Iowa Lesson: Back To The Middle

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 09, 2008

Barack Obama began his political ascendance with a speech - his eloquent 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. In it, he beseeched his Democratic brethren and - beyond the convention hall, the nation’s voters at large - to put away their screeching partisanship and to rally behind their community of interests.

It was a great speech because it so eloquently stated what so many Americans already knew: that the bomb-throwing partisanship that has infected Washington and too many state capitals for the past quarter century does little to benefit anyone but the few who are adept at using it for their own ends.

For most, economic uncertainty grows; bankruptcy threatens; the rich grow richer while the rest of us paddle in place. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are sent into harm’s way - and then are sent again, and again, and again. And there seems, no matter what the election returns show, any way to stop it.

At the crux, of course, is this terrible stalemate based on a shouted, smirked, growled or condescended: “I’m right, and you’re wrong. There’s no middle ground. No room for compromise. I’ll propose, you’ll ignore my proposal. I’ll pass, you’ll veto.”

This polarizing mantra emanates from both right and left, from both Republican and Democrat.

When this unlikely Democratic presidential candidate, this African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, appeals for change, he’s in fact asking for a return to the past: a past in which American politics was played in the middle - where men like Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen sat down together and compromised or where Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill met, put partisanship aside, and governed in the name of the whole people.

Election night pundits spoke of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s victory as evidence of the power of the Republican Party’s evangelical religious base in Iowa. That may be part of it, but it seems to me that Huckabee won because he speaks the same language as Obama.

Huckabee is a former pastor. Pastors know that to build a congregation and to keep the pews full, you must both inspire and soothe, preach the gospel of virtue - but acknowledge that sin resides always in all of us - and extend God’s love and that of God’s pastor to saint and sinner alike.

Or, in Obama’s secular terminology, to those who reside in a metaphorical blue state as well as those who reside in a red one.

Huckabee demonstrated that tellingly for me three months ago when he went to historically black Morgan State University in Baltimore to take part in an “All American Presidential Primary” debate. It was sponsored by black talk show host Tavis Smiley and televised nationally on PBS.

Republican front-runner Rudolph Giuliani had a “scheduling conflict” and didn’t show. So too did front-runners Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and John McCain. It makes sense. Blacks make up a mere ten percent of the country’s population, and 90- percent-cent-plus of them vote Democratic in presidential years. So why should a busy Republican bother?

Mike Huckabee bothered. He showed up in Baltimore, and he acquitted himself well - as he has in every debate, interview, or speech in which I’ve seen him. He’s a reasonable man who wants to govern in the name of all Americans, whether they are black or white, come from red or blue states, or agree or disagree with him on matters like abortion and civil unions.

And he has a sense of humor. He can laugh at himself - just as Obama can when wife Michelle zings him yet again.

While Romney and Giuliani snarled their way through the debates, Huckabee soothed, talked of the need for better leadership of the whole American congregation. That’s the kind of pastor who can fill the pews.

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