Letter from the Editor

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Above all things, you gotta have hope

It's kind of a shame that the presidential candidates, after all their months of bluster, don't get a chance to see the little Iowa Caucuses in school gyms and what not from Ackley to Zwingle. If they did, they might even better appreciate what this election will ultimately be about.

How many times have we been lectured that ours is an uninformed and apathetic society? We don't know and we don't care. But wait - hey, we do care. Because we don't really believe that America is filled with selfishness, cynicism and corruption.

We're just looking for someone to believe in.

We don't want to hear one more candidate tell us that we don't appreciate democracy and freedom the way people in other countries do, just because we live it and our leaders aren't being assassinated over it. Would we be sending sons and daughters to fight even in a war we aren't sure needed to be fought, if we didn't think freedom was worth fighting for?

Politics may be a cynical business by nature, but that doesn't mean the people are - not at heart.

We know what we believe in. What we want, desperately, is someone to believe in who shares our values.

I've heard several candidates cry about how hated Americans are in the world. Maybe that's the cliche that brings the political swag, but I wonder who they are talking to.

In the midst of war, no less, one Storm Lake soldier writes from Baghdad and tells me that every time they stop on patrol, they have to take care in lowering their tailgate because of the children who come running just for the chance to touch them. The sister city delegation from Mexico was delighted to kneel down with American children. A friend in Russia says hip hop, t-shirts and other things American are the rage. Exchange students and collegiates from China, Japan and a dozen other countries are around here seeking education and opportunity with gratitude - not a hatrer in the bunch.

Maybe governments hate governments, but those politicians come and go. I'd sooner look to how the young people feel.

Can we do better to lead on issues like environment and nuclear weapons control? - you better believe it. But the very reason we are criticized is because the rest of the world looks to America still as the beacon and a leader in doing what is right.

In the local caucuses we covered, no one was either cynical or apathetic about being American or about their democracy. I sat in a group with older people in wheelchairs who had to struggle to be there, and college students who had traveled home and interrupted their much-needed break in order to play a role.

Looking for someone to believe in.

I get the distinct impression it didn't have to be a perfect someone either. They weren't looking for a candidate who promised things they couldn't deliver, or claimed to have catch-phrase overnight fixes for everything from Iraq to greenhouse gasses.

Just someone they could trust to stand up and do their best to make this the America we want it to be.

Oh, it isn't that we don't have a good candidate. In fact, we have so many of them who appear to be capable of embodying the American essence, it's almost decadent.

In past elections that I can recall, there was a lot of talk with people not feeling they could not in good conscience vote for any of the people who were running, and with people who said they would reluctantly vote for "the lesser of two evils."

We don't hear that now. In fact, people were standing in line in Storm Lake, hardly able to wait to register as new voters. Because the system has value again - it's worth being a part of.

At the Republican Caucus in Storm Lake, the very first order of business was determined to be the Pledge of Allegiance - yeah, the one we used to say at the start of the school day. A while back, that would have been considered too hokey or weird, but who ever gave anyone the right to tell us that patriotism isn't cool?

It's a historic time to be an American, too.

For the first time, there is a realistic chance that a black will be elected president (Michelle Obama recalls how her husband used to be told both that he was too black, and not black enough). There is a realistic chance that a woman will be elected president - or that a Hispanic will be elected president, or someone from a religion that some view as outside of the mainstream, or someone who plays in a rock 'n' roll band. Someone who's only 46, or someone who would be past 75 before a first term ends.

A candidate who won in Iowa has openly admitted to having "done a little blow when I could afford it." Overcoming cocaine seems not to be considered a negative, when not so long ago, we threw a collective national fit for years on end about our former president's "didn't inhale" experiment. Times, it seems, have changed. We don't expect leaders to have been spotless, and we value those who have endured and overcome.

The truly historic thing about this election campaign isn't that we have an African-American, a woman, a Mexican-American, a Mormon, a partner of a potential first lady with incurable breast cancer and a bass player atop the campaign standings.

What is historic is that for the first time, those things don't matter. They aren't issues.

That's very American.

We're just looking for someone to believe in. And along the way, maybe we're starting to find the American in ourselves.

That Jerry Maguire character would tell us to "show me the money." But this race will ultimately be decided by who can show us the hope, and there's nothing cynical about that.