Super Bowl Tuesday

Are you ready for some political football? If so, don’t expect an upset Feb. 5

Wicked clouds without silver linings loom on the night of the Iowa caucuses, forewarning a torrential windstorm that will leave people throughout the Sacramento Valley shut in. But at Sen. Barack Obama’s regional headquarters, a small storefront-turned-campaign-center in Midtown Sacramento, some 50 supporters are over the moon, throwing back cheap red wine and Original Pete’s pizza, celebrating as results from the evening’s Hawkeye State presidential vote trickle in.

Obama’s going to win Iowa.

Yet with hardly a moment to savor victory or suck up losing, presidential wannabes are back on TV exulting, conceding, spinning.

There’s Sen. Hillary Clinton, in full Camp Pain mode, delivering a concession speech masked as a victory speech. The HQ crowd watches on a large projection screen.

“We have presented the case for change and have made it absolutely clear that America needs a new beginning,” Clinton says.

“So leave the Senate!” an Obamaniac shouts.

Yes, the crowd is well-lubricated. A box once loaded with Cook’s sparkling wine now holds thawing ice. A trail of drained wine bottles snakes across tabletops.

Later, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is on TV, human WMD Chuck Norris at his side. “This election is not about me. It’s about we,” Huckabee says. Does this mean Norris is a possible VP candidate?

“More pizza is here!” Just like in high school, winners get a pizza party.

The vibe is contagious. You enjoy the wine. You nosh on slices of mushroom-cheese. You mingle. You watch Obama’s speech.

“You know, they said this day would never come,” begins the Man of the Hour. Indeed, this is a defining moment in history. This is unity over division. This is change coming to America. This is hope over fear. This is—

Wait a sec.

You’re antiwar; Obama’s not. You want peace in Palestine; Obama supports billions a year to Israel. You want single-payer health care; Obama’s got other ideas.

Change coming to America? This all seems like a case of the same olds. Roles, not candidates. Scripts, not interviews. Illusions, not ideas.

The Super Bowl, not an election.

Seems the fate of the American Empire is too important to leave in the hands of voters—and the hustle’s coming to California in just a few weeks.

No presidential candidate, save for Libertarian-like Republican Rep. Ron Paul, dares utter empire, the dreaded “E” word. Hardly anyone speaks of “globalization” or “imperialism” while electioneering, either. Only three hopefuls—former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Paul—say they would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if elected, and they cumulatively poll at less than 15 percent.

If you’re antiwar, apparently you’re not electable—a problem for Democrats, who traditionally are labeled as pacifists and weak on defense. Dems do what it takes to look tough, and in turn adopt right-of-center views on imperialism, occupation and militarism. In the end, never-ending war becomes the status quo.

That is, unless voters choose to make ending the war their top priority and push candidates to campaign thusly.

Influencing agendas is why the Legislature voted to move California’s presidential primary from June to February in the first place. Of course, others hopped on our bandwagon, and now 22 states will either hold a primary or caucus on Feb. 5, what’s been coined “Super Duper Tuesday” or—perhaps inappropriately—"Tsunami Tuesday.”

By then, though, seven states already will have weighed in on their candidates, many hopefuls will have thrown in the towel, and “experts” will have whittled the field down before most voters get a chance. Fringe voters who want to end the war and stop empire-building get lost in the shuffle.

There’s a lot more at stake than just the presidency: 17,000 new tribal-gaming slot machines and billions in state revenue, the future of community colleges in the state, a massaging of term-limits regulations that could keep old-hat legislators at the Capitol for years. Low voter turnout could sour this crucial election.

Money, as usual, also complicates matters, and spending so far has been above and beyond what candidates threw down in ‘04. Campaigns spent nearly $10 million in the last weeks of the Iowa race alone, an unprecedented amount.

What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to allow those annoying, once regulated political commercials—you know, the ones by independent-expenditure committees like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who spent a cool $22 million in ‘04 persuading the public that Sen. John Kerry was a war criminal—to run on TV up until the day of elections. Mudslinging will be furious right up until votes are cast on the state’s vulnerable electoral machines.

Haven’t seen many ads yet? Don’t worry: There are still four weeks to go till the big day.

But even if a candidate has a sizeable war chest and can buy ads, the two major parties have gamed the system to preserve the status quo. Paul, who out-fundraised every Republican in the fourth quarter of ‘07 and earned 10 percent of the vote in Iowa, wasn’t allowed to participate in the Fox News GOP debate last weekend. (He finished fifth in New Hampshire with 8 percent.) Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani received a paltry 4 percent in Iowa and has raised anemic funds, but he was invited to debate. (How much did that help? Fourth place, 9 percent in N.H.)

Fall behind the front-runners and not even proportional representation or instant-runoff voting can save you. You’re a lame duck; you’re toast.

The day she announced her candidacy, Clinton was the White House front-runner. Since Mo-bama built up, she’s been in damage-control mode, stooping so low as to call Obama “not electable"—which many perceive as an uncalled-for racist slap. But California still can give her the bump she needs to surge from pretender to contender.

Former Sen. John Edwards is flat-lining, too. He didn’t raise the $100 million Obama and Clinton soaked up in ‘07, but he’s got the backing of the unions and in turn their independent-expenditure money. And many argue he’s the only electable Dem.

Huckabee won Iowa but came back down to Earth in New Hampshire. He’s got God on his side and a soft touch on the bass, but lacks funds and savvy on foreign policy.

The mainstream media say Mitt Romney and John McCain are the two true GOP contenders. Thus far, Romney, not unlike his father, has sputtered—perhaps unable to shake off the “brainwashed” Mormon stigma. McCain, many suggest, is the Reep to beat, but it’s still a long road for the coach-flying, cavalier, chauvinistic elder statesman.

Richardson wants to make $57 billion worth of cuts to the defense budget. Oh, boy: How many conspiracy flicks must you watch to know that if you mess with the military-industrial complex you get killed?

Sen. Joe Biden, the only contender who voiced concerns over the situation in Pakistan before Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, withdrew his candidacy after Iowa. Both Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Dennis Kucinich repeatedly have voted against continued funding for the Iraq war; donors have opted out of funding their campaigns, one of which is running on fumes (Kucinich’s) and one not running any longer (Dodd’s).

Giuliani, former Sen. Fred Thompson (actor and I. “Scooter” Libby apologist) and Southern California Rep. Duncan Hunter (who?) have gained little traction but remain in the running.

Then there’s the odd-man-out: Paul. He’s still labeled by the media as a fringe nominee. Why? Oh yeah, that “E” word …

The caucus-night storm is cutting into Midtown something fierce. The forecast is grim, yet the Obama crowd still is going full force. Change is a mighty drug. They’re high on life … or maybe they too caught a whiff of, well, what smells like a Wu Tang concert a few doors down from HQ.

Inside, Obama’s Iowa speech is on repeat: “We are choosing hope over fear.”

But a skeptic can’t help but sound the alarm.

Obama, October 2002: “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

Obama, March 2007: “We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow [anti-ballistic missile] and related missile-defense programs.”

Obama, September 2007: “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again.”

If Obama is change, then what’s the status quo?

Anyway, thanks for the pizza, Barack.