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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, January 02, 2004


ground rules

posted by Aziz P. at Friday, January 02, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
It would be great to talk about issues, but the simple fact is that it is crunch time. There are elections, actual votes, being cast this month. There's not much point in discussing issues when every single day until Iowa and New Hampshire will be spent under withering fire. The neccessity of the moment is to establish certain ground rules of conduct with which the nominee candidates can make their cases, but without doing irreparable damage to the final nominee. As Paul Krugman points out, these ground rules are very simple:

Let me suggest a couple of ground rules. First, while it's O.K. for a candidate to say he's more electable than his rival, someone who really cares about ousting Mr. Bush shouldn't pre-emptively surrender the cause by claiming that his rival has no chance. Yet Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Kerry have done just that. To be fair, Mr. Dean's warning that his ardent supporters might not vote for a "conventional Washington politician" was a bit close to the line, but it appeared to be a careless rather than a vindictive remark.

More important, a Democrat shouldn't say anything that could be construed as a statement that Mr. Bush is preferable to his rival. Yet after Mr. Dean declared that Saddam's capture hadn't made us safer — a statement that seems more justified with each passing day — Mr. Lieberman and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Kerry launched attacks that could, and quite possibly will, be used verbatim in Bush campaign ads. (Mr. Lieberman's remark about Mr. Dean's "spider hole" was completely beyond the pale.)

The irony is that by seeking to undermine the election prospects of a man who may well be their party's nominee, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Kerry have reminded us of why their once-promising campaigns imploded. Most Democrats feel, with justification, that we're facing a national crisis — that the right, ruthlessly exploiting 9/11, is making a grab for total political dominance. The party's rank and file want a candidate who is running, as the Dean slogan puts it, to take our country back. This is no time for a candidate who is running just because he thinks he deserves to be president.

I consider any statement by a Clark supporter (or a Lieberman, Kerry, or Gephardt supporter) that Dean is guilty of violating the rules to be remarkably blind. Or perhaps, just a simple (and innocent, even) manifestation of bias. Clark especially is overdue for major smearing by the Three Desperados as they realize Clark IS the Anti-Dean - and it will be interesting to see if his supporters, currently excoriating Dean for his alleged self-interest, will maintain their detachment when it's their guy who is held to the double standard.

I personally am rooting for Clark to be the anti-Dean. I think that the struggle between them to define the platform will be extremely beneficial to both and the end result will be a nominee - Dean or Clark - who is stronger.

In the meantime, we have to be realistic. This is going to be a dirty month. We have to play hard defense, with elbows. I sympathize with Ezra's call to "broaden" the appeal, but I think he's simply wrong about the timing. There will be plenty of time for "broadening" the appeal AFTER the Three Desperados are culled from the debates.

The bottom line: it's easy for Clark supporters such as Ezra and Josh Marshall to call for unity. Their candidate hasn't been forced to run the gauntlet yet. He will be, soon. And the time for unity will be after the Desperados are finished in Iowa and New Hampshire, not before. Ezra might disagree with me right now, but he won't in two weeks.


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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.