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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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Saturday, August 09, 2003


Dean-defined, for now...

posted by Trammell at Saturday, August 09, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
What's the best way in today's current political environment to get a little media? Talk about Howard Dean. What do articles about the other candidates for the Democratic nomination invariably linger upon? Howard Dean. When does the press knock on the other candidates doors? When they want to know their opinion or get a reaction about that darned Howard Dean! What Democrat is most frequently mentioned in articles about Bush's political woes? Howard Dean. In fact, if you are Lieberman or Kucinich or Kerry or the DLC or Karl Rove and you want to see your name in the paper, the fastest way to get that ink drying on the page is to criticize Howard Dean.

Long ago, Kerry's people figured this out, but the results helped Dean, elevating him, and wounding Kerry. As the Chris Suellentrop article from Slate demonstrated, even Kerry's supporters want him to be more like Dean -- whatever that means -- and his attempts to do so have been rather, shall we say, Dean-light-ish. An illustration of Kerry's Dean Dilemma can be found in this article from today's New York Times:
BARTLETT, N.H., Aug. 7 — Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts had just finished a walking tour through Littleton, a small town near here in the White Mountains, when he paused to take questions from local reporters outside a candy store. There was one subject this day: Howard Dean.

Again and again, Mr. Kerry was asked his views of Dr. Dean. Again and again, Mr. Kerry, who had passed a half-dozen Dean placards on his walk, demurred. When a television reporter taunted Mr. Kerry to at least utter Dr. Dean's name, Mr. Kerry, who is rarely at a loss for words, grinned and pinched his mouth shut.

This is Mr. Kerry's world these days. Three months after many Democrats and Mr. Kerry himself thought he was rolling to the Democratic presidential nomination, he is frequently stuck in the shadow of an opponent who has moved from small-bore annoyance to potential threat. By all appearances, the changed atmosphere in the early battlegrounds of Iowa and New Hampshire has forced Mr. Kerry to recalibrate his approach to the crowded race for the nomination.

By his own account, Mr. Kerry's campaign message — which even some supporters described as toothless and themeless back when the fight seemed simpler — has become sharper, more focused and more compact. A candidate who has a reputation for circular speaking and windy orations is invoking Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman ("I'm going to tell the truth and they'll think it's hell."), and sounding campaign notes from John McCain, Paul Wellstone and, well, Dr. Dean. [...]

He is also following Dr. Dean into the campaign computer age. Last week, he began his own campaign Web log, or blog, to provide a digest of his travels, modeled after the blog Dr. Dean has used with great success to rally supporters and contributors.[...]

Mr. Kerry said any changes in his style and campaign — which he said would become even more vivid as he approaches the official announcement of his candidacy next month — were not in response to the ascendancy of Dr. Dean. [...]

Speaking to New Hampshire teachers at a resort here, who were upset with Mr. Kerry's support for the Bush administration's education bill, Mr. Kerry offered an attack on Republican senators for resisting increased education spending that would have seemed incendiary even from the mouth of Dr. Dean. "You've got 52 troglodytes on the other side," Mr. Kerry said of his Republican colleagues, before abruptly stopping himself. "I take that back — I'll take that back. You have 50 people who believe something else on the other side of the aisle." [...]

...Kerry spelled out some of his differences with Dr. Dean... "I think I'm stronger and more capable of protecting the security of our country," Mr. Kerry said. Asked to assess Dr. Dean's position on the war, Mr. Kerry, who has been lambasted by his opponents for appearing to equivocate in his views on Iraq, responded: "I don't know his position. He's all over the place." (NOTE: Really? He must be the only person in America who knows Dean's name that does NOT know Dean's position. Sheesh.) [...]

Mr. Kerry's focus on Dr. Dean reflects the fact that each views the other as his biggest threat in New Hampshire because they live in adjoining states. And if advisers to Mr. Kerry and Dr. Dean agree on anything, it is that they would like to see this sprawling nine-candidate race reduced to a two-way contest.

"The Senate presents inherent difficulties," he said. That said, Mr. Kerry rejected the notion that any voter would view him as a Washington insider. "The question is, are you offering a vision of leadership, and do you stop talking Washingtonese," Mr. Kerry said. "And I ain't talking Washingtonese." (NOTE: Does anyone who doesn't speak Washingtonese use the word "Washingtonese?")

As Mr. Kerry was moving through the White Mountains here today, a reporter asked if he was worried that Dr. Dean had been on the cover of Time and Newsweek magazines — a platform Mr. Kerry would presumably have liked to have had. "Campaigns have cycles," Mr. Kerry responded, "It's early. It's very early."
To paraphrase CNN's Bill Schneider: "No, it's not." But lest anyone think that this all a bunch of smug crow, think again. Dean is not even close to peaking, but the honeymoon may be moving to a close. Kerry learned earlier than the others in the field that dismissing Dean didn't work, attacking Dean as "far-out" didnt' work, laughing off Dean didn't work, and playing the "we can take Dean out anytime we want" strategy didn't work, either.

Campaigning aside, at core, we are lucky to have a rival of such stature as Kerry. In fact, in the early days, his attacks helped increase our stature. Make no mistake, Kerry is our chief and most threatened rival for this nomination, which makes his campaign the most dangerous. They know what hasn't worked far better than the rest, and are recallibrating accordingly. Kerry's staff are bright, hardworking and ambitious -- though not so creative and inspired as Dean's -- and they will be formidable in the days ahead. This is a call to action, for the sleeping Kerry will not sleep forever. With all our recent successes, this is no time for us to take a nap. They are going to come at us. Hard. Really, really hard. And, sooner than you will be our biggest test to date, and we must be prepared. And lest the Kerry folks think we won't be prepared: We are, and we will.

UPDATE: In the comments, Dana Blankenhorn writes: "Kerry still doesn't get it. In this cycle, no one will get it until it's too late....It's not Dean for President, Scott. It's Dean for America."

Dana, I agree with you. Do I believe we are going to win, and for the reasons you state? Darned right I do. Attempts to mimic Dean won't work very well at all. So let me put it this way: The more cornered they get, and the less that recallibration works for them, the nastier they are going to become, and that makes them dangerous. Don't like how popular the other guy is? Get his negatives up, and quick! I dont' know what they are going to throw at us, but I do know this: Stop Dean will be in full-force before long, and we better be ready to rumble. I happen to think that we are -- but it's going to happen, and in my opinion it's gonna get ugly. Hope I'm wrong.


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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.