Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucuses. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel moved by this. An African-American man wins a closely fought campaign in a pivotal state. He beats two strong opponents, including the mighty Clinton machine. He does it in a system that favors rural voters. He does it by getting young voters to come out to the caucuses. ~David Brooks
On this first point that Brooks makes about Obama, I have to disagree. It is not moving, though it is perhaps unsettling, that a politician of no particular accomplishment and vacuous, sunny rhetoric can win an important election through that same vacuity and the enthusiasm of those who wish to show that they can support a black candidate’s meaningless banter just as well as they can support anyone’s. As Pat Buchanan put it a bit bluntly, but astutely, on caucus night, Obama would not be where he is today were it not for his race. Simply put, a Midwestern Senator of limited experience and a conventionally liberal voting record would not be considered remotely viable as a presidential nominee and would have received little or no support–consider whether Russ Feingold or even the much more centrist Evan Bayh would have stood a chance, and you have your answer. It is somewhat ironic that many analysts have focused on the “overwhelmingly” white makeup of Iowa’s population, all the while failing to mention that it was mostly the activists of the Democratic left who participate in the Democratic caucuses, since it is these activists who would be most receptive to Obama’s appeal and indifferent to or even excited by his background. This is not surprising or scandalous or all that newsworthy. What is strange is the idea that a very personable, charismatic candidate from Illinois with tens of millions of dollars in fundraising and considerable support from the main political machine in the Midwest, that of the Chicago Daleys, should have achieved any less in neighbouring Iowa over a Southern has-been and Hillary Clinton. With no incumbent President or Vice President to challenge in the general, the Democratic caucus-goers no doubt felt free to take a chance on Obama, reassured by the utterly lackluster and chaotic nature of the GOP field. I raised a glass to Obama for defeating Hillary in Iowa, but it is time for everyone to sober up and stop pretending that drippy and meaningless optimism constitutes the path to good government.
When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?
When that man has terrible ideas, yes, I do. Elizabeth Edwards had an interesting, though completely self-serving, remark on Friday when she remarked that the civil rights and women’s rights activists on the left had fought to make race and gender irrelevant–this was her response to a loaded Matthews question about her husband running against a woman and a black man. I don’t pretend that either is entirely irrelevant, but both are certainly far down the list of my considerations. Call it the result of my liberal upbringing at a very P.C. private school, if you want. One question to ask yourself about Obama is this: if he were white, would I ever support him? Presumably many of his current supporters would, since they are also on board with his very progressive politics, but how broad a base of support do you suppose he would have? Would it actually be good for the country and for black candidates in the future if the first black candidate to contest for national office were so far removed from Middle America as Obama certainly is?
Reihan loves the Brooks column, and Hewitt hates it (as he hates all things that demean his beloved Romney), which is generally a pretty good recommendation, but there is more to say. Matt Welch delves into the archives and finds that Brooks was saying much the same thing about McCain and the establishment eight years ago that he is saying about Huckabee and the establishment today. It was a media-driven myth that McCain was a great anti-establishment figure in 1999-2000, and I am beginning to think that the same is true of Huckabee. He may have different priorities, as McCain does, but he does not represent the break with the current establishment that some Republicans fear and some conservatives hope to find. On the contrary, he represents continuity with the present administration in many respects. All of us who have problems with Mr. Bush and what he has done, to put it mildly, would like to see the current GOP leadership and the conservative elites who have supported them get their comeuppance. To the extent that Huckabee throws a wrench in their plans and generally aggravates them, we are very pleased, but this is not because he actually represents anything different from the very administration we oppose. For others, such as Brooks, I think Huckabee’s candidacy serves as a cipher for frustrations with the current direction of the GOP, just as Obama’s has served as an outlet for progressive frustrations with the Democratic Party. The candidates have been almost secondary for supporters and opponents alike–they see the candidates representing what supporters and opponents want the candidates to represent, and it doesn’t matter whether the descriptions they give are complete caricatures. They are serving as empty vessels for others’ hopes, so it is appropriate that they are framing their campaigns around empty promises of hope.