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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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Monday, September 08, 2003


Dean a formidable foe

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, September 08, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Note that few strategists want to go on the record as saying so - but the GOP establishment has recognized that Dean is the true threat.

WASHINGTON — Republican Party officials and political advisers to President Bush admit that they underestimated Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and say they now consider him a formidable potential adversary.
Interviews with 15 GOP leaders found consensus on one point: If Dean wins the first two contests, Iowa's caucuses Jan. 19 and New Hampshire's primary, he'll win the nomination.

Two months ago, Karl Rove, Bush's top political aide, watched Dean supporters marching in a parade July 4 in Washington and said to a friend, "That's the one we want." Exhorting fellow parade watchers, Rove yelled, "Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!"

The thinking then was that the former Vermont governor was too liberal and too obscure to be a threat. Bush allies were more worried about Kerry, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt.

Few Republicans are cheering for Dean now. His fundraising — he collected $7.6 million in the second quarter of the year, outdoing his eight rivals — the appeal of his passionate attacks on Bush and his rise in the polls have revised their earlier opinions.
No top Republican Party, White House or Bush campaign official wanted to be identified talking about Dean, but he's as hot a topic inside the Bush camp as he is among his Democratic rivals.

How worried is the Bush team? One campaign official notes that Dean is renting lots of cars in Iowa — evidence that Bush supporters in the state are keeping an eye on him and his campaign spending.

UPDATE: The Weekly Standard weighs in. It's full of standard (false) talking points about liberal tendencies and supposed tax increases, but still acknowledges reality:

The word Vermonters use most often to describe Dean is "frugal." Coming into office amidst the early 1990s recession, he cut formerly sacrosanct welfare spending to keep the state out of debt. The Cato analysis shows that during Dean's first four years in office, Vermont's budget grew much more slowly than other states'. He cut income tax rates across the board (much as President Bush did). Although he raised overall business taxes, he approved millions of dollars' worth of incentives to lure smoke stacks back into the Green Mountain State. It was during these early years that the head of the state's powerful Progressive party called him "a very right-wing Democrat." And during a time when President Bush has been piling up mountains of debt in Washington and 47 governors face record budget deficits of their own, Dean admirably left Vermont with a $10.4 million surplus when he left office this past January--which would certainly be one of his trump cards against Bush. If Dean were ever elected president, I'm convinced he would be monomaniacal about balancing the budget--though certainly not in ways that would please conservatives.

Part of Dean's star appeal has been the refreshing genuineness of his campaign rhetoric, even when his ideas are cockeyed. By pledging to repeal the entire Bush tax cut--a move that would raise the average tax burden on middle income families with three kids by about $2,500 a year, Dean is attempting to prove that voters will swallow higher taxes to get more government largesse. In a recent debate, he confidently asserted that when working class voters saw his universal government-run health care plan, they would gladly pay for it. "If we're going to have a system of universal health care in America, we will have to pay more taxes," he said.

Of course, these are the kinds of unavoidable tough fiscal choices that voters should be asked to make, but that most politicians refuse to acknowledge. God save the country if voters actually buy into Dean's health care socialism, but at least he is honest about the sacrifices required. This is not a man who believes in the mythical free lunch.

Ever since that first meeting with Howard Dean some five years ago, I've been trying to think of what politician he most resembles. The former governor of a small state, he is charismatic, good looking, wonkish, craving of the spotlight, and capable of telling a room full of people precisely what they want to hear. The obvious answer recently hit me: Dean is Bill Clinton, but without the skirt-chasing.

Republicans are said to be salivating over the prospect of a Bush-Dean match-up. They shouldn't get carried away. Howard Dean, warns John McClaughry, has been "underestimated throughout his political career. He has an uncanny knack for finding where the political capital is stored and walking off with it." The trick for Dean is to ensure that the ultra-liberal positions he has taken in the primaries, which contradict his sometimes centrist record, don't cripple his ability to reach out to Middle American voters in a general election--should he make it that far. If he does, and then finds a way to zig-zag back toward the center, Howard Dean could be George W. Bush's worst nightmare.

Dean: more electable than Bush! (I hope that one makes the Daily Meme).


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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.