November 16, 2003
The thing about Dean

Michael Tomasky has the first is-Dean-electable? article I've seen that makes some sense. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and I have to say, I think the "conventional wisdom" about Dean is a lot of crap.

The reason I keep getting drawn to Dean is simple: He has, far and away, run the best campaign so far. He's innovated, he's gotten incredible bang for his bucks, he's recovered from every misstep he's made, he's learned from past mistakes, and he's built a huge and enthusiastic organization. So what if he's not the best candidate? I can't tell you how sick and tired I am of great candidates who run godawful campaigns. This is a big deal. I want someone who's playing to win, and that's Dean right now.

I know there are aspects of Dean's record that will make Karl Rove and the Bush 2004 machine salivate. So what? As Big Media Matt points out, no candidate will get a pass on anything from those guys. If you think Clark or Kerry or Lieberman won't get clubbed with the War on Terror stick, then you're going to have to explain to me how it is that Max Cleland got labelled as soft on defense last year by his draft-dodging opponent.

What mattered in that Georgia Senate race, and what will matter next year, is not so much who and what the candidate is but how the candidate responds when his opponent tries to define him. Cleland responded to Saxby Chambliss' slander at the time with quiet, beneath-my-dignity contempt, and a fat lot of good it did him. Any candidate who gets primarily defined by his or her opponent can wind up looking like a kleptomaniac Communist pedophile with a coke habit. Winning candidates fight back. Well, which Democrat is the most vigorous fighter so far?

I sometimes hear anti-Deanites talk about how the Bush machine will make enormous hay out of his signing a civil unions bill in Vermont. Well, suppose it's next June and the national GOP is running ads about civil unions. All Joe Trippi has to do is run an ad like this in response: Images of war, unemployment, Osama bin Laden, etc, while a narrator says "George Bush wants you to think the most important issue in America right now is a bill Governor Dean signed years ago. Aren't there other things we should be talking about? Howard Dean wants to talk about them. Why doesn't George Bush?" I have faith that the Dean camp will do something like that to turn the debate around. I can't say I have the same faith about any other candidate.

There are two posts at Daily Kos that take a closer look at all of the poll numbers, and arrive at the conclusion that all of the Democratic contenders are about even when matched up directly against Bush. It's a guessing game as to who would be the "best" candidate, but it says here that until the other candidates start to show the same skill as Dean and his people, he's the one to beat.

I know exactly one thing about the 2004 Presidential election, and that's that Democrats won't know until it's too late if the person they pick is the person they should have picked. If you want to convince me that this person should be someone other than Howard Dean, you're going to need to show me things that your candidate has done and will do, not things they could have done or should do. Until then, Dean looks like the one to me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 16, 2003 to The making of the President | TrackBack
Comments

"I sometimes hear anti-Deanites talk about how the Bush machine will make enormous hay out of his signing a civil unions bill in Vermont. Well, suppose it's next June and the national GOP is running ads about civil unions. All Joe Trippi has to do is run an ad like this in response: Images of war, unemployment, Osama bin Laden, etc, while a narrator says "George Bush wants you to think the most important issue in America right now is a bill Governor Dean signed years ago. Aren't there other things we should be talking about? Howard Dean wants to talk about them. Why doesn't George Bush?" I have faith that the Dean camp will do something like that to turn the debate around. I can't say I have the same faith about any other candidate."

Do you seriously think this will end the discussion? Do you think this would pacify moderates in swing states? Do you also think that Bush would have no answer to the charges on Iraq?

Beyond that, you contradict yourself later on. Compare the above graf where you state: "I have faith that the Dean camp will do something like that..." with one later on ... "you're going to need to show me things that your candidate has done and will do, not things they could have done or should do. Until then, Dean looks like the one to me."

Care to reconcile that?

Posted by: Greg Wythe on November 16, 2003 5:15 PM

Dean can just run this video:

The fact of the matter is we live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. We donít get to choose, and shouldnít be able to choose and say, ĎYou get to live free, but you donít.í And I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. Itís really no one elseís business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard.

The next step, then, of course, is the question you ask of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction, if you will, of the relationship, or if these relationships should be treated the same way a conventional marriage is. Thatís a tougher problem. Thatís not a slam dunk.

I think the fact of the matter, of course, is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and thatís appropriate. I donít think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.

I try to be open-minded about it as much as I can, and tolerant of those relationships... I also wrestle with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction of those relationships. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.
--Dick Cheney, VP debate.

Posted by: Atrios on November 16, 2003 6:13 PM

And this will convince moderate voters in Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania ... HOW???

If we're relying on a four paragraph bit of philosophical legalese from the Vice President, we may as well call off the election now. I hope there's a better example of what demonstrable action has been taken to show how or why the issue is either framed positively for Dean or any other candidate, but you may recall Dean spoke out against Iraq when America was solidly behind Bush. He's spoken more in terms of what he would undo of Bush's actions than he would do instead, and to top it all off, he signed a civil unions bill as Governor ... an action that cost him a lot of support in Vermont, it should be noted. Why does one think this will play any better when Dean heads south of there?

Thus far, all I'm seeing is a daydream typed out. Show me how this argument has been negated in any swing state ... on a statewide level. Otherwise, just ignore this upcomig campaign ad by George Bush:

"We should've contained Saddam. We've gotten rid of him, and I suppose that's a good thing ..."

Cue the creepy music and slow mo on Dean making a Joker-style grin in black and white ala David Dewhurst v John Sharp ... see ya in 2008 folks, goodnight.

