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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, July 25, 2003


3 Flavors of "Unelectability"

posted by G at Friday, July 25, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Al From and Bruce Reed, executive directors of the Democratic Leadership Council, argue that Dean is unelectable because he's a far out liberal out of touch with mainstream America. This is simply untrue. Clinton recently pointed out that as Vermont governor, Dean was very much a centrist, and a fair assessment of his record and positions would put him somewhere around where Clinton was in 1992.

So what are From and Reed really thinking? Part of it may be that they just have already committed themselves elsewhere: From is an advisor to Lieberman, and Reed is advising Edwards. A more generous evaluation is that they sincerely believe that Dean is unelectable because he opposed the war. What I think must be their true view was expressed recently by Jonathan Chait in the New Republic:
The main problem for Dean is not that the public is so supportive of the war in Iraq specifically but, rather, that it abhors any politician who smacks of weakness against foreign enemies generally. Even in the unlikely event that most voters conclude the Iraq war was a mistake, the broader resonance of Dean's antiwar position will still hurt him. As my colleague Lawrence F. Kaplan pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War hardly made George McGovern's dovishness more politically successful.
As I wrote in my commentary, Chait would have it that any candidate who does not support every war unconditionally, no matter how empty and mindless the case for the war, is doomed. I think this is an argument in search of evidence. In at least three presidential elections during the 20th century during which controversial military action was looming or on-going at the time of the election, the winning candidate was the one who vowed either not to get the country into war in the first place or to pull the country out of war. This applies to Wilson in 1916 (whose campaign slogan was "He Kept Us Out of War"), Roosevelt in 1940, and Nixon in 1968. The fact that Wilson and Roosevelt both broke their vows and took us into war, and that Nixon didn't really have a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam is beside the point. You don't have to be a warmonger to win the presidency of the United States.

The third version of the "unelectable" critique is that regardless of his actual views, Dean the Nominee inevitably will be portrayed as a far left liberal. The argument is that the combination of his opposition to the war, his support for civil unions in Vermont, that he was governor of a liberal state, that he says he is a "social liberal and fiscal convervative," and the tone of his rhetoric will give the Republicans too much ammunition for Dean to successfully come off as the centrist he is.

First reply to this: this goes for all the possible Democratic nominees. Even if Joe Lieberman is nominated (highly unlikely), the Republicans will do their best to paint him as a lefty. The more likely alternative to Dean, John Kerry, has plenty on his record that one could selectively pull out to build a campaign ad saying "Kerry is a Commie." (Sidenote: none of the candidates has a stance on civil unions and markedly to the left of Dean's.)

Second reply to this: are we really so helpless in the face of the Republican propaganda machine? If nominated, Dean will have plenty of chance to tell people the truth about his record and beliefs. Already, with more media attention, there have been lots of articles about "Dean the Centrist." I refuse to believe that Bush's grip on the media is so powerful that it will crush the voices telling it like it is. This goes double since the Internet has brought the price of information down to zero. We have the power to let the truth be known.


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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.