February 18, 2004
Dean drops out

It's old news by now, but I do want to add my voice to those who have thanked Howard Dean for helping to infuse the Democratic Party and the various contenders for the Presidency with a spine, and to help them overcome their fear of attacking our Popular Wartime President for his many and manifest failings. I'll be very interested to see what Dean does with his existing structure. If I have one wish, it's for him to encourage as many of his supporters as possible to run for office themselves, as Rob is doing. You want there to be a positive legacy of Dean For America, that's your best bet.

Frankly, if there's anyone who should be thanking Howard Dean for his campaign, it's John Kerry, as William Burton pointed out.

By claiming the left wing of the Democratic Party as his own, Dean created space towards the center for Kerry to emerge as a "moderate" alternative. Without Dean in the race, Kerry would've been the most liberal viable candidate; and centrist support would've drifted to the candidate who best positioned himself as the moderate alternative to that liberal Kerry.

I don't know if the voter perception of Kerry as a moderate will hold through the general election. Unfortunately, most of the swing voters and Reagan Democrats probably aren't paying enough ettention right now to form a lasting impression of Kerry before the Bush war machine gets cranked up.

This could've all been different. If Dean had emphasized his moderate record as Governor rather than running almost solely on the war (until just before the election), he might've actually emerged as the moderate alternative, rather than as the liberal sacrificial lamb.

I think that's right, though of course the media's insistence that opposition to the invasion of Iraq somehow equals flaming liberalism didn't hurt Kerry, either. I think William is wrong about what Dean might have emphasized - for better or worse, had he spent 2003 talking about his record in Vermont, he'd have remained an obscure former Goveror of a tiny state that had no shot at the nomination - and I'm also a bit more sanguine about how Kerry will be perceived in the months to come. The "Vietnam veteran" story line seems to have taken hold, and I think the nattering nabobs will continue to play that up because they like that kind of contrast between candidates. But we'll see. I could most certainly be wrong about this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 18, 2004 to The making of the President | TrackBack

Kuff, before I post, let me again thank you for a thoughtful forum in which a conservative like myself isn't reluctant to occasionally pose a genuine question to his countrymen of the opposite party. My question today is, How is Kerry a "'moderate' alternative" to Dean?

By some measures - such as the ranking system of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) - Kerry is among the most liberal members of the Senate. Over the course of his Senate career, Kerry gets a 92 percent rating from the ADA, while Edward Kennedy (D), the senior senator from Massachusetts, has a 90 percent career rating. Kerry can rebut this analysis by noting that he voted for welfare reform, budget caps, education reform, and the 2002 Iraq war resolution.

That particular quote is from the Christian Science Monitor, but the same stats, and same observation, appear many other places — usually without the final qualifying sentence regarding positions (on at least two of which, education reform and the Iraq War, Kerry has since backtracked).

Is it unfair to characterize someone whose whole-career voting record is to the left of Ted Kennedy as a "flaming liberal," Kuff? Or asked another way, is it possible to be a "moderate alternative" when you're to the left of Ted Kennedy?

One can argue about the importance, or lack thereof, of Kerry's war record and his mid-20s antiwar activisim; those issues are extremely subjective (although, of course, for many voters, they still trigger powerful reactions, pro or con).

But how can anyone argue that one's voting record over the course of a long Senate career isn't an important indicator — indeed, isn't the single best indicator — of the positions a candidate is most likely to take as President?

While it's a bit early to be writing histories of the 2004 presidential campaign, or even of the primaries, I'm provisionally inclined to think that Dean's most lasting impact on this year's race will have been to push both Kerry and Edwards into their votes against the post-war Iraq funding bill. But for that pressure from then-surging, furiously-antiwar frontrunner Dean and those resulting votes, Kerry and Edwards could at least point to their original votes in favor of the authorizing resolution as evidence that they're not "flaming liberals."

Posted by: Beldar on February 18, 2004 7:54 PM

But that's my point exactly, Beldar. He's been portrayed as a moderate compared to Dean. I agree it makes no sense if you look at their records - other than the Iraq vote, anyway - but that's what the story line was. That may certainly change - for sure, Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove will do their best to make sure it does - but from the runup to Iowa on, Dean has been the "lefty" candidate, while Kerry has been the "moderate".

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 18, 2004 9:34 PM

Okay. I appreciate the clarification. But the reason the Democratic Party should thank Dean for helping the Party's likely nominee temporarily appear more moderate than his record reveals him to be is ... ?

Hasn't the Democratic Party (at least at the presidential level) lurched decisively left, abandoning (at least for this election, absent the brokered convention/Hillary scenario) any last remnants of Clinton's "triangulation" strategy? In which case, won't a Kerry nomination essentially make this a replay of 1972?

Posted by: Beldar on February 18, 2004 10:00 PM

Well, I don't know that I'd agree with that. I could point out that the same is true for the GOP, at least in this election. Who would believe "I'm a uniter, not a divider" today? I think you'll see Kerry strongly reach out to the center, and I think he'll do pretty well with that. We'll see if the President has the same approach, and if so if he has the same results.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 19, 2004 6:56 AM

Charles: The same wasn't true for the GOP. Bush ran as a conservative to Senator McCain's "more electable" moderation. When elected, he pursued the conservative ends he said he would pursue during the election. The uniter/divider business made for nice rhetorical flourishes, but don't make the mistake of confounding it with ideology. As for this election, the Bush team really hasn't begun to campaign, so you can't really make any assessments to that effect.

Dean clearly has forced most Dems to lurch left and he's made it chic to spew anti-Bush venom, with the possible exceptions of John Edwards (still in the race) and Joe Lieberman (see how far Clinton's third way and being gentlemanly got him?). Moving back to the center won't be so easy, and Kerry may well be inclined to run a Gore-style campaign from the Left instead of a Clinton-style campaign from the middle. It's just not clear how that will go at this point.

Here's an interesting observation from Newt Gingrich on the topic: "Howard Dean made John Kerry look normal. And I think it will be only over the next month or so, as Kerry emerges more and more, that we realize that this is actually with the exception of Howard Dean as liberal a Democrat as we've seen on the national stage. And so I think that you'll see a very clear liberal/conservative race by summer."

I don't disagree.

Posted by: kevin whited on February 19, 2004 9:12 AM