Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Live by the olive branch, die by the olive branch http://slate.msn.com/id/2088124/
Howard Dean's performance was near-perfect. Strategically, Dean is way ahead of the pack. He has fulfilled the affirmative part of the campaign: giving people enough reasons to vote for him. Now he has the luxury of focusing on the negative part: dispelling the reasons to vote against him. Accordingly, his preparation for the last two debates seems to have focused on acting presidential and conveying competence in military and foreign policy. Tonight he accomplished both. He was at ease and in command. Rectifying his performance in Albuquerque, he projected confidence without constipation.Nope folks, the press just doesn't get much better than this.
Dean started by answering an Iraq question with references to North Korea, Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalists, and Bush's 18-month absence from the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. As in Albuquerque, he repeatedly emphasized presidential "judgment." To head off soft-on-defense charges, he said he wouldn't withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq immediately, since "we cannot lose the peace." He even steered his closing statement away from the economy to defense—a maneuver that's highly unconventional for a Democratic governor seeking the presidency during a recession but consistent with Dean's current strategy of shoring up his weak suits rather than playing his strong ones.
The big test came half an hour into the debate, when panelist Juan Williams asked Dean whether his recent comments about not taking sides between Israel and the Palestinians signaled an intention to curb U.S. support for Israel. "Of course I don't mean any such thing," Dean replied. In previous debates, Dean has gotten angry and defensive in answering such questions. This time, he was cool as a cucumber, laying out his case that the United States must be "a credible negotiator" to the Palestinians as well.
Williams turned to Joe Lieberman, who proceeded to accuse Dean of betraying American values and interests by walking away from the U.S. alliance with Israel, specifically by saying that Israel must dismantle many settlements in the West Bank. Dean's response was perfect. "I'm disappointed in Joe," he said, more in sorrow than in anger. "My position on Israel is exactly the same as Bill Clinton's." Lieberman, who was standing next to Dean, interjected that this wasn't true, but Dean, without turning to Lieberman or raising his voice, politely continued, "Excuse me, Joe. I didn't interrupt you, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't interrupt me." Dean proceeded to make his case for an "honest broker" role, concluding, without rancor, "It doesn't help, Joe, to demagogue this issue. We're all Democrats. We need to beat George Bush so we can have peace in the Middle East."
In some ways, the exchange encapsulated the massive shift that has taken place during the campaign. If the candidates had debated a year ago, Lieberman would have been the heir apparent, and Dean would have been the one fighting for attention. Dean would have done the attacking, and Lieberman would have shaken his head in disappointment at such demagoguery. Surely, Lieberman would have concluded with the same plea to unite the party against Bush. Oh, well. Live by the olive branch, die by the olive branch.
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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.