19 January 2004
It would be bad form to say this on the campaign trail, but the ideological distinctions between the major Democratic Presidential candidates are almost trivial. Dean has been cast as “the anti-war candidate” simply because he didn’t support the blank check that Congress wrote the President in the fall of 2002. Lieberman is supposed to be the most conservative Democrat in the race, but his 2002 Americans for Democratic Action rating is 95%—as compared with 85% for Kerry and 30% for Zell Miller (the DINO from Georgia). Any one of these guys would make a better President than Dubya, and any one of them, if elected, will have to compromise his agenda to deal with Republicans in Congress. Thus all the chatter about “electability.”
I submit that despite widespread fears to the contrary, Dean is the most electable Democrat in the race. Consider:
- Rove is going to find some way to smear whatever Democrat is nominated, and he is very good at making such accusations stick, no matter how unfair they are. Consider the 2002 Senate race in Georgia, where Republicans accused Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War, of being insufficiently patriotic—and they won.
- A well-functioning mass media would call foul on any candidate who tried to sling mud like this, and keep the voters focused on the candidates’ actual positions and records. No sane Democrat can rely on the press behaving this way in 2004. Consider how, in the 2000 race, reporters were more interested in repeating the lie about “Gore claimed he invented the Internet” than in using sixth-grade arithmetic to check Dubya’s budget proposal.
- In order to counteract this kind of operation, any Democratic candidate will need a very, very good organization to get his message out in spite of whatever the mass media says about him.
- In the past two years, Dean has encouraged an unprecedented number of Democrats to open their wallets and volunteer their time for him. Dean followed this path from “Howard who?” to “the man every other Democrat is trying to beat” without the sort of media lionization that Gary Hart enjoyed in 1984, or that John McCain enjoyed in 2000. You can’t attribute this success to Dean’s liberalism or anti-war credentials: Kucinich, who is far more liberal and anti-war, hasn’t got nearly as much support. You can’t attribute it to geeks like me being brought in through that newfangled Internet thing: the SEIU, a union for people who vacuum the cubicles of geeks like me, has endorsed Dean. Quite simply, Dean is a very good politician with a very good campaign manager.
The anyone-but-Dean folks in the Democratic Party have a nightmare: Dean gets nominated, he runs a campaign that fires up hard-core Democrats but alienates Middle America, and leads the party to a crushing defeat. This fear is not entirely unfounded, but I have my own nightmare, which goes something like this:
- On the first ballot of the Democratic convention, Dean has a plurality, but not a majority, of delegates, and the majority are firmly in the anyone-but-Dean camp. On the second ballot, some other candidate gets the nomination. Dean pledges to work with the nominee and encourages his followers to do the same.
- Deaniacs in the trenches find themselves hobbled by a campaign organization that isn’t quite sure what to do with them. (Recall that when Clark finally threw his hat into the ring, some of the grass-roots folks in the Draft Clark movement found themselves shoved aside.)
- The Republican spin machine turns its slime machine from Dean to the Democratic nominee, and the media follows suit. The nominee finds himself constantly on the defensive, with Bush constantly setting the agenda for how the Democrats are portrayed.
- Bush wins forty states.
Hopefully, neither of these nightmares will come to pass.
God bless America—and please hurry!