Posted by: Greg Wythe on November 16, 2003 6:30 PM

Greg, you and I are just going to have to agree to disagree on this. What I'm saying is simply this: Team Bush will attack whoever the Democratic nominee is with the full force of their $200 million, whether it's Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, Zell Miller, or the reanimated corpse of Scoop Jackson. Projecting what Team Bush may do to Dean is meaningless because they'll do the same to anyone else. That's why I believe the Democrat who can fight back the best, and who can run the best campaign, has the best chance of overcoming that.

The reason I have faith that the Dean camp will fight back effectively, by the way, is because of their track record so far. By all means, feel free to convince me I'm wrong on this point.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 16, 2003 6:47 PM

Ho Hum ... another Dem cranks on Dean:

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/7279805.htm

Personally, I think Matt Miller owes me a damn royalty check!

Rove popped the video into a TV near the wall. An image of an agitated Howard Dean, sleeves rolled up above his elbows in his trademark pose, appeared on the screen.

"What's with those sleeves?" Bush said. "Nobody rolls their sleeves up that high."

"Sssh," Rove said. "It's starting."

The image froze with Dean's face in a pantomime of rage. A dark minor chord sounded, like the signal in a horror movie when something scary is coming.

"Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont," intoned the voiceover, "- for president?

"The only state with fewer people than Vermont is Wyoming - yet Howard Dean raised taxes on Vermont's best schools in some crazy liberal scheme to make them as bad as other schools."

A graphic reading "Raised Taxes on Schools" floats across the screen.

"Vermont's general fund amounts to less than one day's spending at the Pentagon, yet Howard Dean still handed his successor a budget mess - and now he wants to raise taxes on every American."

A graphic reading "Raise Taxes on Every American" floats by.

"But that's just the start. Howard Dean wants special new rights for gay and lesbian couples.

"And Howard Dean says he's not sure the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam Hussein gone - even though Saddam killed a million Iraqis and tortured millions more.

"Howard Dean... Is he ready to lead America? Is America ready to be led by Howard Dean?"

The camera zooms in tightly on Dean's angry yet goofy visage, then fades to black.

"How big was Arkansas?" Bush asked, a little nervously.

"Four times bigger than Vermont, sir. And Dean is no Clinton."

Ok, so Miller has the flourishes down a bit better than I do.

But my real question is what on earth Dean has actually "done" to convince you or anyone else that he'll be an effective campaigner in swing states? You place the onus on me to suggest another candidate has a better ability to snuff Bush on any single aspect:

  • Gephardt - while I disagree, his views on trade and the economy will resonate if the economy is still soft.
  • Lieberman - had a plan for reconstructing Iraq months before Bush, and not afraid to remind anyone. Fought for creating Dep't of Homeland Security seven months before Bush came around on the idea.
  • Edwards - the early idea of making legacy admissions an issue is a backburner waiting to happen.
  • Clark - won a war, written two books to remind anyone who hasn't heard him mention it on CNN.
  • All have their baggage (as does Bush), but perhaps one can try to convince me that the baggage of any of those four (or Bush for that matter) is greater than "gay marriage" "raises taxes on schools" and "I suppose." The battle is going to be uphill on this one regardless & I think we'd both agree to that. Convince me you'll have a viable Democratic party in the South after 11/4 with Dean at the top.

    Posted by: Greg Wythe on November 17, 2003 9:09 AM

    1)Why assume swing voters are anti-gay bigots? remember the fiasco of 1992? And civil unions poll decently.

    2)We don't have a viable democratic party in the South now - and I live in the South. The region has switched, and its not coming back soon. Wes Clark cannot change that, no one can. Frankly, Dean's clumsily expressed idea that Souther Whites have been getting screwed by the Republicans in exchange for "culture war" issues is probably the best route to weaken that Dominance.

    3)That ad works for everyone. Remove the "all" from the Tax ads, and it applies to all the cadidates. Replace the anit-gay bigotry with one about "not wanting to free Iraqis" or "flip flopped on Iraqi freedom" and you have a commercial ready made for any other candidate. And I am sure you can find examples of Kerry, Gephardt, et. al voting for needed revenue for infrasturcture that can be spun just as badly. If you work under the assumption that Bush is going to set the agenda, then the election is already over. No one - no one - could overcome that.

    4)Dean is doing well in Iowa, which is hardly a bastion of uber-left liberalism.

    The question is not who has less to attack: people who lie do not need to worry about the actual facts. The question is who is best able to respond to attacks. So far, Dean has been able to whether hisown mistakes and the attacks of his opponents he best, IMO. I am with Chuck on this: if a candidate wants my vote, he needs to show me that he can handle adversity. So far, no one but Dean has done so.

    Posted by: kevin on November 17, 2003 1:36 PM

    I for one have long thought that Dean, with his experience running a state (even a small one), would be the best among the D candidates at actually doing the job of the Presidency, even if he weren't the most "electable." Clark may have the better image vs. Bush (and this is debatable), but I really want someone who's up to the job, and Dean is the likeliest someone out there.

    Posted by: Chris Quinones on November 17, 2003 1:53 PM

    I have to say I buy into entirely the CW that Dean is unlikely to do well in November. He simply can't hit Bush on his strength, which is his perceived superiority on defense and fighting terrorism. Clark can, which is why he's the better candidate. And Dean is too obviously sharp around the edges; successful candidates can generate at least an illusion of geniality, however much they're actually bastards.

    I saw the items on Kos and don't buy the analysis; I'll probably put up a posting in a day or two that explains why it's wrong.

    As for anyone who thinks Clark isn't ready to fight back against the smears, check out this link:

    http://www.foxnews.com/video2/player.html?4908&FOX_News_Live&Setting%20the%20Record%20Straig ht&wvx-300

    Posted by: Alex on November 18, 2003 12:43 AM