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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dean: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Democrats tend to have a hard time dealing with Dean in all his complex glory: the good (he’s a terrific candidate in some ways and is helping remake the party in ways that are absolutely necessary); the bad (he’s got a number of very serious political liabilities that might make it difficult to carry swing states like Ohio); and the ugly (not only that he’s more likely than, say, Clark or Gephardt to get creamed).
One Democrat who doesn’t have this problem is Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic. Cohn, a Dean supporter, is nonetheless well aware of his dark side, so to speak, and lays it all out in a terrific article, “The Case for Dean“. Highly recommended.
For those Dean opponents who have a hard time seeing the ways Dean walks in the light, DR recommends Nick Confessore’s article in the new Washington Monthly, “The Myth of the Democratic Establishment“. Confessore shows how the Dean phenomenom is, in a sense, an inevitable response by the party rank-and-file to a party establishment and infrastructure that are not only not effective, they’re barely even there. Thus, if Dean did not exist, the party, if it really wanted to move forward, would have to invent him.
But, of course, they don’t have to. He’s here and all Democrats should realize that, whether or not he gets nominated and, if nominated, whether or not he gets elected, his campaign has made a signal contribution to revitalizing the Democratic party. As for those who would have preferred he’d stayed in Vermont and never achieved such prominence–in the immortal words of Marion Barry: Get over it.

21 comments on “Dean: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  1. diodotus on

    If offering pie-in-the-sky is the sine-qua-non of electability; if maintaining that denial IS a river in Egypt by ignoring the fiscal nightmare that 40-year olds are going to face before our anticipated (illusionary?) retirement someday is what it will take; well than I guess I am gratified my candidate is judged unelectable.
    I have only failed to vote for a Democrat for President on one occason. That was a long time ago. But I have to tell you, if some of these Democrats get nominated — Gephardt for one — then I see our social contract disintegrating just as under Bush. So under that circumstance, I have to say, if it become every person for herself in this country … then I might not vote … or maybe even vote for Bush. What the hell, if the whole thing is going into the dumpster, I will personally be less hurt with the Repubs. It’s disgusting, but so is the level of fantasy and delusion being propounded by some of the would-be leaders of my party.

  2. Carol on

    I wouldn’t vote for Lieberman if he became the nominee after hearing him say (Hardball) that the reason for the war was “transforming” the Middle East. Thats Crusader talk and he’s not putting up his children and grandchildren for that craziness. I have a daughter (age 17), and a 3 year old niece and a 1 year old nephew. I don’t want them or any other young people sent off to the Middle East.
    I think Kerry and Gephardt are really hopeless candidates. They have no message that will inspire people.

  3. Upper left on

    Gosh, I leave the room for a day and all hell breaks out. Nice to see some new names and a good discussion.
    To Brilliant and Frankly, it has never been my intention to suggest that the electability question was off the table. Quite the contrary, as I stated in my lengthy post at the beginning of the “Bush’s Approval Ratings” thread (to those who have not read it I hope you will take the time), I believe electability is really the only question.
    Let me try to summarize my arguments over the past few weeks:
    1) If the point is to beat Bush, I think we should try to keep the character attacks to a minimum.
    Why? Because character attacks (like snow) tend to stick and accumulate over time. These types of attacks tend to define our candidates in negative terms. I have encouraged us to try to focus our advocacy on values, positions, experience, and electability; and to try to limit comments about truthfullness, authenticity, decency and integrity.
    I believe that Dean has been on the receiving end of an inordinate number of character attacks from Lieberman, Kerry, and Gep. These guys have tried to justify their attacks by saying Dean is also critical. But look at the nature of the attacks on each side. Dean is portrayed as a flip-flopping liar; as compulsively angry; habitually pessimistic; he and his supporters are even accused of trying to cheat in the caucuses. On the other hand Dean’s primary criticism of the other candidates is 1) they voted for the war, and 2) they have not effectively opposed Bush and the Congressional Reps. The difference between the nature of these attacks should be obvious.
    If Dean wins the nomination, inspite of the astounding abuse he has taken from the other candidates and the media, he will drag all these accusations along with him into the campaign against Bush. Given that Dean remains the most likely nominee of our party (although it has becoming increasingly likely to be a knock-down, drag-out fight), I consider character attacks to be disloyal to the party and destructive of our common goal of beating Bush.
    2) Let’s argue electability, but let’s do it intelligently. Over the past few months, I have seen far to many people here and elsewhere simply assume that Dean is a general election disaster without making a thoughtful case. This superficial analysis has congealed into a type of conventional wisdom.
    Ruy, makes it clear that he accepts this position, but has never presented a fully developed argument. Even in this post he suggests that Gep is “less likely to get creamed” than Dean. I think such an assertion is extremely wrong-headed and misses the country’s mood and key aspects of the electoral picture.
    I am trying to get Ruy and the rest of you to make, rather than assume, your argument.
    3) I have tried repeatedly to explain the reasons I believe the conventional wisdom may very well be wrong. Again, I would ask you all to read my lengthy post at the beginning of the “Bush’s Approval Ratings” thread below.
    Let the debate continue, and try to treat each other with respect.

