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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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Wednesday, October 15, 2003


watch the flank

posted by Aziz P. at Wednesday, October 15, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
The most dangerous thing about being the front-runner is that you're obligated to take a position on everything, so you have to fill up your policy statement website with lots of 7-point plans and details. These are important, but they are also invariably dull (which is the hallmark of a good policy, IMHO). Thus we see Dean has an innovative plan to reduce the price of prescription drugs, which probably will get no press. It's important, it's relevant, and it's ... dull.

The problem is that the opposition, unburdened by the need to be comprehensive, can go wild on the Vision thing and take risks. This week, the two most credible challengers to Dean's centrist credentials did just that.

For example, Clark introduced a plan for a Civilian Reserve. CNN has the best summary:

Today, Clark will announce his plan to establish a "Civilian Reserve," comprising everyday Americans using their "unique skills" to tackle an assortment of community-based problems -- from specific tasks like repairing a crumbling school or a neighbor's tornado-ravaged home to broad, less tangible goals such as "securing the homeland."

The Civilian Reserve would work with -- but not replace -- the nation's armed forces in dealing with any number of local emergencies. The campaign did not release any more details on today's proposal, except to say that it would use technology to help identify and mobilize people so that their skills are applied most effectively.

and it's already drawn praise from both Instapundit and TAPPED, with the latter providing insight on how it's both good policy and good politics:

It's good policy in the sense that encouraging more service, and finding ways to channel it in productive directions, is the kind of thing we need more of. It's good politics for several reasons. One is that national service is the kind of "high-centrist" stuff that pundits love to praise. Two is that it's the kind of thing you don't want to really be against, and making himself a champion of national service -- which fits nicely with his biography and message -- gives Clark a chance to whack President Bush for one of this administration's more notorious failed promises. You'll remember that back during his widely praised State of the Union speech in 2002, Bush promised to boost AmeriCorps by 50 percent. Instead, as the Democratic Leadership Council's Will Marshall and Marc Magee pointed out in this Christian Science Monitor op-ed, Bush installed incompetent leadership, who mismanaged the outfit to the point where House Republicans could claim AmericCorps was too troubled to deserve increased funding.

Meanwhile, Edwards has made his own bold statement - by indicating he won't vote to authorize Bush's $87 billion Iraq funding request:

In a conference call with reporters, Edwards said that Bush's policy there had failed and that he would oppose the aid request to pressure Bush to change course.

....Edwards said he did not want the United States to withdraw from Iraq, but believed that a congressional vote denying Bush the funds would compel the administration to develop a new reconstruction plan that provided a larger role to the United Nations and ensured that the rebuilding "will not be exploited as a means to give sweetheart deals to [the president's] friends."

There's a vigorous discussion at Calpundit on this - it's a tremendously bold step. Note that Edwards explicitly supports the need for reconstruction and a commitment to Iraq, while successfully using the issue if funding as a giant target at Bush for failing to implement the reconstruction properly. He hits on accountability, on planning, on deception, and on multilateralism as themes with this single masterstroke. And it's not coincidence that he also gains partial anti-war credentials as a result, making him potentially appealing to pragmatic Kucinich supporters looking to bail. Not to mention the sharp distinction with Dean's refusal to take a firm position on supporting the funding - when asked the hypthetical of how he'd vote on the funding bill, he simply asserted "I'm not running for Congress, I'm running for President." Edwards has more to lose with his clearer position - but much more to gain.

UPDATE: Dean later did take a position on the Iraq funding, saying he would oppose it unless Bush paid for it by repealing the tax cuts. The curse of the front-runner: no onse seemed to really notice. Note that Edwards' position does not tie Iraq to tax cuts but rather to the issue of multilateralism, which has more resonance. Dean's position essentially takes a foreign policy issue and makes it a domestic one, whereas Edwards keeps the pressure focused on Bush's foreign policy, which due to the mishandling of the Iraq postwar, he is now more vulnerable on.


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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.