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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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Friday, June 27, 2003


The Man to Beat

posted by G at Friday, June 27, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Eleanor Clift gets it:
IT'S NEARING THE end of the second quarter filing period, and Democrats will measure who's up and who's not by how much money they raised in the last three months. The buzz is that Howard Dean will post over $4 million. Two rival camps privately predict that Dean will come close to $6 million.

There is panic in the air. Democrats on Capitol Hill see Dean and his anti-war populist campaign as "McGovern Redux." They worry he'll lead the party into a repeat of Democrat George McGovern's 49-state loss to Richard Nixon in 1972. It's not that the war in Iraq was that popular with Democrats. If the congressional resolution empowering President Bush to invade Iraq had been a secret vote, many more Democrats would have voted no. But lawmakers fear the unknown, and they don't know Dean the way they know the other contenders in the race. Plus he's running a campaign against them, and the way they have accommodated a popular president.

Democrats have won the White House only twice in the last thirty years. Both times it was by somebody who was not part of Washington. Governors don't speak Washingtonese. Whatever you think about Dean and his cranky assault on the Establishment, you can't avoid the fact that he fits the pattern. Thanks to a little strategic thinking and a lot of luck, the former Vermont governor is positioned as the only outsider in the race at a time when Democrats have given up on insider politicians. Dean says that when he travels around the country, he finds that Democratic voters are almost as angry at Democrats in Washington as they are at Bush.

Dean appeals to the idealism in the party. His theme -- "Let's take back the country" --echoes Jimmy Carter's campaign call a quarter-century ago for a government as good as its people. Like Carter, Dean is not someone you would immediately peg as charismatic. But his edgy personality is reminiscent of John McCain, and his blunt talk gives him a Trumanesque appeal of the little guy who fights back. When Dean first spoke out against the war in Iraq, he did so in a political climate of 70 percent support for the war. Analysts saw it as political suicide. "How many electoral votes are there in Iraq?" Dean was asked at one political gathering. "None," he fired back. "They're in Iowa."

The centrist wing of the Democratic Party is fighting hard to head off Dean. In the upcoming issue of the "New Democrat" magazine, an editorial headlined "Why we fight" lays out the case against a Dean candidacy. Without having read the piece, which is embargoed, I presume it rests on Dean's opposition to the war as exposing the party's longstanding weakness on national security. Not long ago, the Democratic Leadership Council, the Vatican of the New Democrat movement, pointed to Dean, a fiscal conservative, as an example of a successful governor in the DLC model. The DLC's change of heart appears principally based on differences over the war with Iraq. After siding with Bush, the DLC and the pro-war Democrats have a lot at stake in defending that position regardless of the deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq and the growing concerns about whether Bush misled the country in the run-up to the war.

What Dean's critics find especially galling is how he is weathering his poor showing on "Meet the Press," the premiere Sunday talk show. Host Tim Russert quizzed him on U.S. troop strength around the world, caught him in Gore-style exaggeration on an anecdote about a teenage girl seeking an abortion, and questioned whether he had the "temperament" to be president. Dean appeared uncertain even when his facts were OK, and he seemed annoyed at being grilled. By all accounts, it was a terrible performance. "If he was Gephardt, he'd be out of the race," says a Democratic strategist. But the next day Dean presided over a hokey official announcement of his candidacy, which drew a large press contingent and got him on all the news shows. "The rules don't apply to him," says the strategist. "He operates in a different universe. His supporters say, 'That mean Tim Russert,' and they send him another $200 on the Internet."

The terrible logic of the Democratic nomination is that anybody who runs left enough to get the activists can't win a general election. Dean has the centrist credentials to maneuver his way back to the center, where he's probably more comfortable anyway. His health care plan is relatively modest, and he supported the carrying of concealed weapons in Vermont. But Democratic officeholders have a fear of the unknown, and when they look at Dean, they see an angry liberal who will send them into the wilderness for another 25 years. Savior or spoiler, Dean has gone from a second tier candidate to the man to beat.


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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.