  4. Larry on

    Those of us here are not representative of the public’s degree of interest.
    The true campaign won’t start until W, who has plenty to answer for, stands up and debates the Dem nominee.

  5. Marc Brazeau on

    Joe Lieberman is routinely booed at campaign events yet the magazine endorsed him. The GOP has been mopping up the floor with Dick Gephardt for almost 15 years and now he’s being challenged for missing 90% of the votes in Congress last year. Wesley Clark was fired from the job that supposedly makes him such a giant killer. John Edwards seems to have a voodoo curse on him that prevents him from making any progress despite doing everything right. And the guy who was everyone’s dream candidate a year ago, John Kerry it turns out couldn’t campaign his way out of a wet paper bag.
    Howard Dean is the only potential nominee that DOESN’T give me nightmares when I think about the general election.
    When I look at the success of the GOP in over the last fifteen years the names Gingrich, Norquist, Delay, Reed and Rove come to mind. Who are the Democratic analogues.
    With the exception of Clinton, they are only recently emerging: Steve Rosenthal, Eli Pariser and Joe Trippi. The minds on our side that show effective strategic thinking and dynamism equal the strategists on the other side aren’t coming from the Lieberman wing of the party. And Dick Gephardt hasn’t done much more than play punching bag to Gingrich and then Delay – on defining the issues, on legislation, on Congressional elections, on fundraising, on controlling K-Street, etc. Why would I think he could out hustle (in the Pete Rose sense) Bush/Rove?
    Sure I’ll close ranks no matter who our nominee is, but that doesn’t mean I think that any one but Dean or maybe Edwards could pump life into the party.

  6. BrilliantIdiot on

    Cheryl and the others: don’t conflate all anti-Dean supporters with the DLC and some Clinton bogeyman. It’s not accurate. I bet 90% of the supporters of other candidates don’t even know what the DLC is. This is inside baseball. And all the DLC can do nowadays is write policy briefs, anyway.
    You and other Dean supporters have created a scapegoat. And if Dean wins, we’ll all be behind him. And if he doesn’t, the party will not die. Come on, lighten up.

  7. Cheryl on

    This has got to be the biggest misconception for the Democratic Party.
    all Democrats should realize that, whether or not he gets nominated and, if nominated, whether or not he gets elected, his campaign has made a signal contribution to revitalizing the Democratic party.
    If Dean is offed, no will revive what Dean had, not even Clark. Dean was right, many of voters were not transferable.
    Thus, if Dean did not exist, the party, if it really wanted to move forward, would have to invent him.
    Really — some how that’s not reality. Kerry couldn’t have invented the gift that Dean.
    The party should think long and hard before dumping Dean…
    The Party won’t recover if they do. As for me, this is not an anybody but Bush campaign. Clark is Clintons control device-I want no part of it.
    It’s like Pat Buchanan said -there is a need for new Party. DLC chairman Al From and Clinton don’t represent me anymore…
    They don’t represent a lot of us.

