Steve Chapman

Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton talked a lot about building "a bridge to the 21st century." Right now, his wife looks like an unappealing detour back to the 20th.

Having him stand behind her as she addressed supporters after her third-place finish in Iowa didn't help. She might as well have invited Fleetwood Mac to provide the music. Nostalgia isn't everything.

The Iowa caucuses, it should be noted, are rarely as decisive as they may appear. Since 1976, only one candidate has won Iowa on the way to becoming president -- George W. Bush in 2000. But if you can't win the election in Iowa, you can certainly put yourself in a solid position to lose it, which is what Clinton and John Edwards accomplished Thursday evening.

The evening was full of surprises. I would not have guessed that Barack Obama would reprise a German slogan chanted upon the fall of the Berlin Wall: "We are one people." But it was appropriate, since the polarization of the last 15 years has featured everything short of an Iron Curtain between the red states and the blue.

Mike Huckabee waxed grandiose in his victory speech, declaring that "tonight, I hope we will forever change the way Americans look at their political system and how we elect presidents and elected officials." Somehow I doubt that 20 or 50 years from now, Americans will look back at Huckabee's upset and say, "

That was the moment that changed us forever."

As he could learn from Pat Robertson, who thought he was White House-bound after finishing ahead of Vice President George Bush in the 1988 caucuses, it's one thing for an evangelical darling to win in Iowa. It's another to win elsewhere, especially when you lack money and face an expanded field of capable opponents. His victory was one for "none of the above." Once voters get to know the newcomer better, he may look worse than the other options.

But Huckabee was on to something earlier when he said voters should choose someone "authentic." That is not an adjective anyone would apply to Mitt Romney, unless it preceded "phony." The former Massachusetts governor is less a flesh-and-blood person than an assemblage of focus-tested attributes that could be instantly reconfigured on demand.

Romney brought a business executive's skill at raising money and identifying the demands of his customers, in this case Republican voters. But in trying to meet their every specification, he left the unappetizing impression he would say anything to become president.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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