Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Klein: Dean has no substance http://www.time.com/time/election2004/columnist/klein/article/0,18471,538907,00.html
Last June, Dean told me that he understood he would have to grow as a candidate in order to succeed, that it was time to move his campaign beyond attacks and anger, to take a run at the vision thing. That lasted about a week. "It's hard to do vision in a crowded field where everyone's attacking you," campaign manager Joe Trippi told me last week. "But we're going to try to address the larger themes of this campaign with a series of speeches starting in a few weeks."
But one wonders about the quality of those speeches. I pressed Dean last week about his proposal for a national dialogue about race. He had talked about the need for white people to understand the impact of racism on African Americans. But what did black people need to understand? Did he plan to go into the inner cities and talk about the self-destructive culture of poverty, as Bill Clinton had? He bristled, of course: "The African-American community doesn't need any lectures from me. That's not my style." Oh, yes, it is—and Dean's future may depend on his ability to slow down, stop hectoring and lay out a vision that shows some deeper understanding of the cultural and substantive differences confronting the nation.
This is a largely unfair but still not easily-dismissed critique. Dean has in fact laid out many policy proposals, on all the major topics, including what needs to be done in Iraq, how to fix the economy and Medicare, and other issues. A casual scan of the policy section of deanforamerica.com reveals that there is a lot of substance there, as would be expected of all candidates. And Klein uses teh race issue as his sole example but fails to acknowledge that for any democratic politiciam, regardless pf principle, to go up and say to the black community "what are YOU going to do?" would be suicidal and tone-deaf. There will be plenty of time for that later, after the primary season is past - and Klein is holding Dean to an unfair standard.
For the record, I do think that the black comunity does need to engage in two-way dialouge about race. It's not just the white man's burden, and there is a real need for debate on the policies of affirmative action as to whether they hinder more than harm the collective achievement of the comunity. But Klein wants Dean to pull a Sister Souljah on Jesse Jackson Jr. ? Klein's critique is pointedly absent of the other candidates who pandered far worse.
However, Dean does indeed lack a general vision that unifies his campaign. There are many themes (and they seem to rotate in every week on the o-blog) but there isn't a single defining big-picture articulation with which Dean can reference in every issue's context. It's not like the vision is a hard one - Clinton (video) and Gore (speech) have basically handed it to the Democratic field on a platter. The Vision thing, put simply, is this:
Divisive politics are harmful to America.
Dean needs to be the Uniter, and his campaign's very slogan does go halfway to this goal - "for America." All of it. Including the guys in pickups with the Confederate flag, gay couples, fiscal conservatives, and steel workers. That's the vision that unifies his every issue paper, and the lack of which hurts him and makes him vulnerable. And this is exactly what Klein is talking about.
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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.