Saturday, January 5, 2008


Can there be anything more fascinating in politics than the raw democratic process by which America chooses its president?

The Iowa caucus, the first contest for presidential hopefuls, threw up some electrifying surprises yesterday.

Who would have guessed the black Democrat Barack Obama would score a thumping victory in a predominantly white mid-Western state?

Who would have thought Hillary Clinton, favourite for the Democratic nomination, with all her financial backing and the Clinton name, would be beaten into a humiliating third place?

And, in the Republican caucus, who would have predicted Mike Huckabee, the obscure Baptist preacher who believes in creationism and spent little on his campaign, would defeat the multi-millionaire Mormon challenger Mitt Romney, who spent 20 times as much?

Conservative, religious Iowa is not a typical U.S. state and it is unlikely that Huckabee will win the final nomination - the Vietnam veteran John McCain and ex-New York mayor Rudi Giuliani are the favourites. But at least he has a chance.

This is the first time in 80 years that neither the incumbent president or vice president is standing, and only the second time in eight elections that the name Reagan or Bush will not appear on the national ticket. A real sense of change is in the air.

The Democrats are clear favourites. The last three years have been bleak ones in the U.S., leading to a loss of faith in George W Bush and the Neo-Conservative project.

America is fighting an unpopular war on two fronts, with a rising body count and no end in sight, the sub-prime crisis has led to a property crash, the health and pensions systems are crumbling and the economy is on the edge of slump.

But in such a basically conservative country, it would be foolish to rule out a Republican revival, and McCain could still be the dark horse in this race.
For all its faults, America is a rich and vibrant democracy and this is never more evident than at election time. The world needs the U.S. to snap out of its stasis and regain its sense of purpose.

This campaign, which resumes in New Hampshire on Tuesday with all to play for, can be the start of that process.

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