I'm just back from a long vacation in which I tried to stay away from political news as much as possible. I find that stepping away from the day-to-day always helps ground me in reality - and realize just how idiotic much of American politics really is.
So, with my mind cleared, let me just offer these few thoughts as the voting in Iowa begins:
1. The media (and, to a lesser extent, the blogosphere's) obsessive focus on presidential politics to the exclusion of almost anything else is, to put it mildly, vomit-inducing. I reached my personal vomit point coming home from a trip into the mountains. As I scrolled through XM stations, I found a new one called "POTUS '08" - a station entirely devoted just to the presidential race, one that comes on top of all the other political stations which talk only about the presidential race. I'm not saying that the presidential race is unimportant - but it certainly isn't the only thing that's important - it's not even the only thing important in the realm of politics. Yet, it is as if the media would have us believe that local, state and even congressional politics is just not important at all, and that the only thing that matters is the televised game show that has become presidential elections. It's really quite a sad commentary on media laziness - in the American Idol era, it is far easier to report on a few celebrity presidential candidates than provide ongoing coverage of major issues like health care, economic inequality and debt facing Americans every day. And you better believe this focus only on presidential politics is making for a good laugh among the corporate lobbyists who manipulate local, state and congressional politics. The more heat and attention focused on the race for the White House, the less attention focused on the arenas where the rubber hits the domestic policy road the hardest.
2. Putting aside my nausea, let me just say that no matter who wins, it is absolutely great that economic populism has taken center stage so far in the presidential contest. Thanks to candidates like John Edwards and Mike Huckabee ignoring the Punditburo's attacks and trumpeting the populist line, Wall Street-backed candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have had to resort to posing as populists as well - and that's a good thing. The more candidates channeling the public's righteous anger at corporate greed and economic inequality, the better.
3. No matter what happens in Iowa, you can bet this is just the beginning of the presidential race. Similarly, no matter who wins Iowa (or the entire nomination contest), none of the problems that face America are going to go away. This may be hard for the most devoted followers of presidential cults of personality to swallow, but almost none of these candidates seems truly serious about attacking the systemic problems our country faces (I say "almost" not accidentally - I do believe one or two candidates ARE serious about this). That's not to say that we aren't going to solve these problems - but nominating and then electing a president is but one small step in doing that. It is going to take the kind of full-on, sustained uprising that I have been reporting on for the better part of the last year for my upcoming book.
We are at a historic moment right now - and I say that not in the way the Monday Night Football-mimicking political media bills every single election as "the most important election in our lifetime." I say it because I believe America is, for the first time in many generations, starting to think in terms of economic class. Put another way, the battle between Democrats and Republicans is being superseded by the battle between The Money Party and The People Party. How this new class awareness manifests itself in one election cycle is far less important than the fact that awareness is rising at all.
This, beyond everything else, is the storyline that will never be written by the Beltway media - because class awareness among the masses is something that threatens the powers that be. The system in Washington is set up to crush class awareness and solidarity among the masses - to break us up along racial, ethnic, geographic and religious lines so that we do not unify in support of an economic agenda based on fairness and equality. This Washington system exists, ironically, to preserve a well-coordinated class war being waged by an economic class very aware of itself - a class war by the wealthy against the rest of us. This may sound like hyperbole, but polls show most Americans know this is the undeniable truth. And no matter whether your personal preference wins or loses tonight in Iowa, We The People have already won, because class awareness and class-based politics is on the rise.