Enjoying the sunshine and the weak dollar in the company of my wife’s family in Arizona, I have found it difficult to put the rest of the world’s travails in perspective. Sure, I’ve diligently waded through the New York Times (BTW, the new narrower format seems to confirm the widespread simile that compares the newspaper business with a wasting-away patient), trying to brief myself on the death of Benazir Bhutto and the depressing unravelling of Kenya’s fragile democracy. But unless it’s on TV, it’s hard to grasp the size of events–and here, in the United States, it’s all Iowa, all the time.
Although the Iowa caucus–which seems about as straightforward a process as the election of a Venetian Doge–exists primarily to give the leading candidates on the Democrat and Republican sides a bloody nose rather than to anoint the final winners, the cable news channels are desperately hyping the event to a marginally interested public. For example, CNN, hoping to appeal to an audience beyond political nerds, have packaged the event as the “Ballot Bowl” (which brings to mind the line from William Gass’s novel, The Tunnel: “I suspect that the first dictator of this country will be called Coach.”)
On the subject of affable but slightly sinister candidates (at least in the eyes of Euroweenies such as yours truly), Mike Huckabee’s pitch for the Republican nomination is tickling the media’s erogenous zones. Consciously positioning himself as an ah-shucks-who-does-Charles-Darwin-think-he-is? Everyman, former pastor Huckabee holds social conservative positions that make the present incumbent of the White House seem like Richard Dawkins. But as the U.S. faces a possible recession in 2008, Huckabee’s populism has struck a chord. However, it’s hard to discern what Huckabee has to offer beyond raging against Washington “elites” and Wall Street fat cats. At a recent event, Huckabee addressed an audience against a backdrop emblazoned with his current campaign slogan, the rather despairing “Enough is Enough.” One wonders whether Huckabee will upgrade his motto for the next poll, the New Hampshire primary. Perhaps he could tap into America’s current mood of free-floating anxiety by borrowing Howard Beale‘s rallying call: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”