The headline story out of the Iowa caucuses is Senator John Kerry's surprising victory and the collapse of Governor Howard Dean's political bubble. This is all very well for those in the media who treat politics as the personal stories of politicians.
But, for those who see politics as being about the fate of this country, rather than the careers of candidates, the story out of Iowa is much more sobering. How did Howard Dean become the early front-runner in the first place? And what does that say about the current attitudes and future prospects of America?
Howard Dean came out of nowhere, as the former governor of a state with a smaller population than some cities, and shot to the front with smug, glib, and irresponsible statements about a war that is still going on, not only in Iraq but around the world, in an age of nuclear proliferation. Strident leftist rhetoric was enough to propel him to the front of the pack with Democratic primary voters.
Senator Kerry caught up and overtook Dean largely by doing the same thing, but without the gaffes that revealed Dean's immaturity.
The prevalence of image over reality was painfully apparent in the fact that Governor Dean, who never governed as many people as a mayor of Houston or Phoenix, was considered qualified to be President of the United States in a time of deadly national peril.
Moreover, the image of an "outsider" helped Dean beguile the unwary, despite the plain fact that he has been a professional politician for the last 20 years, beginning as a state legislator.
While media pundits try to unravel the intricate political strategies and counter-strategies of the competing candidates, the question of what any of these people have to offer the United States of America gets lost in the shuffle.
What all the Democratic candidates seem to offer are higher taxes. This has been the liberal formula for decades: Solve problems by throwing the taxpayers' money at them. And when that doesn't work, then throw some more money -- out of higher taxes -- because the previous amount was apparently not enough.
When you can't get enough money out of the taxpayers, then the political formula is to confiscate private money by the back door, by imposing price controls on businesses. Media pundits seem utterly uninterested in the actual economic consequences of price controls, even though the history of such consequences goes back for centuries in countries around the world.
Those consequences have repeatedly included shortages and quality deterioration -- which can be matters of life and death when it comes to medical care. But who has time to look up facts when there are exciting political strategies to chatter about?
Senator John Kerry is not only in the classic liberal tradition, he got to the front of the pack by being on all sides of the issue of war in Iraq. He voted for the war but then voted against the money needed to deal with the consequences of the war.
He did not win by showing leadership but by following the rhetoric of Howard Dean while maintaining more of an air of dignity -- but only an air.
Perhaps most ominously of all, Senator Kerry followed the liberal practice of playing the race card. When President Bush appointed Judge Charles Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Kerry denounced Judge Pickering as an advocate for a cross-burner.
In reality, the man whose sentence Judge Pickering considered excessive had not burned any crosses. That is precisely why Judge Pickering thought he should not have received a longer sentence than a man who did, when the one who was punished more severely had driven the car that the cross burner traveled in.
What makes Senator Kerry's race card truly despicable is that Judge Pickering not only fought against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, back when it was dangerous to do so, he sent his own child to a newly integrated school with black children -- which is more than most liberal politicians will do, even today.
Race is not a game to be played recklessly. Not if the country matters more than a politician's candidacy.
From the standpoint of the future of this country, Senator John Kerry's political victory in Iowa means far less than the character flaws he revealed in getting that victory.