The political season just got a little more interesting. Regardless of what the future holds caucus goers in Iowa drove home a message about change that was impossible to ignore. If Huckabee benefited immeasurably from the huge evangelical base there he nonetheless spoke to a disenchanted segment of the Republican Party. Obama on the other hand proved that a person of color could not be written off even in a state where most of the electorate is white and conservative.

Many question Obama’s political longevity citing the fact that younger voters, for whom he has great appeal, may raise the level of excitement about a candidate but rarely turn out in general elections. But after the caucuses his message of hope and unity was a truly inspiring moment that celebrated the best of what our country is. When he said “destiny will not be written for us but by us” it wasn’t just a rallying cry for the future but a reminder of how the Bush administration has thwarted our constitutional underpinnings and shaped our political system and our destiny in alarming ways.

What the next steps for political front runners will be is hard to fathom, but one thing is clear. Voters not only want change, they want candidates who seem ‘real’, not playing the odds or triangulating or manufacturing an image. Hillary can seem a little too slick even though she’s smart and accomplished, and has been trying mightily to increase her warm and fuzzy credentials. McCain is reinvigorating his image as a “straight shooter” that touch of the maverick to which voters responded in the past.

But much of the public discussion inflicted upon the electorate is still mired in a recent past of fear and so-called values that have done little to advance new ways of addressing old problems – – the country’s economic future, its security and its place in the world. McCain has a campaign commercial out now featuring frame after frame of graphic violence meant to strike fear into every heart and prove that the country needs someone of his experience as its next Commander-in-Chief. Of course his joking interlude of “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” a la the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” wasn’t exactly a confidence builder when it comes to visualizing the leader of the free world..

And it’s difficult to accept a Giuliani campaign worker’s assertion that the former mayor would “do more about terrorism” than any of the other candidates – – this about a man who placed NY’s command control in the Trade Center despite the fact that those buildings had been attacked before and remained a known target. Nor is it comforting to recall that he recommended his long-time associate and Police Chief, the disgraced and now indicted Bernie Kerik, to head the office of Homeland Security.

And when it comes to ‘values’ that put abortion and gay marriage at the forefront of political discussion the country is in danger of electing a know-nothing, religious ideologue – – again; someone like Huckabee who has a sense of humor and with whom many voters and members of the press corps, just feel comfy but who doesn’t have a clue about the country’s most serious issues. Pakistan? It’s somewhere to the west or east of Afghanistan. Immigration, especially after the Bhutto assassination? We need to keep an eye out for all those illegal Pakistanis crossing our borders- -really. Labor? Didn’t NBC get things squared away with the Writers Guild before he appeared on the Jay Leno show? Not so fast. Guns? We need them for protection against an over-arching government. Religion? I am a Christian leader – – long marriages, subservient wives, respectful children and lots of guns. I have values – – the rest of you not so much.

And could there be anything more ridiculous than the oft-cited “defense of marriage” act that evangelicals and now Romney support?  Does this institution need defending, and would all heterosexual marriages be in danger if same-sex unions were legitimized? As comedienne Wanda Sykes put it in her standup routine, ‘if you don’t want to engage in a same sex relationship don’t get involved with someone who’s gay; and if we really wanted to protect marital unions, we’d outlaw divorce,’ but , she added, “of course the murder rate would go up.”

So far the Republicans are offering the same old bromides from political retreads and religious zealots. But there’s something in the air, and it seems to be a desire on the part of voters for change. If change commingles with a modicum of intelligence and a passing acquaintance with the real world the country will have come a long way.