Thursday, November 20, 2003

Dean's Doubters

The problem here with the electability issue is that I am hard-pressed to see how anyone taking an outsider's view of things can think that any of the other candidates can beat Dean on this. In these claims from Democratic party insiders, who as the CSM story says "kept him at arm's length, hoping that one of their own, such as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, would catch fire", it seems they refuse to recognize that their approval is not the key determination of electability. In the polls you refer to generally they poll only Democrats on the primary, but the full public on the general election. Gephardt, Kerry, and Lieberman serve in the federal government and Clark is a TV personality. Outside of the party, Dean is not well known. But governors tend to have an advantage in presidential politics, and who the hell had ever heard of Bill Clinton before 1992? I don't put too much stock in those poll numbers. As the Democrats are the ones actually following the primary race and learning about the candidates at this point, it's the question of who is exciting them that seems more relevant. The argument that Democrats like Dean because he's a liberal extremist has to deal with the fact that his record is actually pretty moderate, a fact that has been completely ignored by proponents of this view.

With regards to their typical views of what constitutes electability, who could be more electable that Al Gore? An upbeat and friendly moderate southerner with loads of experience and inside party connections who presided over one of the most prosperous and peaceful periods in the nation's history. And he lost to a coke-head alcoholic draft-dodging born-again business failure whose sole distinction is that he's the deadbeat son of a mediocre one-term president. If their measures of electability were accurate Gore should have slaughtered Bush with hardly an effort. Moreover the press loves Dean, just as they loved McCain. The doom and gloom is emenating from party insiders, not the press. The criticism of the press, as noted in the Howard Kurtz column I linked to earlier, is that they're already heralding him as the winner.

I even see Dean in good shape where the regional politics are concerned. The South is a puzzle the Democrats haven't worked out yet. If Gore couldn't deliver any of the south, I don't see Clark or Edwards doing much better. And Lieberman and Kerry are no better off than Dean. Dean's proven record of fiscal conservatism and his straight shooter attitude match up better with midwestern values than any of the competition. Gephardt may also have done well in the midwest, but with the defection of unions to Dean, I think he's nearly a non-factor at this point. None of the candidates have any great claim on the West.

No, I don't think there is a legitimate point to be made that Dean trails in any serious measure of electability. Arguments to that effect strike me as being in a state of denial. The game has changed, they just refuse to admit it. The comparisons to Goldwater and McGovern miss out on the critical role that the internet has played in this campaign and the manner in which it is redefining the way politics operates in this country. Prior to this election party insiders truly did have immense power, the power that comes from controlling the party purse strings and the party machinery. Dean has gone over their heads directly to the party activists. Even as the party apparatchiks worked to push Kerry and Edwards, Dean has raised more money, mostly in small contributions, and has created his own grass roots machinery, in many way superior to theirs. He has successfully made the jump from yuppy activists to picking up Jesse Jackson and major labor unions. The game has changed. Dean's campaign and the likes of are doing what many internet entrepreneurs have done before them: cut out the middle men. And like all the other middle men, the party establishment reaction fluxuates between rage and denial. That Dean has accomplished all that he has in spite of them speaks volumes. What could he do with them? Hopefully we'll find out.

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