Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, December 09, 2003  

So what about Gore's endorsement of Dean? It seems to raise exactly all the issues that have been at the heart of this campaign since Dean became the front runner. Either the same rules are governing the voters' minds that have governed them since 1980, when Reagan last changed them, or new ones are emerging. Washington, from which most political opinion emanates, is firmly in the "old rules" camp. Rove and the GOP are crafting their policies on these rules; the DLC came into being as a "liberal" response to them. In most of the commentary we read from the Washington-based media, analysis is predicated on them. But then, when a revolution is afoot, Washington is always the last to hear.

Thus was the citadel of conventional wisdom shocked to learn that out in the hinterland, thousands of people were flocking to an obscure Vermont governor. What finally caught their attention was not his message, but his fundraising machine--in Washington, that's bottom line truth. So then Dean made the cover of Time and Newsweek, and Washington set about trying to explain the phenomenon--using, naturally, the logic of Reagan's rules. (All of Washington did this, and they all mostly came to the same conclusion, not just conservatives.) But for every explanation, Dean's campaign seemed to offer a not-so-subtle rebuttal.

He was the fringe candidate of the youthful technocracy (that's us)--except that labor loved him and Americans across the country were sending him $100 checks. He was angry and out of line with docile mainstream voters--except that docile mainstream voters seemed as attracted to him as the angry base. He was too white--except that black groups like him. Finally, he was too fringe; he could never win a major election. This is the current theory, and the indictment here is that Dean is 2004's George McGovern.

Which brings us to the Gore endorsement. From where I sit, there's no way to underestimate its significance. Gore, perpetual Democratic insider, one of the founders of the DLC, the Vice President under the Democratic insiders' patron saint--you don't get more mainstream than Al Gore. What's even more important is the timing of the endorsement. Weeks in front of Iowa, Gore has made the decision to try to push Dean over the top. He's using his weight to sweep Dean in and crush Gephardt (fellow DLC founder) and Clark (the Clinton candidate) before they get going. This is a man 50 million Americans voted for. His endorsement, particularly coming now, is huge.

As Reagan's campaign started, it was a joke--the guy who'd starred with a monkey in B movies. The joke was on the insiders, though: the rules had changed sufficiently that Reagan appealed to working-class Democrats. Dean is no longer a joke, but to insiders, he's still a McGovern. And maybe he'll get crushed like McGovern. But fewer and fewer people think so. Outside the beltway, there's a sense that the rules have changed. With Al Gore's endorsement, maybe that reality's starting to penetrate Washington.

[Update: David Brooks, writing from Washington and to Deanies across the country, doesn't get the good doctor: "The newly liberated Dean doesn't worry about having a coherent political philosophy. There is a parlor game among Washington pundits called How Liberal Is Howard Dean? One group pores over his speeches, picks out the things no liberal could say and argues that he's actually a centrist. Another group picks out the things no centrist could say and argues that he's quite liberal."

But Bill Kristol, also writing from Washington, does (and he doesn't like it one bit): "Thus, on domestic policy, Dean will characterize Bush as the deficit-expanding, Social Security-threatening, Constitution-amending (on marriage) radical, while positioning himself as a hard-headed, budget-balancing, federalism-respecting compassionate moderate. And on foreign and defense policy, look for Dean to say that he was and remains anti-Iraq war (as, he will point out, were lots of traditional centrist foreign policy types). But Dean will emphasize that he has never ruled out the use of force (including unilaterally). Indeed, he will say, he believes in military strength so strongly that he thinks we should increase the size of the Army by a division or two. It's Bush, Dean will point out, who's trying to deal with the new, post-Sept. 11 world with a pre-Sept. 11 military."]

posted by Jeff | 8:24 AM |
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