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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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Tuesday, February 17, 2004



posted by Dana at Tuesday, February 17, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
Howard Dean's failure will be complete unless we can transform this movement into a meaningful third force in American politics.

This is not to demean the Doctor. Dean has done an awful lot in a short time. He gave the Democratic Party back its backbone and themes. He gave a generation of detached, cynical voters a cause, and a way to connect. He has defined this race.

But he has been unable to translate his fierce support into mass appeal. His attempt to move to the right of John Kerry - which is where he is - has gone nowhere. His core supporters didn't give-off centrist vibes. Some scared people. Democratic primary voters have chosen, on the whole, to trust their institutions, not their instincts.

Despite Dean's opposition to the Iraq War and his defining speech about representing "the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party," Deanism is actually descended from a long line of centrist American political movements which have tried, unsuccessfully, to move both parties off knee-jerk ideological bases for 40 years.

Deanism is frugal (Perot and Anderson), socially tolerant (Bradley), internationalist without being imperialist (Bush I). Deanists want transparency, both in politics (McCain) and business (Hart), we want balance in our treatment of hot-button issues (Ventura), and we want government to work - it's just that simple (as Perot would say). The only two Democrats elected President in the last 40 years -- Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- were Deanists.

Deanism is far more appealing as a general election platform than it is in a primary because Deanists (or Deanites, if you prefer, even Deanistas) lack the institutional structure that would make us a true political force. Instead the movement is all about the leader. Whether, in the past, that leader was John Anderson, Gary Hart, Perot, John McCain or Bill Bradley doesn't matter. Howard Dean was the only Democratic candidate in this field with real appeal to Republicans and Independents.

Given an institutional base - think tanks, grassroots organizations, media - Deanists could dominate American politics for the next generation. We could, if properly organized, endorse either side in specific races. We could withhold our endorsement, or we could run our own candidates, where there is running room between two extremists. (That's what Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger did.)

The challenge, then, is to build an organization, in every state, and gain institutional rigor on every issue. This will take money, a lot of it. For the last generation the money has been on the political right, which learned lessons with every defeat. They learned and grew savvy on pushing their social agenda after 1988 (with Pat Robertson), their foreign policy agenda after 1992 (with the Project for a New American Century), and their economic agenda after 1996 (with the supply-siders).. These movements have since poured themselves into the Bush Administration and domimate policy.

Moderation has failed, it has even come to be mislabeled left-wing extremism, because we clearly see neither our potential power nor our powerlessness. As a result, we are easily pulled apart toward one set of interest groups or the other, because their institutions create the base voters who can dominate party primaries.

The choice in 2004 will also seem to be a choice between two sets of ideological extremes. We can provide the winning margin in many races, but only if we organize, and withhold our support until we get the best policy price.

Beyond that, Deanism must become much more than Howard Dean. It must become think tanks, it must generate cash flow, it must get itself together again, and go beyond the mere visage of Dean, in every village and town. That's the challenge. What began as a fight for one man must become a fight for all of our causes. It's not as much fun as a Presidential campaign, but in the end it's far more worthwhile.

The Far Right did all this, and now they're reaping the benefits. They may be driving our great nation into the ditch, but they've got the wheel, not us. The lesson of this campaign is we won't get the benefits without the hard work. There are no short cuts in politics. Without a real movement behind him, the best man is still just a man.


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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.