Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2004 / 27 Teves 5764
The revealing results in Iowa
The big loser in Iowa wasn't Howard Dean. It was the whole collection of pundits, pollsters and general pontificators who patiently explained to us laymen that he had already won the famous Invisible Primary. That's the one that takes place before a single vote is cast in the primaries, or a single delegate elected in the Iowa caucuses. It's apparently conducted exclusively in The New York Times.
Ah, yes, the legendary Invisible Primary, and I do mean legendary now that Iowa has spoken. The Invisible Primary, we innocents were told, is determined by the amount of money raised, organization put in place and buzz generated.
Thanks to the Internet and a children's crusade unmatched since Gene McCarthy's day, Howard Dean may already have been the winner! As in the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. Never mind that the winner of the Invisible Primary proved barely visible in Iowa.
The results of the caucuses in that prototypical Midwestern state may not matter much in the long run or even the short, but they were revealing in more than a political way. Especially the concession speeches.
For who remembers victory speeches? They all seem the same - memorable only when they're particularly graceless. Like Ted Kennedy's at John Kerry's side Monday night. He was big, boisterous and blustery as ever, and, as ever, accompanied by his ever faithful, invisible companion, the shade of Mary Jo Kopechne. And he was never more Teddy. He sounded as if he were campaigning in South Boston instead of declaring victory in Des Moines. There's nothing like a fiery speech from Teddy Kennedy to turn a victory party into a Last Hurrah. John Kerry also spoke.
It was the concession speeches that, as always, revealed character. Or the lack of it. Wasn't Howard Dean awful? Having lost in Iowa, he'd clearly decided that the best thing to do was pretend he'd won.
The voters having just gone for thoughtful, positive appeals, Howard Dean chose to jump and shout and generally prance about. It hurt to watch.
My old friend Tucker Carlson, a lapsed newspaperman who's now become a television charmer, says it looked as if the candidate was about to burst through the television and bite the viewer. I have to admit I did cower a bit watching Dr. Dean turn into Mr. Hyde.
Once again I miss Adlai Stevenson, whose concession in 1952 outshone any victory speech we've ever heard. ("Someone asked me, as I came in the door, down on the street, how I felt, and I was reminded of a story that a fellow townsman of ours used to tell - Abraham Lincoln. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.") He was grace and candor and good humor personified, at least in his first try for the White House, before the professional speechwriters got to him.
Dick Gephardt is scarcely Adlai Stevenson, but Monday night he seemed the best Dick Gephardt could be. Each time he loses, he wins something greater than an election: He grows in stature. He acquires a new measure of dignity, a deeper loyalty to his blue-collar, union roots.
Maybe it was just the relief at realizing Monday night that the danger of his outdated, build-a-wall-around-America economics had passed for the moment, but I'd never felt such affection and admiration for the man. He makes a great loser, which is no small thing in a society addicted to cheap victories for no clear purpose.
John Edwards was another big winner Monday night, too, maybe the biggest because he had the furthest to go. His surprise showing shouldn't have been a surprise. Whenever the Democratic Party feels at a loss, it tends to turn to nice young Southern candidates - or candidates who seem to be. Even if, in office, they turn out to be incompetents or scamps or both. See Jimmy Carter, our most successful ex-president, and Bill Clinton, who turned out to be Bill Clinton.
Waiting the winners in the snows of the Granite State is Wesley Clark, who's already started sniping at Senator Kerry. The general was supposed to emerge as the anti-Dean candidate in New Hampshire and, soon enough, South Carolina. But what happens if there's not much of a Dean to emerge against? Here the Clark campaign has put its artillery in place, and the guns are pointed in the wrong direction. It all ought to be interesting and, like Iowa's choices, revealing.
Little as it may mean, Iowa's moment in the electoral sun has shed some light for all of us. Not just because all those nice, corn-fed Iowans put the pundits in their low place, but because Iowa also showed just how much prestigious endorsements are worth in a presidential race. Al Gore, Tom Harkin, Carol Moseley Braun . . . they all jumped on the Dean bandwagon just in time for it to break down.
You've got to admire and respect those folks in Iowa. They could have done a lot worse - and have in the past. Remember Jimmy Carter, painful as it is to recall his presidency? And Bush 41? He came out of the Iowa caucuses proclaiming that he had the momentum in 1980, only to watch Big Mo swing to Ronald Reagan, thank goodness. Americans love New Beginnings, which is why we'd advise the other candidates not to underestimate John Edwards.
Iowa, I salute you. You've chosen character, or at least the hope of it, over glitz and bluster. Or as Melvyn Douglas as the Old Man - one of my favorite movie characters - says in "Hud": "Little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire."
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