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Produced By Iowa

By William F. Buckley

It's wonderful what a mere American presidential caucus contest can do. Gov. Bill Richardson, interviewed after the Iowa caucuses, said that his ranking in the vote must be understood in the light of the parsimony of his campaign. "I didn't come here, like some of my brothers, just loaded with cash." What did he come loaded with? Enough appeal to entice the caucus voters to give him 53 delegates to the Iowa state convention.

Was he the last in line? No no, do not take that away from Christopher Dodd. He likes to point out his disposition to embrace lost causes. Well, his lost cause in Iowa amounted to a hair more than zero percent of the vote, amounting to one delegate.

And it didn't require neglect by the press to effect alienation from the voters. Rudy Giuliani showed up with a burning city on his back, a single fire hose in his hand. He did better than Richardson, gaining 3.5 percent of Republican votes, as opposed to Richardson's 2.1 percent of Democratic votes. But, as someone remarked, he shouldn't be lonely; he has all those wives to return to.

Above the ranks of sheer rejection came the players, among them Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Their principal attraction to the voters of Iowa in 2008 is their insubstantiality. Huckabee is the candidate whose name you practice pronouncing because you thought up until now that he was a character in one of Mark Twain's novels. Some voters may have suspected that that is exactly what he in fact is, and wished to help in his road to incarnation.

But there was real poignancy in the middle group. John McCain made it to 13 percent, but that is losers' territory, and he might have preferred to come in with his senatorial colleague Mr. Dodd. If there was sadness in Iowa when the votes were counted, much of it must have been over the rebuke to McCain. And there can have been only a single reason for it, namely his defense of the Iraq war.

Many of the candidates spoke of the Iraq enterprise as a historic pitfall in American history. If it was indeed that, then our legislatures and statehouses are simply teeming with men and women of abject vision, because nearly five years ago, the march against Baghdad was endorsed, openly or silently, by the majority of our public citizens. History would have been grateful for a poll on Thursday registering names of public men and women who endorsed the war. Perhaps they stayed away, or voted for Dodd.

It was a day of defiance. When aberrancy is sought, Americans are good at coming up with it. There are of course galleries of the stuff, carefully tended and regularly exhibited, on Broadway, in the movie houses and at Disneyland. But when the visitors pass through the portals again, going out, their souvenirs tend to be wholesome, as if they had just come back from voting for the surge.

The big winner was an affront to the common wisdom that looks matter most in the age of television. The dissenters were bound to support a homely man, and they found him on the Democratic side, giving Barack Obama 37.6 percent of the vote. Mr. Obama could think of himself as in the category of Abraham Lincoln. But he does Abe Lincoln one better by having a name that sounds as if he was on the playbill as the man who will bind the beautiful lady to the rails on which the great express will ride. Compare John Edwards. He is movie-star handsome, distinguishable only by his superfine haircut and Southern accent. He took 29.7 percent of the vote, nosing out Mrs. Clinton, who had 29.5 percent, and who had gone to Iowa hoping for great things.

Well, Iowa accomplished quite a lot, in politics and in theater.

Copyright 2008, Universal Press Syndicate

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