By all measures, this year will be an anomaly in electoral behavior. Something momentous is happening in American politics, and the result is a huge upswing in citizen interest in the exercise of the franchise.

Itís a good thing, whether you like the candidates or hate them. People this time around seem to be anything but apathetic, and thatís a welcome change from the post World War II pattern of ever steeper declines in voter participation in the process.

Barack Obama handily won the Democratic caucus in Alaska on Super Tuesday. In and of itself, thatís interesting but not earthshaking. What stands out is the participation statistic: four years ago, only about 700 people voted in that caucus; this year, the number of Democratic voters who turned out in Alaskaís 15-degree weather topped 20,000. Itís a surprising, and exciting, reawakening of Americaís public spirit.

Whence comes this change?

 

There must be a sense that history is about to be made, and people seem to want to have a hand in it. Thatís a very simplistic explanation, but we think it works.

The Bush administration, regardless of how one feels about the war in Iraq, has shown itself remarkably capable of uniting Americans behind the notion that itís time to give the Democrats a chance at running the country. Itís less clear that they can do any better, but few people seem happy with the current state of affairs. Even supporters of the war have to wonder when, where and how it ends. And there is a great likelihood that the war, per se, wonít decide the election, as the Vietnam War did 40 years ago.

The economy is just as probably a deciding factor in 2008. The housing market is in a vicious slump, and people who thought they had become miraculously wealthy have watched helplessly as their supposed riches evaporated with declines in home prices. There is no growth center in the economy today, and economic giants overseas, mostly in Asia, can be seen awakening. Itís hard to imagine that they will not, one day soon, challenge Americaís economic world hegemony.

This is the kind of issue that makes people feel down in the dumps, and not without reason. The color has gone out of peopleís dreams; their hopes are aimed at a gray horizon.

And then along comes a pair of candidates who, love íem or hate íem, inject some measure of excitement into the political fabric of our society.

 

It remains to be seen what might happen in November. The excitement may all be on the Democratic side of the aisle today, but that could change. And it has been shown in some fairly scientific analyses over the last half century that what happens in February isnít what determines the election ó that will be decided by how people feel about their personal safety and well-being in July. And whatever that decision turns out to be, nothing the candidates do or say in September and October will make any difference in November ó the gut feeling they have in mid-summer will tell them how to vote.

But the candidates in the field today are calling the American public to a higher level of awareness, and to a greater sense of purpose and commitment, and maybe, just maybe, whoever our next president turns out to be, he ó or she ó will lead an America that looks a lot more like its old, inner self than it has in a very long time.

 

Thatíll be 2 cents, please.