Magazine article The Nation

Straws from Iowa

Magazine article The Nation

Straws from Iowa

Article excerpt

Straws From Iowa

The absurdly long and obscenely expensive Iowa caucuses campaigns produced a small tempest in a teapot whose leaves cannot be clearly read. Still, some patterns are beginning to emerge. Pat Robertson's second-place finish is an upset victory for the most hateful elements in the nation today, but at the same time it expresses the widespread popular contempt for a repressive and exclusive political establishment that wallows in sleaze, greed and mediocrity. Both Robertson and Jack Kemp, who is propelled by that same sensibility, have been scoring points with their attacks on Republican elitism in financial as well as social affairs, from the "rich men's club" that runs the economy to the "white men's club" that determines party membership. Right-wing populism is a recurrent historical nightmare, but it occurs when other dreams are dashed and the old and contradicted consciousness cannot support a sagging system.

The Democrats are struggling to design a new political paradigm, but their work is at something of an impasse. Jesse Jackson, who was often described on caucus night as "the soul and conscience" of the party, has given progressive populism a big name and a good press again, as witness the mad dash of candidates to the most liberal positions that the Democrats, more or less as a body, have espoused since the end of World War II. So little difference separates them, in fact, that voters are forced to choose on the most ephemeral of issues, like the color of a candidate's eyebrows--or the color of his skin. …

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