With the pivotal event of the Iowa caucuses, news analyses have said that Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are now the defining candidates of this campaign -- even if they don't win their respective nominations. It appears Obama has a better chance to do that than Huckabee does, but there is no telling how far he can go and, win or not, he could help redefine the Republican Party. In Sunday's New York Times, Frank Rich acknowledged the clear policy differences between the two but described them as "flip sides of the same coin." They have made "change" and "hope" the defining words and themes of this presidential election year.
By winning in Iowa, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have created two political earthquakes in their respective parties. While there are significant differences between the two on political philosophy and policy positions, they both overturn the established orthodoxies of their respective parties and promise to exchange old politics for new. They are both populist, but not angry, and are insurgents who campaign on the two words most important to a new generation--"change" and "hope."
Many news reports have noted the similarities between the two.
Each is a "religious" candidate. Barack Obama is virtually a public theologian and the most sophisticated political leader in many years in articulating the relationship between faith and politics. Mike Huckabee is actually a former Baptist pastor who can out-preach, out-charm, and out-Bible almost anyone.
Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are staking their political future on the U.S.'s hunger for change. Obama has turned the spiritual power of hope into a political vision that is inspiring a new generation. Huckabee also loves the religious language of hope and thinks of himself as a modern day David who has taken on the Goliaths who rule the people instead of serving them.
Each has a compelling personal story of humble beginnings leading to great success. Barack Obama's personal and racial history - having a white mother and African father and growing up in both Indonesia and multi-cultural Hawaii - makes him a very compelling agent of change. By winning over the majority of white voters (even in a place like Iowa) Obama has made new U.S. history and many consider him to have a serious chance to become the first African American president of the U.S.
Mike Huckabee also touts his poor beginnings and easily blends his social conservatism with a biblically sounding economic populism that takes on Wall Street Republican elites and appeals directly to the working class. After playing bass with Jay Leno's band, he told the late night television audience, "People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off."
Both say they care about the poor. And both attack the special interests of wealth and power which stack the political deck against poor people and working class families. Barack Obama started his career as a community organizer in the streets of Chicago and peppers his political sermons with references to the biblical prophets' demands for social justice and Jesus' admonition to test our policies by their impact on "the least of these." Mike Huckabee easily blends his social conservatism with a biblical-sounding economic populism that appeals directly to middle and working-class families. And he did enough for the poor as governor of Arkansas that one conservative commentator has accused him of being a "Christian socialist."
Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee talk about moving beyond the political categories of left and right, liberal and conservative. Both call for real solutions instead of more blame, and pledge to work in a bi-partisan way to end the bitter political divisions and gridlock of Washington, D.C.
Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee believe that American foreign policy, over the last several years, has needlessly alienated the rest of the world and caused us to lose our moral standing among the nations. Obama continues to remind voters that he opposed the war in Iraq before it started. Both have criticized what Huckabee recently called the "arrogant bunker mentality" of U.S. foreign policy. And both believe the best way to change that is not through merely demonstrating the U.S.'s power, but rather by really talking to other nations - even our enemies - and by leading with more with generosity and compassion than with just military might.
Together, these two candidates--one Democrat and one Republican--are shaking up the presidential election contest of 2008. It remains to be seen if either of them will win their respective nominations, but they have already shaped and even defined the themes of this critical election year. Now, virtually all the candidates are using the language of "change" - now "change" defines the political paradigm of this election year.