  8. David in Burbank on

    Great article from Confessore. Couldn’t agree more. I am a Dean supporter almost entirely because Dean’s campaign makes me feel like there is hope for the Democratic party. The attacks on Dean by the Democratic Legislator candidates seems to me their dying gasps. And they are not doing Rove’s job for him. If Dean survives this, they have taken away most of the Republican’s ammunition, since by the time this primary is over, all these attacks will be tired old news to the peasant liberal majority (of which I am a proud member!) and the independent and moderate swing voters will likley have already made up their minds before the Democratic Convention. And as for electibility of Dean, well, as someone else already said here, who’s got a better shot? (I am particularly happy, however, to see Lieberman crash and burn so spectacularly.)

  9. Dan Perreten on

    Hey, Frankly0 and BrilliantIdiot:
    I don’t see where Upper Left argued that Dean’s electability should be offf the table. Instead, he argued that character assassinations should be off the table. I’m not sure I agree with him, but it’s a legitimate claim.
    What he does say about electability is that he doesn’t see much rational argument or evidence brought to bear in the claims about Dean’s unelectability. I would add that this is especially true in the real question: electability in comparison to the other candidates. Before Clark got in the race, this argument just seemed laughable to me: What, Kerry or Lieberman or Geppy are more electable?
    With Clark in the race, I can see how one could make the argument that the good general is more electable, but I still think that Dean is more likely to beat Bush.
    Indeed, this is the only reason I support Dean.

  10. BrilliantIdiot on

    Yeah, upper left is off base completely – I am impervious to spin – I’m a spinmeister myself, professionally – and I personally thought (before coverage) that Gore was stiff, and I think Dean is often a sourpuss, and yes, frequently too angry, which turns people off. Anger does not persuade, it only motivates the converted. And it feels so good to the angry. Most people aren’t angry – but I digress…..
    Of course most journalists are part of the problem; their performance is inexcusable. But GOP attacks wouldn’t work if they weren’t somehow believeable. You couldn’t attack Clinton as being stiff.

  11. frankly0 on

    Upper left,
    You really make no case for your notion that the issue of Dean’s electability should, essentially, be off limits.
    I think it’s obvious enough that there have been candidates, both Democratic and Republican, who won their primaries, and lost the general election in a landslide that might easily have been predicted and prevented. In California, Republicans have won primaries by engaging the support of the fairly extreme party base, only to lose the general precisely because of the ideological tilt of the candidate. McGovern and Dukakis are widely regarded as similar examples for the Democrats.
    Are you saying that this apparent phenomenon is not real? That we shouldn’t discuss it, except retrospectively? That “electability” is inherently unknowable? Could the defeat of McGovern have been predicted in advance? If so, should it have been prevented if possible?
    What are you saying?

  12. Upper left on

    I just got through reading one of the best articles I have seen on the coverage (insert “pummeling”) Dean has gotten from the media. The piece is by Eric Boelhert at Salon.com and is titled “Howard Dean vs. the Media” (www.salon.com/news/index.html).
    One of the things I find most interesting is the degree to which accusations and psuedo-analysis that starts with the RNC ends up infiltrating the thinking of Democratic activists. I don’t know how many people I have read here and on blogs across the net repeating the same distortions and theories. Karl Rove is inside our brains, which is a very scary thought.
    The Reps have raised character assasination to an art form. What they did to Gore was truly amazing. What irks me is seeing Lieberman and so many other Dems doing Rove’s job for him. I have said it repeatedly on this site, and I will continue to say it everywhere I post: it is fine for the Dems to fight over values, policy, and experience, but we should be careful about engaging in attacks on character.
    Given that Dean is running only 6-10 points behind Bush in head-to-head polling (Clinton was 20 points behind at this point in ’92), and that he is doing as well or better than any of the other Dems in such polls, it would be nice if everyone (this includes you Ruy) would be a little more circumspect in their pronouncements of Dean’s lack of electablity. Let the debate on these issues continue.
    QUESTION FOR RUY: Have you seen any polls that break out demographics and geography on Dean vs. Bush and Clark vs. Bush?

