Paul Greenberg

For once a presidential contest turns out to be morality play: The candidate who stuck by his principles won.

And he did it on a bare budget. Mike Huckabee was outspent in Iowa (as he says over and over) 20-to-1. His last-minute decision to pull a TV spot bashing Mitt Romney cost his campaign something like $150,000 - which is how much it had invested in the ad campaign.

That's a big hit when you're a Republican candidate for president not named Mitt Romney. But the Huck decided to stick to the high road. His decision may have come late, it may have been clumsy and costly, but it was the right one. He outpolled his wealthier, smoother, harder-hitting opponent by a decisive 35 to 24 percent while turning the other cheek.

If this had been a movie, the ending election night would have been too sappy to be credible. But that's what it happened: a Frank Capra screenplay turned real. Hey, what a country. Hey, what a state Iowa must be.

Mike Huckabee's show of character didn't seem to hurt him at all. It may even have helped. Any move that upsets a cynical old pro and brass-knuckles fighter like Ed Rollins, his campaign manager, can't be all bad. Good for him. He deserved to win on the strength of that one decision alone. Sacrifice is the seal of principle.

The big winner in Iowa last Thursday was Barack Obama. Why not? Americans love a presidential candidate who's brand new even though we may not be sure what he stands for except novelty.

As for not knowing exactly where such a candidate stands on a multitude of issues, or what kind of chief executive he'd make, Americans may not really care, bless our hearts. If a candidate's politics are vacuous, then maybe he can unite all of us around that vacuum.

Hey, don't laugh. Didn't they say the same thing about Eisenhower before he was nominated and elected in 1952? Who knew how Ike stood on a multitude of hotly contested issues? ? (Not even after he'd been in office for eight years.) And yet he proved one of our most successful presidents.

Of course, unlike this junior senator from Illinois, the general did have some executive experience - as the German high command discovered after June 6, 1944. When he became commander-in-chief, it wasn't as if he were a buck private.

But none of that detracts from the romance of Barack Obama's story. The still racially fixated couldn't get over the results from Iowa Thursday night. Des Moines and Keokuk aren't Atlanta and New Orleans, you know. How much of Iowa's population is black - 2 or 3 percent? Yet a black man running for president stomps the competition.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.