Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Dean

E.J. Dionne had an interesting column about the dilemma Dean presents: The upshot is that Dionne draws comparisons between Dean and Barry Goldwater; on the plus side, Goldwater set in motion a conservative movement which is now dominant 30 years later. On the minus side, he lost miserably to Johnson in 1964 and his party got spanked in Congressional elections that year. I think that Barry's series of posts on the administration and their allies in the right wing press's machinations regarding the war in Iraq are a great demonstration of why the country cannot afford another four years of Bush. I think that this is why there is so much hand-wringing on the part of Democrats--not some selfish desire on the part of the "establishment" to keep down an "outsider."

Speaking as someone who considers themselves an establishment Democrat, whatever that means, I would be happy running anyone from Bernie Sanders to Ralph Nader to Howard Dean to Martin Sheen to John Breaux as long as they beat Bush. I'm not convinced that Dean cannot; I'm not even convinced that he has less of a chance than any of the other contenders. However, there are three factors that concern me:

1. Dean has no geographic advantages whatsoever. He comes from a small Democratic base state in liberal New England. Fine, his nomination may increase Democratic chances of picking up neighboring New Hampshire and hanging onto Maine, but the South is as difficult for Dean, if not more, than for "generic Democratic candidate," and he has the same road in the all-important Midwest. This is not to say he can't win in each of the 19 battleground states: New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. He just does not start out with any advantages with the exception of the two small states I mentioned.

2. Dean has fairly consistently fared worse than Gephardt, Clark, Kerry, and Lieberman against Bush in the same national polls that put Dean at the top of the Democratic pack. The conclusion: the perception is that Dean is more liberal than the average Democratic candidate. Thus, his dash to the center for the general election may have more ground to cover.

3. All the gloom and doom prognostications may become self-fulfilling prophecy. Kind of like the Gore-the-liar phenomenon: the media doesn't like Gore and doesn't think he's quite honest, so everything he has ever done or said gets the utmost scrutiny, and lo and behold there are some trivial misstatements or exaggerations, so the media reports them to death and the people decide he's dishonest. Dean has that potential with the liberal-who-can't-win-outside-the-coasts label.

I hope he does win--that the model is Reagan rather than Goldwater or McGovern. But I can't fault political insiders for seeing danger signs or ascribe ulterior motives to them.

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