One Man's View

Monday, November 1, 2004

Reflections on an election

It has been a fascinating election season. I won't be sad to see it come to an end, but I do think this pairing of candidates has come to infuse some new energy into a political process that desperately needs it.

It would be hard to imagine two candidates being more polar opposite - in actions, beliefs, issues and style.

No wonder that the IowaLife survey in which this newspaper participated found Bush and Kerry in a neck-and-neck heat in this region, and only 9 percent of potential voters undecided or siding with some other candidate.

There was a time when it didn't seem likely. A few months ago, Bush was pulling away with his plain-spoken rodeo-belt-buckled message on national security, and Kerry was seeming obtuse and unfocused, and looking like those stretched and etched tree creatures in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Bush continues to hammer his key points well, and Kerry has become a much more inspiring speaker and conquered an image of aloof.

I've heard all of the criticism that the parties and supporters of each candidate has hurled at the other, reaching a muddy plateau - that's what I won't miss when this election season comes to an end.

If you believed everything you have heard, the president of the United States would be a warmongering dolt who can't pronounce a word beyond one syllable, and the senator would be a communist hippie gold-digging carpetbagger - both bent on the utter and immediate destruction of civilization.

Truth is, they are two rather incredible men. The schedules that Kerry and Bush have maintained for several months now would have turned a normal person into an old man in a hurry. They will commonly speak to four different groups in four different states on four different sets of issues in a matter of hours, and must be sharp, informed, funny and emotional 24 hours a day.

The fact that both men seem to be energized by this incredible pace amazes me. You do not get to this rarified level by being stupid, fake or uncommitted.

While they differ sharply on almost all of the important issues of the day, they are not so different as people, it seems. When not campaigning, each is likely to be falling off a mountain bike or tweaking a hammy trying to be a jogger.

I'm especially excited to see some interest happening among high school and college-age people - a generation democracy has been losing.

Aside from the Kennedy Camelot and Clinton's first run, politics have largely failed to touch the young people, and the effects of that ennui are showing in our society.

It is interesting that so many of these younger voters seem to identify with Kerry, who is actually the elder of the two combatants.

At the state level, the races have been less interesting.

A challenge to the ultra-conservative Steve King should have turned out to be a great opportunity to debate the real social challenges of this generation, but Joyce Schulte has chosen instead to spend her time hurling personal accusations at King.

You can say a lot of things about our Congressman, but liar is not one of them. He is exactly what he said he would be, and has worked for all of the things he said he would, with considerable energy and plenty of time devoted back in his district. He's also run an upbeat campaign.

Schulte should have attacked the issues and not the man. It has not been the race it could have been.

And Art Small has run a rather strange bid against Chuck Grassley, seeming to rely on the internet. Beyond the Kentucky Fried Chicken look and a taste for Goodwill suits, he's an interesting and thoughtful guy, but you couldn't unseat Grassley in Iowa with a fleet of backhoes.

It has at least been entertaining, with Small throwing a major fit and all but slapping Chuck with his kid gloves when his demand for an "internet debate" was pointedly ignored by Grassley. And he unleashed a musical single called "Come Clean," by his "Internet campaign director," a New York City musician who goes by the name of Ranzo Rising.

In Buena Vista County, there is opposition for both seats on the county board of supervisors, not a bad-paying part-time gig, and it's good to see.

I haven't heard a lot of fireworks, but it's always positive to have some choice. It may come down to who does the best job badgering their supporters to the polls.

It should be an interesting (at large) race between the board chair Herb Crampton and storied BVU educator Nadine Brewer. Tom Ellis, although he is the head of the Democratic party in the county, has his work cut out with Lorna Burnside, who has been one of the most productive and involved local leaders for a lot of years.

It's all been intriguing, which is what it's supposed to be. It's also been enough, and I think we're all looking forward to looking forward.