Yeeeargh! Mugger On What Dean Means for the Dems

The giddy attitude among members of what newly elected DNC chairman Howard Dean calls the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” is an entertaining, if puzzling, development. Dean’s victory was a harsh rebuke to the centrist Democrats who were relieved at this time last year when John Kerry, a Beltway insider who was considered “more electable” than any of his competitors, thrashed the former Vermont governor in the primaries. Even Kerry partisans now admit that the candidate ran a lackluster campaign, relying more on the virulent hatred of George W. Bush in much of the country rather than a compelling reason for changing presidents during wartime and terrorism threats.

Dean will certainly prove a more articulate spokesman for the party than his predecessor, the tongue-tied Terry McAuliffe, but as Bush has proven, a mastery of linguistics isn’t a prerequisite for political success. And while a lot is made of Dean’s groundbreaking Internet fundraising bonanza, it’s helpful to remember that Kerry wound up spending at least as much money as Bush in the general election.

The real significance of Dean’s quick comeback to national prominence is that, for better or worse, he won’t acquiesce to the worrywart strategy of tacking to the middle — like Hillary Clinton has tried on abortion and Iraq — which will keep the party’s activist base fired up. Dean has pledged not to preside over a “Republican-lite” agenda, and at this point there’s no reason not to take him at his word.

Less believable is Dean’s promise that he won’t run for president again in 2008, especially if his vilification of the opposition—on Jan. 29 he told a forum in New York that “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for, but I admire their discipline and their organization”—is thwarted by establishment Democrats. At this point 2008 is shaping up to be a battle between the Clinton machine and Dean’s faction. Both could be left on the side of the road.

A cover article in New York’s Feb. 21 issue (“The Once and Future President Clinton”) wasn’t particularly notable—author Jennifer Senior gushes about her state’s junior senator—except for one quote from longtime Clinton adviser Harold Ickes. Reacting to Clinton’s well-publicized speech contending that common ground can be found among the pro-choice and pro-life camps, Ickes said, “I’m sorry, but when push comes to fucking shove—not to turn a pun—my belief is that life begins at conception. And I think Hillary understands how hot-button this issue is for Democrats.”

If Clinton really believes that “red state” voters are going to change their opinion of her because of an acknowledgment that abortion ought to be “rare”—but still legal—rather than a form of birth control, she’s got a screw loose. Additionally, while her husband is accepted as this generation’s political mastermind (although I’d argue Bush is his equal, since he’s able to help elect other Republicans), it’s debatable how valuable he’ll be to her expected campaign. The former president has mellowed in public and it doesn’t appear to be a calculated act of deception. He seems to genuinely enjoy the role of elder statesman—and after his heart surgery, looks almost as old as Bush’s father—and who knows whether he has the juice to compete on a necessarily nasty partisan level.

Early returns from the Hollywood fundraising/publicity industry also aren’t encouraging. In last Friday’s New York Daily News, Lloyd Grove reported that billionaire David Geffen told a 92nd St. Y crowd, “[Hillary] can’t win, and she’s an incredibly polarizing figure. And ambition is just not a good enough reason.”

But the rejoicing of left-wing pundits and voters over Dean’s ascension is not entirely realistic either. Writing in the March 7 Nation, John Nichols was ecstatic about the DNC decision, claiming that Dean will have a galvanizing effect on organizing the Bush resistance across the country. He wrote: “Frustrated grassroots activists and donors see [Dean] as the tribune of their antiwar, anticorporate and anti-Bush views. Big thinkers see him as an idea filter who understands the potential of neglected issues and strategies. State and local party officials recognize him as a former governor who understands the Democrats can compete in all fifty states.”

Three cheers for enthusiasm, but can someone besides a besotted Deaniac explain how an “antiwar, anticorporate, anti-Bush” presidential candidate is going to conduct a 50-state campaign? First, what a lot of Democrats forget is that Bush—the most reviled Republican since Nixon—won’t be on ballot in 2008. Second, the politics of The Nation (or The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who’s also hailed Dean’s chairmanship as a boon to the “fighting moderates”) have virtually no chance of succeeding in any “red” states and, if too vituperative, could flip battlegrounds like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania to the GOP.

As for the “big thinkers,” assuming Nichols is referring at least in part to academia, the comments of Queens College professor Andrew Hacker in the March 10 New York Review of Books don’t exactly reflect a winning populist message. Hacker rationalized the President’s reelection by stating, “The choice to support Bush—and Republicans generally—gives quite average Americans a chance to feel superior.”

The early betting has to be that both Dean and Hillary Clinton flame out—unless Democrats are truly suicidal, which I don’t believe—and the emerging face of the party will be a Southerner.

PostPost a Comment

Enter your information below.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>