Should have known better…

Tuesday, January 20th, 2004

I'm in a pretty grim mood this morning. Stayed up too late and got too little sleep so that I could see the first results come in from the Iowa caucus on the Des Moines Register site, which has been up and down like John Kerry's poll ratings but which stayed online long enough to show me Howard Dean was getting stuffed.

Because of this (and because of two bus drivers on a mission to jerk passengers off their feet by sudden acceleration and deceleration) I'm in a murderous fame of mind.

This is what I hate most about politics.

Mostly you work in baby steps – tiny little changes to make things slightly better, candidates who offer just a little bit more than the common herd of politicians, campaigns that might just make the smallest of differences to people's lives.

Then, just occasionally, something happens to give you hope. A candidate appears who you can believe in, or a politician hits the right note and starts to say the things that no-one else is saying and which need to be said. Usually, what they're saying is “Look! The emperor's got no clothes on!”

If you happen to share my general political outlook this occurred over the Iraq war. Most mainstream politicians lined up behind it. The ones that opposed it in their hearts mostly made the calculation to be quiet. Supposedly left-wing politicians like Capitol Hill Democrats and the leader of the Labour Party over here signed up in support of a Republican President, and then the right-wing Conservative Party swung in behind the Labour Party. There was a consensus, and most mainstream politicians wouldn't risk breaking it.

Charles Kennedy broke it in Britain. Howard Dean broke it in the US. Both soared in the polls. Dean was a revealation for me – he said the things I despaired of anyone in American politics actually saying, his internet campaign was revolutionisng the way elections are fought, and despite being from an unfashionable state, looking exceptionally dull at first glance, and having a silly name he was winning.

Sometimes, despite your better judgement, you put your faith in a politician. You hope. Sometimes – not always – they let you down. Sometimes they never get the chance to. Democracy says your hopes are equally as important and unimportant as everyone else's, and that often means you have to watch someone you think is a phenomenon get shot down in flames.

Dean got stuffed in Iowa. It's by no means over, but he'll go into New Hampshire next week having surrendered all momentum to Kerry. If he loses the state next door to the one where he was Governor he can kiss the nomination goodbye.

And then it will be time to put hope back in the box and close the lid again.

Hence: foul mood.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.