I’ve finished my whirlwind Christmas break in Iowa and the primary was a big topic of discussion around the Host household. My stepmother particularly had some interesting things to say which I feel are worth sharing because my parents probably represent a decent sample of your typical upper-middle class, white, aging household that the candidates are busily pandering to.
Let me preface her comments with the following: despite the fact that I lived in Washington, attend a policy school, download 3 political podcasts, read several pundit blogs and related weekly magazines, and was stuck in a hotel for 24 hours in Chicago watching Meet the Press and Charlie Rose, my knowledge and opinion of the political race cannot reasonably compare to that of my stepmothers.
(Well, at least according to her.)
My step-mother is the type of person who laments the fact that the media refuses to report on substantive issues, but holds no particularly active interest in substantive issues, and reads US Weekly religiously. I can remember her watching the OJ Simpson trial daily and rhetorically asking nobody in particular, “why do they keep on showing this trash?”
I think when it boils down to it she is one of several Iowans whose most important “issue” is how electable the Democratic candidate is in 2008 against “The Republican Machine.”
Whereas in New Hampshire the voters choose according to whom is most appealing to them, Iowans choose the candidate whom they perceive is most appealing to everyone else. Which is why you have so many undecided voters, even this late in the game. New Hampshire wants to propel the best candidate forward, to generate momentum for a potential darkhorse, whereas Iowans just want to pick the inevitable winner.
With “electability” in mind, the logical candidate, by my step-mother’s reasoning, is Hilary Clinton. She believes Clinton is the most battle tested and has a lower “floor” in terms of how far she can fall in the face of negative campaigning by the Republican Machine. Barack Obama, she believes, would not withstand such concentrated attacks for the duration of a full political cycle.
I pointed out that Obama also had a much higher ceiling in terms of how high he could rise. He has much lower negatives than Clinton and appeals much more strongly to the independent voters of this country, especially college educated white men. The same college educated white men (like my father) who voted for Bush in 2000, and have regreted that decision ever since.
My step-mother got defensive and said the only reason Clinton has such high negatives is because she is a woman.
I conceded that she was probably right, that Clinton was held to an unfair standard, especially by other women, because she was a woman.
Then we dropped the subject and moved on to more appropriate topics for a family dinner.
I was left wondering though, if the direction (and abrupt ending) to our conversation would be the nature of the public debate as this campaign continues. That is to say, is it possible (or probable) that the Democratic candidate (presuming it is either Hillary or Obama) will bait The Republican Machine into overly negative campaigning, and then counter-punch with “these criticisms are unfair and would never be charged against a white male”?
I think such a strategy could destroy a candidate like Giuliani or even Mitt Romney, who might be perceived as political machinists. But if such charges were made against Mike Huckabee, and the original smears were appropriately distanced from his campaign, the strategy could conceivably backfire. In fact, if Huckabee were the Republican candidate, the right could bait the left into the distractor issue of equal treatment by sex/ethnicity, then pour on fierce denials, wrapped in Christian values of tolerance and brotherhood.
Suddenly then, Obama/Clinton becomes the divisive figure, by virtue of the fact that his/her race/gender causes the nation to collectively ask itself whether it is “ready” for a black/woman president.
This anxiety sways guilty liberal voters (who were likely already in pocket) but the Christians become apprehensive… are they ready for four years of an internal dialogue of whether they are “fair” in their assessments/criticisms of the American president?
This is the same confounding anxiety that hiring managers must face, that academic deans must consider when recruiting faculty, and admissions directors mut weigh when selecting the student body. It is an issue so sensitive that you must address it before you can dismiss it.
It then comes to pass that the same mentality that causes Ann Coltier to call the white American male “the Jew of liberal-facism” will motivate Christians to vote Huckabee. Because these voters are accustomed over the past 16 years to being vehemently critical of their president, and they are more comfortable being angry at a white male then they are at a woman/black male, Christians will independently decide that the country “isn’t ready” for X kind of president. And because most voters decide based on the bandwagon (picking the winner), Mike Huckabee might steal an election that nobody thought the Republicans had a shot at.
So I hope Romney pulls away, the counter-valent skepticism (a Mormon?) will off-set between the parties, and we can collectively celebrate our diversity.