After all of the buzz about the Iowa Caucus, I still have no idea what a caucus is.
The best definition I received from someone is that it is not a vote (we have primaries for that), but rather an intricate event in which people gather in churches and municipal centers around the state, moving themselves into groups and trying to persuade other people to join their group.
I saw a CNN clip of election officials trying to teach people how to "caucus gracefully." It looked more like dance instructors teaching prison inmates how to waltz, or a senior community how to slam dance.
Caucus-ers awkwardly moved toward signs displaying snow boarding, drinking hot cocoa, and other winter activities -- rather than signs with the candidates they like.
By some feat of magic, the 99 counties of Iowa came to a consensus and chose Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively.
While I still don't know what any of this means, I do know the meaning. If the opinions of Iowa reflect the rest of America (barring variables, such as being a mostly white, highly literate state with a more-than-a-third-under-the-age-of-18 population), it would seem that Americans are finally ready for a change in status quo leadership.
I didn't expect Rudy Giuliani to pull many of the votes in the Republican caucus, not because he's not a good leader, but because he exhibits more mercy than most Republican voters like to see in a candidate.
I think Giuliani has had to become someone he is not in an attempt to get the Republican nomination. I much enjoyed the lighter, more upbeat "Mayor" Giuliani, who was tough enough to clean up New York City, but silly enough to spray paint the word "sucks" at the bottom of gang graffiti during a Saturday Night Live sketch, as a deterrent to would-be taggers.
I was expecting someone like John McCain to get the most votes for the Republican party, because he seems the most like President George W. Bush in his demeanor and politics. I thought a hard-liner with a mean streak toward the Viet Cong would be a shoo-in, but surprisingly Huckabee shot past both McCain and tough-talking Mitt Romney for the top spot in the caucus, with a winning margin of nine points.
Huckabee doesn't fit the mold of your prototypical conservative. While very religious, Huckabee is funny, engaging, and exhibits a progressive streak not shared by many other Republican candidates.
While he doesn't see universal health care as a viable option, he does see that the cost of health care is crippling the U S economy and has vowed to work with the private sector to bring the costs down.
While he shares many opinions with Bush about America's role in Iraq, he promotes energy independence and alternative fuel sources as a way to free ourselves from foreign conflict.
He seems like the most democratic Republican that other Republicans would feel comfortable voting for, but he probably wouldn't have made the cut 10 years ago. That shows changes to me.
Barack Obama's success is another big sign of change. Obama beat out John Edwards, another charismatic front-runner, by eight points, and Hillary Clinton -- whom until recently, was nicknamed "Miss Inevitable" by many political commentators -- by nine points.
Less than a year ago, many people said that America wasn't ready for a black or interracial candidate, but the caucus proved that Obama is popular enough to pull voters from across the color divide.
Both Huckabee and Obama show a willingness to bend and compromise, something that America has needed in a leader for a long time.
While the caucus still baffles me, it does give me a little bit more hope.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.