Fired up for change. It started in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — Fed up with the far right’s 30-year legacy of fear, division and hate, the American people are using the 2008 elections as a movement for change.

Riding a tidal wave unleashed by Iowa voters, Sen. Barack Obama achieved a stunning victory here Jan. 3 and came in a close second to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire on Jan. 8. In both states, white voters waited in long lines to vote for possibly the first African American president. Obama’s campaign, with its appeal for progressive people power and youth involvement, energized young and independent voters. At the same time, New Hampshire voters showed a groundswell of support for Clinton in her race to become the first woman president. John Edwards, while drawing a smaller but energetic primary vote, continued to emphasize a pro-labor, anti-corporate message.

Voters, fed up with Bush, are ignoring “wedge issues” used by the extreme right.

Judging by the massive vote for Obama, tens of thousands of white workers have seen past appeals to racism.

At 10 p.m. in sub-zero cold, 1,500 people packed the Hoover High School auditorium in a white working class neighborhood here Jan. 2 to rally for Obama. The following day tens of thousands more, including throngs of young people and women, propelled Obama to his Iowa victory.

“It feels so good just to be alive today,” said an African American woman who works at a McDonald’s here, expressing the sentiments of many African Americans who thought such a day would never come.

“Working families are fed up with the direction the Bush administration has taken the country,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared in a Jan. 8 statement. “Voters are desperate for new leadership. They’re taking this passion to the polls.”

Voter turnout in both states broke all previous records.

An ominous sign for Republicans and a hopeful sign for the people’s movements was the activity of independent voters. In both Iowa and New Hampshire large majorities of them backed Democrats. The majorities favoring Democrats were larger than in 2006, when independent support for Democrats caused Republicans to lose control of both houses of Congress.

Labor has been active in the primaries, with various unions backing Obama, Clinton and Edwards. The AFL-CIO has pledged full support for the eventual Democratic nominee and that support, by all accounts, will dwarf what labor has ever done in a presidential election.

The dire economic situation has been cited as a top factor behind the march to the polls, coming after last month’s jump in official unemployment to 5 percent and the virtual halt in job growth.

Economic concerns were reflected in the New Hampshire debates, as Clinton warned about a coming recession. Obama blasted corporate greed when he said the Cayman Islands must be home to the largest building in the world, housing 12,000 corporations. “That’s either the biggest building ever or the biggest tax shelter ever,” he declared.

Edwards said the president should lead a fight to protect jobs, and warned that, left unchecked, corporations would export 30 million more jobs over the next 10 years.

Edwards continues to exert an anti-corporate struggle-oriented pressure on the campaign. In New Hampshire he stressed the importance of singling out “what it is that stands between where we are now and the change we want.”

“The impediment to change,” he said, “is the entrenched corporate interests that have taken over our democracy.”

Demands for a sane foreign policy are reflected in more than just the Democratic candidates’ avowed intention to end the Iraq war. In New Hampshire Obama urged the U.S. to work for nuclear non-proliferation. Edwards went further, saying the president must lead a worldwide effort to dismantle nuclear weapons altogether.

Observers note that the positions taken by the Democratic candidates are closer to the views of the people’s movements than they have been in living memory.

This dynamic, and the voting so far, indicate that Clinton, who was able to revive her campaign in New Hampshire after the Iowa loss, must move in a more progressive direction on some issues if she hopes to continue the upswing.

Besides rejecting attempts to divide them over race and gender, voters have also shown little patience for anti-immigrant positions put forward by some Republican candidates. The issue was hardly mentioned in New Hampshire with the economy, gas prices, the war, jobs and other issues ahead of immigration in the minds of voters.

Scaring voters about terrorism hasn’t worked either. Giuliani has gotten almost nowhere with this approach and Fred Thompson, with these appeals, has garnered himself only 1 percent of the Republican vote.

“What we are seeing in these elections,” Sweeney said, “represents an emphatic, exhilarating rejection of the Bush agenda.”

jwojcik@pww.org

Visit Political Affairs Radio for a recent podcast interview with John Wojcik: Presidential elections heat up.