of the Revolution. If what happened in Iowa last night is any indication of the future, the Second American Revolution (a peaceful one this time, we hope) is already well underway.
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