"Oh, there's nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you which we may not do at all.
There's an Iowa kind of special chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
We've never been without. That we recall.
We can be cold As our falling thermometers in December
If you ask about our weather in July.
And we're so by God stubborn We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time And never see eye-to-eye."
- "Iowa Stubborn" From "The Music Man"
The overall importance of the Iowa Caucus is rightly a matter of some debate. After all, fewer people voted in Iowa in total than live in city of San Francisco. Iowa in general could hardly be considered a demographic representation of , well anything besides mainly white anglo-saxons. The media frenzy that decends on the Hawkeye state every four years not withstanding, the overall importance of who won or who lost in Iowa is largely symbolic.
Having grown up on the other side of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, I have heard all manner of Iowa jokes and puns. Yet once every four years Iowa in all its Hawkeye wierdness takes center stage in our nation's poltical drama. My Grandmother on my mother's side was a native Iowan, her youngest brother my Great Uncle, still is. Iowans tend to be a slightly cantankerous bunch. If I was running for President, my Uncle Dale, a retired hog farmer from Waterloo, Iowa would frankly be the last voter I would want have to try to win over.
I recall once visiting his farm when I was a young boy. We were going to ride one of his horses. His daughter was having little luck getting the horse to raise his head up out of the grass so the bit and bridle could be put on. Dale, walking by saw this, promptly walked over to the horse and kicked it sqaure in the jaw. the horse jerked its head up and became very cooperative after that. Dale's only explanation was "You hafta get their attention first."
By giving the first primary vote victory of the 2008 election to Barak Obama and second place to John Edwards, Iowa collectively kicked two American politicians square in jaw. With the clear purpose of getting their attention.
The first was George W. Bush. The lopsided turn out of Democrats versus Republicans, including the number of Republicans who changed ranks and caucused for a Democrat is something that, were I a GOP strategist, would have me awake nights with worry. Mike Huckabee can say he "won" Iowa all he wants. But the fact is he simply was the Republican who lost the least. Iowa clearly told the GOP, the next President of the United States will not be from your party, you folks are done for a while.
The second person to get an Iowa footprint to the jaw was Hillary Clinton, and by proxy her husband, former President Bill Clinton. To a certain extent Iowa sent a kick through the national leadership of the Democratic Party. The word "change" is in many ways almost a cliche' in poltics. But with one swift kick, Iowa let it be known that just becuase the next President isn't going be a Republican, it doesn't mean it's going be just any Democrat.
Iowa clearly articulated what is exptected of the next President; Ending the war, sooner rather than later, the beginings of universal heath coverage next year, rather than 4 years from now. Addressing the global climate change crisis now not ten years from now. The recognition that there IS a difference between Free Trade and Fair Trade.
I have come away this week with a new found respect for those cantankerous Iowa voters. The American political horse needed a good swift kick to let it know that 2008 will be a year of change. For the Democrats, you can't run for President, because you think it's your turn. For the Republicans, you can't expect not to be held accountable for mess your party has made over the last 8 years.
But most of all, for both parties you will not be able to ignore the will of the American People, because Iowa has clearly shown the rest of the nation, a great way to get your attention.