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FCW Insider: What Iowa is telling you

I wanted to write about Iowa just as it was fresh, but... I did it the Buzz of the Week, which will appear in the issue that comes out Monday. But I'm going to take the opportunity to expand upon it a bit here.

As a journalist, I loved Iowa. Us press folks always love it when everybody gets it wrong. We love the story.

But I was actually heartened by the results. Blogger Andrew Sullivan captured it so well on Thursday night:

Look at their names: Huckabee and Obama. Both came from nowhere - from Arkansas and Hawaii. Both campaigned as human beings, not programmed campaign robots with messages honed in focus groups. Both faced powerful and monied establishments in both parties. And both are running two variants on the same message: change, uniting America again, saying goodbye to the bitterness of the polarized past, representing ordinary voters against the professionals. Neither has been ground down by long experience, but neither is a neophyte.

You have a Republican educated in a Bible college; and a Democrat who is the most credible African-American candidate for the presidency in history. Their respective margins were far larger than most expected. And the hope they have unleashed is palpable.

That hope is not just about their parties. It is about America. America's ability to move forward, to unite, to get past the bitter red-and-blue past. That's what the next generation wants. And they now seem motivated enough to get it.

So 'change' is the mantra of the day. (The LAT reported Sunday that the Democrats said the word change 62 times during their debate last night.)

It will be interesting to see what this means for how the government actually operates, but it will clearly mean something.

It depends how it all ferrets out over the next 11 months, but if you didn't get a chance to see Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) Iowa victory speech, it is worth five minutes of your time.

I remember when I was taking a cinema class as an undergraduate at USC and we saw the movie Network. Even then I wanted to be a journalist and Network, of course, is about a new anchor who goes... well, he goes crazy at the establishment that is trying to boot him because he is too old. That movie introduced the phrase, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Sitting here in DC, it sure seems that, in the long run-up to the 2008 elections, there’s been an almost palpable feeling that people are mad. Some might argue that anger has been seeping out in various ways for years — in impeachment proceedings during the Clinton administration, in the hardening of partisan feelings on Capitol Hill — and the list goes on.

That anger is reflected in public opinion polls. Even before the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found a prolonged period of public dissatisfaction.

Certainly, those feelings were at work, at least in part, in Iowa. New Hampshire lies ahead this week.

All of that is the macro view, but that macro stuff does have an impact on this community. Iowa, New Hampshire -- and this general public sense of unease -- does have have impacton government and government information technology. Most government IT, management and procurement issues fly below the radar of the political firestorms, yet in recent years, many of them are acquiring an increasingly caustic tone. Government workers — federal, state and local — have been caught in partisan fights between lawmakers on Capitol Hill and officials in the White House and between political appointees and career government workers.

Iowa voters seemed to paint a different picture, moving beyond the anger to a new path — perhaps.

Pundits noted that voters embraced two candidates — Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Republican former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who came from nowhere, faced seemingly insurmountable odds, and yet won.

“You know, they said this day would never come,” Obama said in a victory speech in Iowa on Thursday. “They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.”

Iowa is only the first step in the 11-month marathon to November’s elections. It is unclear what this first step may say about how government workers do their jobs, and it remains unclear what this idiosyncratic Midwestern state may say about the rest of the country, but it is an interesting first step.

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Jan 06, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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