the people have spoken (goddamn them)
Well, I'll save you the spin-doctoring or the sour grapes. Barack Obama won a decisive victory last night, aided in large part by record turn-out and a strong showing among independents and young, first-time caucus goers. These were the constituencies that were supposed to help Howard Dean in 2004. It seems that Team Obama got it right this time. Good for them.
This historic win by an African American candidate in an almost completely white state is reason to celebrate, even though I am not looking forward to the struggle of explaining to my students that Obama's rise does not signify the end of racism in America. Nonetheless, the Iowa Caucus victory should eliminate all of the grumbling about Obama not being a "serious" or "viable" candidate. He could win. The Presidency.
While all hope is not lost for John Edwards (union-heavy Nevada is just weeks away), things are exceedingly grim for his campaign. The media, as predicted, have almost completely written him off. A win in Iowa, the focus of his strategy for more than a calendar year, was seen as a make-or-break for his Presidential aspirations. As the only major candidate accepting public financing for his campaign, he's limited to spending less than 50 million dollars throughout the Primary campaign. Obama and Clinton have each raised more than 100 million. New Hampshire will be a Clinton-Obama slugfest, and after that the pundits and media will officially declare Edwards over and done with.
While my friends in the Obama camp, good progressives all, savor this big win, I'd advise them to think soberly about what an Edwards exit will mean. Barack Obama is charting a new "third way": this time not just between conservatism and American social liberalism, but between conservatism and the old 1990's Clinton/Blair third way. He's shrewd and creative enough to use that narrow space in important and beneficial ways, but at the end of the day that's a dangerous geography. The major talking points by mainstream pundits is that Obama did well by bucking the party line, being independent of "traditional" Democratic constituencies (particularly labor) and attracting independent minded young voters who fetishize the "new". He'll have to deliver on that promise, and I predict it will come in ways that anyone interested in the redistribution of political and economic power will find incredibly painful. You'll miss Edwards sooner rather than later.
That's why I don't take huge pleasure in the third place finish by Clinton. She's not going anywhere, and anything but a win by Edwards meant a winnowing down to Clinton and Obama, who has been as likely to attack her from the right as from the left. "Anti-establishment" is not enough to excite me.
But, as Howard Dean put it, it's on to New Hampshire, and Nevada, and South Carolina, and California and Kentucky and New York and Texas, and Alabama and Michigan (oh, wait, not Michigan). Come what may, I look forward to bringing the fight to the other team.