Debra J. Saunders

Iowa Democrats clearly decided not to repeat the mistake of 2004. In 2004, caucus-goers, who opposed the war in Iraq, put their weight behind John Kerry, who had voted for the Iraq war resolution, because they believed that Kerry was the Democrat who could win in November. Instead, the Dems lost in the most painful way possible, having sold out utterly and compromised their principles -- with nothing to show for it.

Caucus-goers rejected Hillary Clinton's siren song of inevitability and John Edwards' slick populist themes, and instead lined up behind Barack Obama, the one top-tier candidate who opposed the war in Iraq when it was popular.

I don't believe in reading too much into the Iowa caucus -- an exercise that involved some 15 percent of the state's registered voters -- as it will soon be left in the dust of the roller coaster ride of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tsunami Tuesday. That said, it would be wrong to ignore a verdict that indicates a desire among Democrats and Republicans to buck their parties' establishments.

Clinton can say she's the change candidate, but that doesn't make it so. Both Clinton and Edwards voted for the Iraq war and voted for the Patriot Act -- when the polls told them to. They have stood for nothing with unshakable conviction, except their own advancement. Iowa caucus-goers went for the new guy, instead of the same old excuses.

As one who sorely wants to see U.S. troops prevail in Iraq and thinks Obama is extremely misguided in his pledge to pull out one to two units of U.S. troops from Iraq per month, I nonetheless appreciate that the Democrats now are putting their votes where their mouths have been.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney was the big loser. Romney is the Republicans' Edwards; just as Edwards is the Dems' Romney. Both candidates seemed too coiffed, too ambitious and too willing to change positions to win.

Bob Lande, an Iowa lawyer and GOP caucus participant who, along with his wife, Gail, supported John McCain, told me over the phone Friday that he believed Iowa Repubs rejected Romney's "waffling" and negative ads.

As he tried to clarify his thoughts on Romney, Lande pointed to Romney's pose as a lifelong hunter, only to admit that his hunting mainly had entailed shooting "small varmints."

"You don't have to be an avid hunter to be president of the United States," said Lande, who has gone pheasant hunting without a camera crew in tow.

As for GOP victor Mike Huckabee, Lande noted, the former preacher and Arkansas governor is charismatic, a good speaker and has a great sense of humor. "How can you not like Huckabee?"

And what a speech Huckabee made Thursday night. Outspent by Romney 15-1, Huckabee stated, "The first thing we've learned is that people really are more important than the purse, and what a great lesson for America to learn."

Huckabee showed how his social conservatism can be framed as inclusive, when he noted that those who share his values "carry those convictions not so that we can somehow push back the others, but so we can bring along the others and bring this country to its greatest days ever."

I don't think Huckabee can win the primary -- and certainly not the general election. He overuses religion. He has over-pardoned violent criminals. The hokey way he pulled a negative ad -- after he showed it to reporters -- won't play in Nashua. And he is a bigger lightweight on foreign policy than Obama.

When it comes to the hustings, however, Obama was a virtuoso Thursday night. Obama, too, sang the body politic electric and inclusive, as he spoke of ending "the political strategy that's been all about division, and instead make it about addition -- to build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states."

After all the knocking of Iowa as a 95 percent white state that lacked diversity, Iowa Democratic caucus voters chose the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan. What you have to love about politics most are the pleasant surprises.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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