The Iowa primary may very well be filled with surprises for the nation. Most Americans are tired of “business as usual” politics. We are weary of insincerity, hypocrisy, corruption and polarized positions. We want a politician we can trust!
This is ironic because most of us realize that campaign promises can rarely be trusted. Therefore, a trustworthy politician is an oxymoron. Cynics would say that we want our political yarns spun well and that we enjoy the theatre of politics. They feel that as long as it’s entertaining, voters will put up with the process. Extremists actually question the current relevance of our political process. These folks won’t let their hearts get caught up in politics because they do not believe that one vote can make a difference anyway. Yet the 2000 and 2004 elections should have proven to everyone that a major election can be determined by just a handful of votes.
So what does the average citizen want from this election? The answer is simple – substantive change and a better America. They want someone who will help solve problems and actually address the issues that concern them. In light of these yearnings, one would think that the candidates would be offering radical, out-of-the-box approaches. The contrary seems to be true - there are no earth shattering solutions being offered up in these primaries so far. Seasoned political pundits might even say that the speeches being made are very predictable. Most candidates are making time worn, proven statements using the language of ideologues instead of true problem solvers. This is “niche marketing” at its best.
The rise in the polls of both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee in their respective parties suggests that Iowans are at least toying with the idea of change. These candidates, once thought of as long-shots, now have a real chance to win Iowa, if the voters continue their move away from the front runners. The question of the hour is: “Can Obama and Huckabee or others close the sale or are the Iowans just window shopping?” The image that comes to my mind is of someone who likes the way something looks in the window but cannot afford the payments.
The challenge for all the candidates on both sides of the aisle is how to help the voters define positive change and persuasively convince the voters to choose them. Generally speaking, most candidates seem to have concluded that it is easier to tweak one’s message than to offer real change.
As timely questions now arise about the economy, immigration, the selection of judges, long-term foreign policy, in addition to the constant concern about Iraq and terrorism; many wonder when we will hear solutions. “Who can beat Hillary” has been the focus of Republican positioning, while the Democrats are still running against George Bush and “his war.” Therefore, a large number of national voters have slept through the presidential debates so far. Anticipating posturing and generalizations, they have not tuned into the discussions. The November 15th Democratic debate hosted by CNN was the first to attract a decent audience. It averaged 4 million viewers according to Nielsen Media Research. CNN scored better that Fox News Channel's Sept. 5th GOP debate, which drew 3.2 million viewers, or ABC’s Aug. 19th GOP debate which drew 2.9 million, or MSNBC’s Philadelphia debate which yielded 2.5 million.
Surprisingly, many well-educated voters are currently going on their “gut feel” about various candidates instead of their knowledge of the candidates’ true positions. Although there is nothing new about voter ignorance, voters desiring change could make terrible choices for the nation at this pivotal time in our history. We need to think about more important issues than whether someone looks presidential or what their ethnicity or gender is. I recently wrote down how six of the candidates could be defined as “candidates of change” merely based on their distinctions alone. A list of potential “firsts” are enumerated below:
1. Rudy Giuliani could be the first Italian American elected to president. 2. Mitt Romney could be the first Mormon ever to reach such a high office.
3. Barack Obama could become the first African-American leader in our nation’s history.
4. John McCain could become the oldest American president to enter this leadership role.
5. Bill Richardson could be the first president from Hispanic descent.
6. Hillary Clinton could be the first woman to be president.
I am hoping that Iowans will represent the nation well by seeking answers to the deeper questions of national concern in the next 40 days or so. Perhaps this Wednesdays’ CNN debate will be helpful. I hope everyone reading this article will tune in to this and future debates because of the importance of this election.
How much change do you want?
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.