January 3, 2008

America's Face to the World

By Mary Lyon

It starts.

Ronald Reagan once said - "it's 'Morning in America'." Well, maybe morning has not yet broken over the political landscape, but I think a few things have at least dawned on America. The campaign to replace George W. Bush in November 2008 actually began, unofficially, LONG ago, but now, the game is officially on. Clearly it is time to start paying attention because we're now "on the clock". The results of the Iowa caucuses show the road ahead, at least among those who cared enough to step up and be counted on to start building that road.

Now we have a better idea, on both sides, what the voters want to say TO America, and what they want their votes to say ABOUT America. And to a lesser extent, perhaps, they're also indicating who and what they'd be okay living with for at least the next four years. But mainly, it seems to me the decision will be a telecasting to the rest of the world what America's face, post-Bush, will be.

So there you have it. Obama and Huckabee.

Mike Huckabee's victory on the GOP side comes in a state with a large and involved evangelical base. Never mind his latest gaffes.

1) He hadn't heard of that National Intelligence Estimate briefing on Iran NOT being as much of a nuclear threat, that dominated news coverage early in December and more or less kiboshed the Bush/Cheney/PNAC dream of war with Iran. Hello? Uh - you want to be Commander-in-Chief? Shouldn't you have already started keeping track of these things?

2) He danced off to the "Tonight Show" on Iowa caucus eve, crossing a Writers Guild of America picket line in the process. Hello? You didn't know the strikers would be there? You don't have SOMEBODY on your ever-expanding team who went online and looked it up, and made sure you wouldn't confuse Jay Leno with David Letterman - who'd made separate arrangements with the WGA to allow them to resume work on the shows his production company owns?

3) Don't forget the baloney about that mean ol' Romney attack ad Huckabee piously announced he wouldn't run (he's just SAYING, dontcha know...) He couldn't have just buried it, or canceled it before it was shot. He had to make sure the press was there to cover him breaking his arm patting himself on the back. And don't forget the pseudo-innocuous anti-Romney crack he made when he "thought the interview was over" - wondering if Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers (they do). No dirty campaigns? Hah! Just more silkily and stealthfully packaged. You could almost hear his eyelashes batting in feigned innocence.

4) His take on the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan was to warn against all these rabid hoards of sinister Pakistani illegal aliens sneaking across our borders. HUH??????? Sigh... Whatever you say, Huckadude. I know, I know. His supporters will excuse all his "oopsies" by assuring us all - "don't worry if he's a dim bulb! He'll surround himself with 'Good People.'" Um... haven't we had that already, since January, 2001? How's that been working out for ya?

The fact that Huckabee did so well with Iowa Republicans tells me that packaging with Huckabee has been everything. His nice-guy, aw-shucks, "Jesus was too smart to run for political office" cutesy schtick with the smiles and the dimples and the Eau de Gomer Pyle has been relentlessly pressed to the public. As we've seen in Bush-dom, where it has always been all-important to "catapult the propaganda", repeating messages again and again and again until they became the perceived truths, the Huckabee machinery has pushed the Reverend Former Governor's congenial, fun, jovial image. By now, it's had plenty of time to sink in. And it's acted as a see no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil shield for him. People have become favorably predisposed toward him because they've developed a liking for him based on what they see of him on TV, in the debates, in the soundbites, in the folksy humor, and in the reactions among the pundit class. So they'll forgive him anything - at least for awhile. So far, his blunders and mispronouncements aren't clouding over the stars still in their eyes about him. It remains to be seen how long that luster will last unless Huckabee now gains enough momentum and increased campaign donations to hire his own brain to help him engage with the real world instead of the strictly Biblical one.

Huckabee may well wind up being the Republican Party's face to the world if he stays in or near the winner's circle, which will bring him sufficient infusions of support to mow down John McCain and Mitt Romney. The Democrats, on the other hand, have offered a signature face of an entirely different order.

The news for Democrats, and judging from the historically-high turnout all over Iowa, disaffected Republicans AND a ballooning contingent of independents also, is all about Barack Obama. People REALLY want change. Huckabee in his victory speech tried to hijack that theme, but no one represents it quite like Barack Obama. Yeah. Just what we want, to change things after Junior moves back to Texas: from a white guy from the South with a Messiah complex - to another white guy from the South with an even bigger Messiah complex. As THE presumed newly-designated Democratic front-runner, Obama has but to show up to represent the most serious and tectonic of change. Much of the world flows through his veins already. After we've been so dismally cavalier and hamhanded with vast swaths of the Third World, it would be magnificent, and hugely healing, for those regions to see us through genuinely empathetic and, literally, brotherly eyes. After the miserable, aggressive, belligerent, greedy, pirates' grimace of the Bush/Cheney regime, it's beyond high time we showed we were someone ELSE. Obama may not have a lot of establishment experience, but he had enough instinctive good sense to be on the correct side of the Iraq war, and to know enough not to trust Dubya. Score bigtime points for solid judgment and character assessment of adversaries. That clear-eyed judgment is something that just might be good for a president to have.

