What the heck. The debates leading up to the Iowa caucus are over, so...it's time for a prediction.
Events this week have made it increasingly clear what the outcome will be--clearer on one side than on the other, but clear nonetheless.
While big media pundits pat themselves on the back for identifying 'change' as the the 'theme' of the 2008 election (duh--'change' is
the theme for every election) Americans now see a much more decisive picture.
Here's what we know for sure: none of the candidates--Democrats nor Republicans--have campaigns organized around a single core issue (e.g., Iraq, Health, Education, Immigration, etc.). Instead, they have all framed their bids for the White House through distinct answers to a big question:
How will we achieve our future?
No single candidate asks or answers that question explicitly, but each one is, nonetheless, betting the house on it--the White House. How each answers that question is the key to seeing not only how they are different, but who will be the most likely to win in Iowa.
Republicans: Violence, Faith and Pragmatism
Ignoring the polls (Who needs 'em? Not me!), the candidates with the best shot at winning the Iowa and the nomination are: Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee.
Romney and Giuliani are locked in competition to convince voters that America's future depends on increased violence in foreign policy and domestic security. Romney in particular has argued that the future depends not only on more military violence in Iraq, but on initiating violence in Iran. To this vision of the future, Romney has also added a dramatic increase in secret prisons where violent interrogations and torture take place.
Giuliani adds his own violence to the future by promising to transform his vision of urban police work (e.g., shoot first, ask questions never) to a vision of national security at home. Giuliani has promised to achieve America's future through mandatory national security papers and round-up lists--bringing with them an American future filled with hobnail boots kicking down doors at midnight to drag away the suspected.
John McCain leaves domestic violence aside, but argues that our future depends on digging deeper and deeper into military operations abroad. McCain has not gained much traction, but his vision has stayed the same. Despite pressure from Tancredo--who promises to achieve our future by cleansing America of undocumented workers--McCain has promised only that the future depends on winning the war.
Romney, Giuliani and McCain have all argued that they will achieve America's future with violence--tough guys who all promise to take us down a tough path.
Mike Huckabee has also bought into the Republican line on more violence, but he has broken from the pack by saying that he will achieve our future with faith and pragmatism. Huckabee has been painfully vague in his policy proposals and, as such, it is hard to know if that is really what he believes at this stage, since we know so little about him--but based on what he has said so far. Still, he is telling America that there is no problem too great that it cannot be solved by bringing them inside his faith and pragmatism.
Democrats: Intellect, Politics, Service and Revolution
Again ignoring the polls (Ptew! Polls!), the Democratic candidates with the most interesting and compelling campaigns are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and John Edwards.
Barack Obama has put forward a compelling vision of intellectual leadership. He has said over and over that we have been unable to solve problems in this country because the infighting in Washington has blocked our ability to face the complexity of our problems--Iraq, healthcare, whatever--and then to assemble the expertise to solve those problems. To achieve Obama's future, he promises that he will clear away the political obstacles to the intellectual work of government. There is no problem in America that cannot be solved by extending his mind around them, and the challenge we face is simply working to eliminate the obstacles to allowing that happen.
Hillary has argued that America's future can only be achieved by assembling the coalitions necessary to accomplish great tasks. She has said repeatedly that she has learned from her past political mistakes as to how important it is to patiently and deliberately gather competing interests together and focus them on the accomplishment of goals. In Clinton's vision, there is no problem in American that cannot be solved by bringing it within her political skills. The challenge we face as a nation is to do the political groundwork that we failed to do in the past, but that she now knows how to carry out.
Chris Dodd has argued that America's future depends on the re-engagement in civic life from this point forward of the majority of Americans. Rooted in his own vision of service in the military and the Peace Corps, Dodd has rooted his campaign in the most fundamental ideal of Jeffersonian democracy: participation. No problem is too great, says Dodd, that we cannot solve it by bringing the next generation more fully into the daily life of citizenship. The challenge we face is to construct service programs that will transform the nation, but having experienced it in the 1960s, Dodd knows how to do it again.
John Edwards has argued that America's future can be achieved by a fundamental shift in the distribution of power in society: from the wealthy owners of capital to middle class Americans. Rooted in his own experience as an advocate for individuals abused by industry, Edwards has repeatedly sketched out a path to the future that involves reigning in the power of large, public corporations. No problem is too great, says Edwards, that it cannot be solved by restoring the fair distribution of political power in this country. The challenge we face is twofold, according to Edwards: those without power must be willing to stand up and be heard, and those elected to office must be willing to hold their ground against the massive forces of capital swelling to oppose them.
For the Republicans, the winner in Iowa is easy to predict: Huckabee. Why? Violence fatigue. Despite what appears from the outside as a groundswell of anger against immigrants, Republican voters are finally getting tired of violence. This is somewhat of a surprise because right-wing pundits and the Bush administration are still going strong with it.
Huckabee's vision brings a return to a Republican vision of a future that is, ultimately, simple and Protestant as many Republicans believe it was in the past. That is: an America where faith, family and hard work are the magic formula for an ideal future.
As positive as Huckabee's message may be, it is important to see that he is still a negative choice: voters support him because they do not want the other Republican candidates. It is an irony that everyone should pay attention to, as big media pundits will take some time to catch up to it.
There is, however, another element: a growing awareness amongst voters that the violent path has not achieved anything in the past 7 years--except more violence, debt, catastrophe, death and shame. The lure of pragmatism is incredibly strong in the country. People want to get things done again. America is the country that gets it done. Huckabee seems to have the 'gets it done' mantle for now. How long he will hold onto it depends, largely, on how much money Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are going to spend to convince the country that Huckabee is a child-molesting, drug addicted, advocate for rapists and terrorists. However much they spend, it will be a lot and it will have an impact. But Huckabee will still win--in Iowa, and likely everywhere else.
The Democratic side of the contest is much, much harder to predict because in all honestly, the top candidates all have incredibly compelling visions of the future. Somehow--despite a lobotomized generation of big media political pundits--the Democratic field of presidential hopefuls has managed to generate a truly interesting conversation. What is the best way to solve our problems? Intellect, politics, service--revolution! They are not only good answers, they are history's big answers. And each candidate has spoken to them remarkably well.
While Obama seems to have the most momentum this week, ultimately, Iowa voters will decide that Clinton's path to achieving America's future makes sense. The reason is not any doubt in Barack Obama's abilities or shortcomings in his charisma--both of which are immense. Rather, Iowans will see that Clinton's great strength is what the country has lacked after two terms of George W. Bush. Despite the smear of Hillary Clinton as a divisive figure, Iowans will believe in her ability build exactly what she says she can: political coalitions that can serve as a foundation for achievement. After 8 years of political defeat, what Democrats crave is eight years of political success.
While neither Edwards nor Dodd will win in Iowa, their campaigns will have had a far greater influence on the general election and on the future of the country than any others. In the same way that the Dean campaign transformed politics in America, the Edwards campaign will finally usher in a new era of muckraking--a long-awaited reigning in of the era of corporate baroque that weighs down American optimism. And the Dodd campaign will be responsible for the triumphant return of American dedication to service. While both campaigns will dissipate after the race, their influence will be lasting. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, will not disband nor will the optimism that drove him to the top of the pile. There will still be plenty of big problems for Obama solve when it's time to caucus in Iowa eight years from now.
(cross posted from Frameshop)