Nation-Building >> Why Dean is Still the Democrat to Watch | return to front page

"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

Add to Google Reader or Homepage Subscribe in Bloglines Subscribe in NewsGator Online Add to netvibes

website stats

Previous Posts
Netflix, Inc.
ThinkGeek T-Shirts will make you cool!
illy coffee - 2 cans, 2 mugs for just $26.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


Why Dean is Still the Democrat to Watch

posted by Editor at Wednesday, May 07, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Newsweek's Howard Fineman has this article on Gov. Dean observing, "Former governor of Vermont is organizationally savvy, aggressive." After the war in Iraq came to an end, many thought that the governor's best days were behind him, but Fineman argues that "In fact, the former governor of Vermont is still a man to watch, if not the man to beat."

Even if you follow politics closely, you probably didn’t notice that the Howard Dean boomlet faded a few weeks ago. The theory was that no anti-war candidate—and Dean is one—can survive the fall of Baghdad and the rise of a president playing Top Gun on an aircraft carrier. Well, Democratic insiders (and their media cousins) may think that Dean’s a non-starter in the race for their party’s 2004 presidential nomination. I don’t agree. In fact, the former governor of Vermont is still a man to watch, if not the man to beat.

Why? A FEW reasons. For one, Dean has made himself the organizing principal—pun intended—of these earliest innings of the campaign. As they say in baseball, he’s the straw that stirs the drink. He has the august Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts reacting to his moves (and elevating Dean by attacking him). Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri unveiled a sweeping healthcare proposal, playing to an issue that Dean, a doctor, hoped to own.

And Dean’s dovish views and chesty demeanor are defining the debate, drawing reactions from other contenders. His biggest applause line is: “I represent the democratic wing of the Democratic Party!” Sen. Bob Graham of Florida had a retort last week in South Carolina: “I represent the electable wing of the Democratic Party!” In a TV debate there, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut added his own reaction, which was that no candidate who wasn’t “strong on defense” could defeat George W. Bush. Translation: That means you, Howard.

Another reason Dean still bears watching is his organizational savvy. Being an outsider, yet one with sterling connections and technical skill, is a good combination. He is running a relatively lean but efficient operation, with knowledgeable veterans (Steve McMahon and Joe Trippi from D.C.) teaming up with Ben & Jerry types from Vermont and elsewhere.

So far, Dean’s outfit is the most adept at using the Internet, which is to the 2004 campaign what cable TV was to 1992 and direct-mail to 1980—the new Best Practice for reaching and motivating voters.

This week, the Dean campaign’s grass-roots enthusiasts will put themselves on display, gathering in about 250 “Meetups” generated through the Web site of the same name. These events turn traditional organizing on its head: The campaign people go to the meeting, they don’t put it together.


A tiny but revealing indicator of organizational skill: the speed with which the allegedly inexperienced Dean campaign responded to attacks during the TV debate in South Carolina. They matched the top-shelf and perhaps top-heavy Kerry campaign stride for stride in rushing printed rebuttals into the press room during the event. “Kerry has a Noah’s Ark campaign,” a top Dean lieutenant told me in South Carolina. “They’ve got two of everything.”

Then there’s the candidate himself. Howard Dean, at least as a candidate, is a shark in Land’s End clothing. He is always moving forward and always on the attack. Most of his rivals genuinely loathe him at this point, but Dean doesn’t seem to care. He’s looking to inspire voters, and thinks his combative style is what they want. He thinks that Democrats want some anger in their candidate to confront Bush’s Red State triumphalism. Dean appears to draw inspiration from the cutthroat side of the Kennedy legacy, Bobby and Jack in particular. Their rhetoric soared and their ideals were noble, but their tactics were tough. When they wanted to dismiss someone as a nonentity, they called him a “nice man.”

Dean is not a nice man. His Web page, for example, derides Kerry as “The Anointed One.” In the latest polls, he and Kerry are running neck and neck in New Hampshire, where only one of them will survive the primary next year.


Finally, there’s the question of the war. The swift military victory in Iraq, so the argument goes, made Dean look bad, or at least irrelevant. The American people generally back President Bush’s strategy, which is to drain terrorism-producing swamps by forcing changes in the corrupt and brutal regimes that control them. Even so, Dean continues to insist that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to America, and that attacking his regime wasn’t necessarily in our interest.

For now, it seems like a losing argument for Dean to make. But, in politics, a week is a year and a year is a lifetime. No one knows what Iraq will look like a year from now. No one knows where the war on terrorism is headed. And at the grassroots of the Democratic Party, there remains deep, Dean-like skepticism about the war in Iraq and military answers in general.

Remember: To win the Democratic nomination, you need only Democratic votes—and plugged-in Democrats at that. In that small universe, you don’t have to play the role of Top Gun to win.


Post a Comment


View blog top tags
The Assault on Reason

Obama 2008 - I want my country back

I want my country back - Obama 2008

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.