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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Saturday, January 25, 2003


Dean Defense Forces

posted by Aziz P. at Saturday, January 25, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
As Dean's star rises, he has started to draw fire from the GOP infrastructure. This is a good thing in that Dean is lent legitimacy by their attacks - after all, it proves he is a threat. But at the same time it is important to address these nascent talking points, still in their draft forms, before they can balloon out of control and do serious damage during the real election. Remember that Gore never really recovered from the "I invented the Internet" smear, nor did Clinton ever escape the "definition of "is" is" attack - even though both of these were ultimately defensible statements which were twisted into hostile conventional wisdom. And Dean's habit of being open and saying what he thinks is fuel for these fires. Below are two examples of these "attack bites".

Attack Bite #1: "Bush is the Taliban"

During Dean's NARAL speech, Yahoo reports Dean to have said:

Dean's medical background gave him an aura of credibility, but it may have been undercut by some jarring rhetoric. One example: Criticizing the Bush administration for steps to curb abortion, he said that if they continued on that path, soon U.S. women wouldn't be able to go to school. The implicit comparison was to the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

This was interpreted by Glenn Reynolds as equivalent to "Bush is the Taliban". The best response to this mischaracterization is to point out that Dean was criticizing the Administration, not Bush personally. Second, that while there may be an implicit comparison, that is not the same as a direct one. Third, the point was an analogy, not a literal equating of the two. The main point to repeat is that the Administration's policies towards women demonstrate little concern for women as sovereign entities capable of making their own decisions.

AttackBite #2: "Dean is a hyperliberal"

Dean has many conservative positions on his issues pages, including a pragmatic and localized approach to gun control, and policies of tight fiscal responsibility. This gives him crossover appeal, which makes him dangerous to conservative opponents in ways that the other contenders (Kerry, Edwards) are not. Thus there is a growing attempt to paint Dean as a "Kennedy" liberal (which is also unfair to Senator Kennedy, but Kennedy supporters can run their own blog in his defense). The standard ammunition for this attack is Dean's historic and courageous stand on gay unions while serving as Governor.

Stanley Kurtz, neoconservative warrior, wrote an attack piece on Dean's stand during the wane of the 200 election. In certain ways, it is remarkably prescient (though not in the way that Kurtz would prefer). Prior to that, there were dire predictions of disaster as outcome of Dean's decision. And conservative bloggers have already experimented with the "Dean is so liberal, he has no chance" dismissal.

The meme is spreading - Howard Fineman (noted for his vacous approach to commentary) has recently penned an article that leads with, "Sharpton aside, [Dean] is the most left-leaning of the candidates." and is generally dismissive in the "another outsider trying to make a splash" vein.

Fineman also mischaracterizes Dean's support of universal health care as akin to Hillary Clinton's enormous plan. This is likewise grossly false, and plays right into the GOP talking points. Dean actually favors an incremental approach, outlined by Charles in the coments:

[Dean's approach] expands medicaid to all people under 23 (who are cheapest to insure), add a prescription benefit to medicare and subsidize small businesses and the self-employed between 23 and 65. Dean says that he favors this method because it will win the support of, among other groups, small businesses.

The best response to these attacks is to be aware of and strongly emphasize Dean's actual positions on the issues. Since he has no legislative record, watch for any conservative successes to be ascribed to the Vermont legislature than credited to him, but liberal decisions hanged upon his peg. This is a tricky meme to combat because it requires detailed knowledge of Dean's record as Governor as well as all of his positions on the issues.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.