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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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Wednesday, March 26, 2003


The Coming Conventional Wisdom

posted by Joe at Wednesday, March 26, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Before the war came to dominate the political scene, former governor of Vermont and current presidential aspirant Howard Dean was written off as a "long shot" candidate. The earliest polls -- which at that point in a campaign measure not support but simply name recognition -- put him at the bottom of the pack, which was enough "evidence" to stoke the conventional wisdom that he is "not a serious candidate."

Lacking actual reasons to explain this apparent lack of support (the polls must always Say Something; the poll-as-meaningless-name-recognition-measure does not fit into any easy narrative for journalists), his opponents took wild stabs in the dark with baseless accusations like that Dean is an "ultra-liberal." Quite the strange brand of ultra-liberal that consistently balances the budget as governor. By that standard, to be sure, President Bush is no ultra-liberal.

As the war drew closer, Dean became the "anti-war candidate" despite his protestations that he wanted Saddam Hussein disarmed, but with a truly global (as opposed to Anglo-Bulgarian) coalition. Now, with war underway, the narrative dictates that Dean will be "having trouble redefining himself" as something other than the anti-war candidate. Insofar as that was never really what he was, he shouldn't have much trouble with that. The real trouble will come from the media's definition of him, not his definition of himself. This part of the pre-defined story has already begun:
Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who has presented himself as an antiwar candidate, was back in Iowa, a state with a large and vocal antiwar wing among Democrats. It was the start of what an aide said would be a week like any other week in Dr. Dean's campaign.
This pieces leaves it there, strangely not explaining what exactly an typical week for the Dean campaign consists of, other than simply being in Iowa. The implication seems to be that Dean is off hiding in a state that still (still!) supports his supposedly anti-war message -- as if Iowa were an undisclosed location for peaceniks and not the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Sadly, besides the media, a rather large portion of those paying attention to the presidential race that this point fancy themselves politically astute for being able to identify the trends in this constructed storyline. The most cynical don't even believe the narrative; they make very much of the fact that they would prefer another candidate but use the prevalent conventional wisdom and their besserwisser powers of glib deduction to conclude that only this or that candidate can win.

To be sure, Al Sharpton isn't a candidate that can win a presidential election in the United States. But if people really believe in him, I'm inclined to give them a strong, vocal, "Well, uhhh, okay." The same can't be said for Howard Dean. With Dean in a statistical tie with Senator John Kerry in the latest New Hampshire polling, it would seem that the narrative is dictating reason, rather than reason dictating the narrative.

Similarly, everyone needs to relax and step away from the afactual narrative about Dean and the war. Let's wait and see how much trouble he has firing people up before the sages declare it impossible. Whether you're for or against him you have to contend with the fact that this guy is for real. The press and his opponents would do themselves and the process well to recognize that.

[Author's Note: This piece originally appeared at That Other Blog, my personal site. The eminent Aziz Poonawalla, administrator for this site and purveyor of Unmedia, invited me to join the DeanBlog and suggested that this be my first contribution. I look forward to contributing and will do my best not to embarrass myself, Aziz, or Howard Dean. (That's a hope, not a promise, though.)]


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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.