The American experiment in free constitutionalism is not yet over. I never thought I would have good grounds to thank the people of Iowa but now I do. Their caucus support for Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee has given new life to dying republican traditions (the kind standing behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution).
American now has a chance not to go the way of the Roman Republic – taken over by self-serving elites.
Obama presented a message of citizenship and service – in the best tradition of Washington, Lincoln and John f. Kennedy. And he won over Hillary with her mantra of “I am ready to be the boss in Washington”.
On the Republican side, Huckabee supporters rejected the well-financed cadre manipulation of opinion that has been at the core of the national Republican Party since Nixon’s 1968 campaign for the presidency. Like most southern Baptists, Huckabee is up from the margins. He is a Southern populist, not a plantation aristocrat, with Scotch-Irish, country and western hillbilly in his character like Andy Jackson and Huey Long.
The establishment was voted out and the “people” were voted in – like it or not.
Not bad for a republic.
In voting for Obama, Iowa Democrats give us the chance to overcome the great stain of our history – slavery and racist segregation. Obama’s candidacy tracks Lincoln’s – a stand for inclusion and the Declaration of Independence. This is no small gift to our Republic.
But, when Iowa Republicans voted most for Mike Huckabee they finalized the conquest of the Republican Party by narrow sectarianism and ethnic southern white values, a process set off by Richard Nixon. Christian Fundamentalism, a kind of white-trash jingoism, and fear of the “other” will now most likely become the permanent core of the Republican Party. The Party will be a regional party of the South, the Southwest where Hispanics are not powerful, and the Mountain States. Its transformation into the Party of John Calhoun and Jefferson Davis is becoming complete.
Obama’s victory is very good for the Republic but Huckabee’s is only partially so.
When the Framers had finished their work on the federal Constitution in Philadelphia and the convention was breaking up, Benjamin Franklin was walking down the steps of the meeting house. A Philadelphia matron of his acquaintance was passing by and asked: “Dr. Franklin, what kind of a government have you given us?”
“A Republic, Madame, if you can keep it,” was Franklin’s famous reply.
How do you keep a Republic?
Well, first off, through vital citizenship and robust civic virtue.
Another way of putting this is to prevent establishments from arising.
Establishments serve themselves and not the people; they seek and keep power not as a public trust, but as a personal entitlement.
The culture of any establishment – public or private, social or political – is self-reference. Insiders prevail over outsiders. The only gate into establishment privilege is a rite of passage of selling out ideals and the common good for more narrow and less disturbing ambitions. Establishments reward and promote courtiers and functionaries; theirs is so often – from Stuart England to Bourbon France and Romanoff Russia -a tendency towards aristocracy, disdain and condescension. Those bred for high position – by birth, education, apprenticeship – know best; they are the “deciders” to apply a recent Bush-ism.
But on Thursday the voters of Iowa stated emphatically that our establishment in both its Democratic and Republican factions has failed us. Polarization, greed, mediocrity, selfishness has come to the fore and common sense, genuine love of country, good will have been push aside.
In so many ways there is little to distinguish the Bush family machine from the Clinton family machine. It’s Yale over the rest of us and K street over Main Street.
Bismark, Germany’s iron chancellor, once said: “God takes care of widows, orphans and the United States of America.” With no deference to Mike Huckabee’s Christian fundamentalism, maybe Bismark had a point.
We seem to have just been saved by intervention from beyond Washington’s best and brightest.