And perhaps it's just time for a Barack Obama. What does it say about us as Americans if we align with him?

What does it say about the grievous affliction of racism that's marred our history and caused so much agony and bloodshed - and what may now, finally, drive a decisive nail into the coffin of that blight? Have we finally grown up? Have we at least started growing up? Have we at least begun to move beyond it? Are we truly ready to cross that fabled bridge into the Twenty-First Century? Are we ready to put the worst ugliness of this country's past behind us? Granted, ANY Democrat replacing Bush would put a lot of ugly past behind us (certainly the recent past), but THIS era-changing choice makes it all the sweeter and more decisive. I think the rest of the world needs to see that part of us, for a change. The world needs to see the loftiest and noblest of what we can be, particularly after being force-fed years of our deepest and most dreadful shame and disgrace. Let's show what our best can be, rather than our sneakiest, most deceitful, most manipulative, most duplicitous, most aggressive, most bullying, most bloodthirsty, most fear-mongering. Let's show a new face to the world in the most expansive and inclusive sense of all.

A few more thoughts:

I think Hillary is just plain threatening to people. She's the classic uppity woman. Those who once disparaged Rosalyn Carter as a "steel magnolia" for sitting in on some of her husband's Cabinet meetings liked Bill Clinton's active participant and advisor First Lady even less. To this date, some media hyenas have spent a considerable time maligning even as piddly a detail as the sound of her voice and, as armchair warrior Chris Matthews endlessly sneered, her laugh (he never failed to refer to it as a "cackle"). Perhaps a few too many people are leery of such a strong, powerful, brilliant, assertive woman - regardless who it is. Besides, it's enough to give the weasels of the world quite an inferiority complex.

Rudy Giuliani is in trouble. He didn't bother in Iowa, and Iowa wound up not bothering with him. Evidently he's betting the bank on Florida - which is still weeks away. Enough can happen between now and January 29th to ground his plane before it can even line up for takeoff. The day before the first big event that formally opens campaign season, you don't want to be a candidate about whom writes the headline: "Giuliani Tries to Stay Relevant."

I further suspect more people than just Iowa voters will have noticed how Rudy blew off the whole state. At least step in and make an attempt, even if you think there's not much hope. That matters, and it's revealing of character. Edwards, who edged Hillary for second place among Democrats, certainly never gave in to uncertainty. Christopher Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich certainly fought hard, as well. Republicans Ron Paul and John McCain and others did also. Even Fred Thompson, who gave it a half-hearted try, still at least made an attempt, and he was rewarded with a semi-respectable finish.

And as for Willard Mitt Romney, who chose to speak at the same time as Huckabee did at the end of the evening (thereby confirming his status as recorded soundbite as opposed to live newsmaker), there arises the scent of "Poor Little Rich Boy." He spent many times as much as Huckabee did, with nothing much to show for it but a loss of momentum. He thus becomes, along with Hillary Clinton, one of the biggest losers of the night.

The evangelical pocket of the GOP has its winner. They're undoubtedly certain theirs is just the right breath of fresh air. The Democrats and independents in Iowa said they have a bigger and better one. One man can claim he's the face of change for America. The other man IS one.


Mary Lyon is a veteran broadcaster and five-time Golden Mike Award winner who has anchored, reported, and written for the Associated Press Radio Network, NBC Radio "The Source," and many Los Angeles-area stations including KRTH-FM/AM, KLOS-FM, KFWB-AM, and KTLA-TV, and occasional media analyst for ABC Radio News.  Mary began her career as a liberal activist with the Student Coalition for Humphrey / Muskie in 1968 and helped spearhead a regional campaign, The Power 18, to win the right to vote for 18-year-olds. She remains an advocate for liberal causes, responsibility and accountability in media, environmental education and support of the arts for children, and green living. Mary writes for,, World News Trust, and's We! Magazine. Mary is also a parenting expert, having written and illustrated the book "The Frazzled Working Woman's Practical Guide to Motherhood."

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