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Friday, July 25, 2003


Life of the party?

posted by Aziz P. at Friday, July 25, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
A generally pro-Dean piece in Salon - if you aren't a Salon subscriber, you'll have to sit through a 30 sec commercial to access it though. The general theme is taking on the Dean = McGovern by showing how Dean actually is an embodiment of the real soul of the Party. And it starts out by quoting McGovern himself:

the most important thing McGovern can see about the upcoming presidential contest of 2004 is that it is not taking place in 1972, and that he is not running in it. Certainly, McGovern can see some resemblance between himself and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. They're both from sparsely populated, rural states. They both entered their respective races early, and became heavily reliant on volunteers and grass-roots mobilizing. That aside, though, "I think it's difficult to draw a close comparison," says McGovern.

"There's no transcendent issue now that he's identified with," says McGovern, who met Dean and some of the other Democratic presidential aspirants at a May conference on rural issues in Lake Placid, N.Y. "There's no Vietnam War, no Great Depression ... I don't see any single issue that has mobilized especially the young people and women like 1972 did. There was something about the Vietnam involvement that did create a divide in the Democratic Party probably surpassed only by the period of the Civil War, which had a shattering impact on the Democratic coalition. I don't think there's anything quite as divisive culturally or politically today.

"Another difference," continues McGovern somewhat wistfully, "is that he has a large sum of money in the race more than a year ahead of the election and I was never but one step ahead of the bill collectors ... I never had the millions that he has."

There are plenty of other differences, too -- such as the rise of the Internet and a front-loaded primary schedule next year that could provide a clear winner as early as March 3, whereas McGovern's state-by-state slog for the nomination lasted through and then into a convention so divisive that California's delegation was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court and four of McGovern's vice-presidential picks turned him down publicly before he finally won over former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver.

But to hear Howard Dean's critics in the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, he is nothing less than the second coming of McGovern, doomed to lead the party into the same electoral inferno if he wins its nomination next year. According to Al From, CEO and founder of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council, and Bruce Reed, DLC president and President Bill Clinton's former domestic policy guru, Dean must be stopped before he steers the party back to the McGovern era of bell-bottoms and muttonchops -- and back to political oblivion.

I love hearing the DLC described as center-right! But the beauty of this article is that it shows exactly how Dean has been guided by the DLC itself, and as Trippi points out, is running the race that they themselves literally wrote the book on for how to win:

If anything, the DLC's attacks have increased support for the Dean campaign, which sees its fundraising spike each time it comes under attack from the Washington insiders, says Trippi. That's because rather than running as McGovern, Dean seems to be running according to the campaign playbook outlined by none other than From and Reed in their very smart Feb. 11 memo, "What It Takes to Win the White House."

"Your most formidable opponent," the duo wrote, "isn't President Bush or your fellow contestants for the nomination. Your real enemy is the ghost of Democrats past.

"[P]arty perceptions are a wonderful foil for an insurgent candidate looking to define himself," they continued, urging the candidates to refuse "to be subtle about defying the Democratic stereotype." Added Bernard L. Schwartz and Daniel Yankelovich in the same issue of Blueprint magazine: "The worst mistake Democrats can make is to continue to work within a Republican framework. This is how Democrats were snookered in the 2002 election."

What From and Reed did not realize is that their DLC would become the Democratic ghost against which an insurgent Dean would run.

Rather than running against the Democratic Party of 1972, Dean is running against the DLC-dominated (in image, if not in fact) Democratic Party that lost the House in 1994, the White House in 2000, and the Senate in 2000 and again in 2002. This, too, is just as From and Reed advised, though they seem to have forgotten that.

"The real front-runner, fresh off its triumph in the midterms, is the Democratic Party's losing image," they wrote in February. "If you want to win the presidency in 2004, you have to redefine the Democratic Party in 2003. By all means, capture your party's imagination -- but do it on your terms, not theirs."

That is exactly what Dean is doing -- by directly challenging the party's support for the president's war in Iraq, the USA PATRIOT Act, and such losing or poorly funded pieces of legislation as the Patient's Bill of Rights and the No Child Left Behind Act. "Don't look for the false unity that comes from shying away from every controversial issue, and reject the consultant consensus that stacking constituency upon constituency will add up to a majority," wrote From and Reed. "Now more than ever, the one reason to seek the presidency, and the only way to win it, is to unite people behind a cause that is larger than your candidacy."

And so Dean's presidential announcement speech on June 23 reached for the broadest themes possible: "This campaign is about more than issue differences on health care or tax policy, national security, jobs, the environment, our economy ... It's about who we are as Americans," Dean told the 30,000 people across the country who followed his speech. "I ask all Americans, regardless of party, to meet with me across the nation -- to come together in common cause to forge a new American century. Help us in this quest to return greatness and return high moral purpose to the United States of America."

Now that Dean is capturing the party's imagination on his own terms, the DLC is crying foul.

The article goes on to show that the DLC attacks are actually harming the entire Democratic field, by essentially hand-delivering the talking points to the Republicans. This will harm whoever is the nominee.

The second page of the article looks at the other main candidates, and points out that the DLC favorites, Edwards and Lieberman, have started out with all the advantages and spent the most money, but has steadily lost ground. They then point out that Kerry is the biggest threat to Dean (remember back when Dean was the biggest threat to Kerry?), and make an insightful observation that people who label Kerry as more electable are actually insulting Kerry himself:

Dean critics portray Kerry as a less exciting, but more electable candidate. "The Democrats would be much better off with a blander, more faceless, less exciting candidate -- Kerry, Gephardt or even Lieberman (perhaps with Edwards, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, or retired Gen. Wesley Clark as running mate) -- than they would be with a fiery, controversial Dean," wrote John Judis in Salon. This analysis is especially unfair to Kerry. Kerry is not the leader in New Hampshire because he is the bland, unexciting, unobjectionable party favorite. Kerry is leading because he is running an aggressive, smart campaign that was first out of the gate in January with a strong operation, has spent wisely, and has expanded ahead of the rest of the pack into multiple states. Kerry has proven himself a surprisingly personable and adept one-on-one campaigner, and his campaign has shown flexibility in responding to the challenge Dean has posed.

still, it takes more than a good manager to win, and the carping of the DLC will come back to haunt even the strongest campaign. The article closes out:

the DLC attacks of this spring and summer will work their evil magic, you may be certain. They will weaken the eventual Democratic nominee -- whether it is Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards or some other candidate – and increase the chances that the nominee will lose to Bush.

But in the end, victory might well go to the boldest candidate, despite the carping of the cautious and centrist. "Americans don't vote for someone who has positioned himself in the center," says Curtis Gans, former director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. "They vote for a human being who they trust to help them solve their problems."


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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.