  13. Matt Brubeck on

    Matty, the Brown-Black debate was sponsored by the Iowa Black and Brown Forum, a non-partisan minority group. The Black and Brown Forum was founded and named by Latino community leaders, not by the Democratic party.
    The Forum invites presidential primary candidates to speak in its debates every election, though Republican candidates have historically turned down the invitation.

  14. BrilliantIdiot on

    People miss the hope in Dean because he’s fairly dry and sometimes sour in his tone.
    He has the “words” of hope and optimism (read his speeches) – but not the “music”. Dean fans I communicate with never seem to agree that there’s a distinction there. I think this accounts for a lot of the misunderstanding between pro and anti Dean factions.
    Another way of saying it is not seeing the distinction between projection and reality – in other words, the candidate emotionally moves *you* — that doesn’t mean others are moved. Or want to be moved. Or want to be moved in the same way. Etc. And there are regional and cultural differences in these preferences

  15. Upper left on

    Thanks, for the link to two very interesting articles. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed, but feel that Confessore misses a crucial point:
    Yes, the grassroots is angry at Bush, and angry at how ineffectual the “Democratic establishment” has been in opposing Rule-by-the-Right. Yes, Dean has been the best at articulating and appealing to that anger. However, Dean does more than express anger; he offers hope. He speaks of restoring our democracy; taking back our country from the corporate elite; returning moral purpose to our foriegn policy; and, as corny as it sounds, he even offers us a chance to take back the flag and restore a sense of patriotism.
    The media gets the anger, but they seem to miss the hope. The anger stirs the Dem base, but the message of hope is a powerful beacon to middle Americans that cuts across left-right idealogy. This positive, populist message is the single most important reason I think the CW on electability is quite possibly wrong.

  16. tstreet on

    Bless Carol Mosely Braun. She’s the only one who seems to understand that he healing and unifications needs to begin. Did they cut away to commercial last night or did the other candidates fail to answer her question as to whether they would all support the Dem candidate, regardless of who he or she is?
    At this point, we haven’t had the first vote (except Michigan?) and I’m pretty much fed up with all the candidates except Braun. Too many freaking debates. Get on with it. And may the last man standing be able to sit down despite buck shot up his ass.

  17. Dan Perreten on

    Ruy: Thanks for linking to those two terrific articles. What’s amazing to me is that it took until recently (the Medicare debacle) for most Washington professionals and insiders to figure out how bad things were for Democrats. Howard Dean likes to say something like “If I could figure out from way up in Burlington that Iraq was no threat to America, why couldn’t the Washington Democrats figure it out?”
    I’d suggest a parallel: “If all of us rank-and-file Democrats out here (and Dean) could figure out that our leadership was useless a year ago, why did it take all the professionals this long to figure it out?”
    I mean, seriously. Maybe this isn’t the smartest approach, but whenever the insiders (including you, Ruy, no offense) talk about how Dean is unelectable, I just think, “Well, why should I listen to you people? You don’t even recognize today’s reality, so why would I think you have any standing to predict the future?”

  18. tristero on

    Thanks, Ruy, for the links. The meta-message of your post is more important, however, which is that Dean very well may get the nomination and therefore it is now time to for the party to mend its wounds and stop the extreme carping. The Democratic nominee must have the enthusiastic support of everyone in the party and the independents to get Bush out.

  19. Matty on

    Would love to know what you think about the Laura Blumenfeld article in today’s Post about Grover Norquist, who’s sort of your mirror in this world, since he’s pushing for a “permanent Republican majority” and you’re pushing for an EDM.
    One of you must be wrong. If the Dems lose big in the fall, they’ll have gotten slaughtered three Novembers in a row (altho 2003 was only a mini-slaughter).
    Comments? Can a party be a majority when it holds an offensively named, divisive “Iowa Black and Brown Debate” that starts off in the Spanish language? Discuss.


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