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Campaign Diary

Havoc in the Cornfields

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN And JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

The
prime beneficiary of the Iowa caucuses was the battered Iowa economy,
pulling in $100 per voter in the caucuses, spent by the candidates mostly
in tv advertising. In terms of political import history instructs that
the victory in these caucuses offers a high likelihood of imminent political
extinction. It’s true that eons ago, in 1976, Jimmy Carter won
there, thus helping to put Iowa on the political map (along with R.W.
Apple Jr of the New York Times, who achieved one of the few contacts
with political reality of his entire career by predicting that the peanut
broker from Plains would do well).

Gephardt
won in the Iowa caucuses in l988 and the elixir of that meaningless
victory sent the Missouri congressman back to Dubuque time and again,
each time to endure humiliation , whose probable finale came on Monday
night. Gephardt was supposedly labor’s candidate, or at least
of the leaders of the industrial unions which sent hundreds of organizers
into the state, helping their man to his scrawny 10.8 per cent showing.
The service and government workers in the SEIU and AFSCME were drafted
by their leaders to support Howard Dean who limped in third, far behind
Senators John Kerry and John Edwards.

Exit
polling showed that union members bucked their leadership, with Kerry
getting 29 per cent, Edwards and Gephardt 22 per cent and Dean 19 per
cent.
Dean had the endorsement of Iowa’s senator Tom Harkin who won
the Iowa caucus in 1992, also of Jimmy Carter who characteristically
undercut his nod by saying that “he called me, I didn’t
call him”. At the time of his endorsement Harkin said he preferred
Gephardt, but thought Dean had a better of winning the presidency.

The
only good news for Dean after his Iowa debacle is that he is no longer
the front runner, and can run as an outsider again. He was supposed
to bringing into “the electoral process” fresh blood in
the form of college students and web surfers. But Kerry beat him 35
per cent to 25 per cent among college-age students and by the same margin
among those with college degrees.

A
week before the Iowa caucus a liberal, very senior Democratic US congressman
from northern California was speculating to friends that Dean might
well be “McGoverned”, referring to the way the Democratic
Party leadership in 1972 pulled the rug out from under the South Dakotan
for being far too liberal and antiwar. This senior Democrat recounted
how Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd had snarled in one private party
conclave that Dean “should step aside and let the adults take
over”.

Aside
from being vociferously against Bush’s prosecution of the war
in Iraq, Dean’s threat in DNC eyes is that he has been raising
money independent of the Party’s control. Dean spent $3 million
of his campaign money in Iowa.

These
days the Iowa caucuses are rigged to favor candidates in good odor with
the DNC, which is part of the reason why Dean did badly. It could be
that Dean never was the front-runner in Iowa that brought such panic
to the Clinton establishment marshaled by Terry McAuliffe at the Democratic
National Committee. The press played him up, as did Karl Rove.

But
if you believe exit polls, 58 per cent of caucus attenders had made
up their minds more than a week ago, and of that number 33 per cent
voted for Kerry and only 26 per cent for Dean. Edwards was the choice
of 19 per of those early deciders, and got 35 per cent of those who
made their pick within the last week.

What’s
Kerry got going for him, apart from the money of his wife, Teresa Heinz
Kerry, who has propelled the sputtered Kerry campaign forward on a sea
of ketchup dividends? Not much. Kerry is a chronic fence straddler on
issues. Gore Vidal hit it on the head when he remarked that Kerry “looks
like Lincoln…[pause]… after the assassination.

But
if Howard Dean represents one nightmare for the party’s powerbrokers
in the DNC, his slippage in Iowa may portend another. The DNC gerrymandered
the primary process by front-loading it, with the proclaimed intent
of having an assured nominee by mid-February. But now it easy to envisage
a sequence whereby Dean wins in New Hampshire, with Wesley Clark close
behind. Edwards wins the next week in South Carolina, with only Gephardt
and Mosley Braun definitively out of the race.

One
comfort for Dean comes in the form of the idiocy of the DNC in pushing
for a senator as its nominee. After all the last man to go directly
from the US senate to the White House was John F. Kennedy, who stole
the election in 1960 courtesy of his father’s money and clout.

Final
irony: George McGovern has now joined Michael Moore and Madonna in endorsing
General Wesley Clark who was publicly denounced by former chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton not so long ago. Shelton stated
publicly that the reason the Joint Chiefs yanked Clark out his job as
NATO’s supreme “had to do with integrity and character issues.”