Notes on the Atrocities
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Monday, January 19, 2004  

Howard Dean
Dean is the candidate of strong medicine, and his success will depend on whether he's diagnosed the electorate properly. In most campaigns, a candidate competes who represents the most dynamic, wild-eyed group of the electorate. Some times, as in the case of Ronald Reagan, they win. Usually they don't. Dean has appealed to a broad section of voters in the same way that John McCain did--as someone who has declared politics to be corrupt and in need of correction. Dean will at least hang around throug the primaries because a solid minority agrees with this view. Whether he wins will depend on the degree to which the voters who aren't sure can be made believers. I'm writing this after the results in Iowa, and I'm no less convinced that this may still be the year for a candidate like Dean (George HW Bush beat Reagan in 1980).

Policy Positions
Dean's views are the most well-known, but his hopes ride less on the issues than any other candidate. He was against the invasion, but he's hardly a dove. His views on most domestic issues reflect a sober New England incrementalist view--but this may be the way to advance a fairly liberal agenda. On the other hand, he's less than perfectly metrosexual on some policies--guns, for example.

Dean has a big vision for America, and it looks something more like LBJ's politics than Clinton's. He's likely to profoundly change the way the US engages in the world, and will advance a fairly liberal (in all senses of the word) agenda at home. That is, if he doesn't piss everyone off trying.

Don't listen to the hype: Dean can beat Bush. That's why the conservative commentators like David Brooks have become so shrilly invested in smearing him. Worse for the GOP, with Dean as the candidate, Bush will be held to account for the building scandals. Republicans worry that even if they win election battle, they may lose the political war.

His chances in the primaries are where things get dicier (and I now have the knowledge of Iowa to inform me). If the terrified right wing punditocracy continue to smear him mercilessly, they give great cover to the more docile candidates like John Kerry. The bar starts rising precipitously. Still, now that Dean can return, at least for awhile, to outsider status, he might get a needed reprieve.

Here again: listen to the GOP. Who's asserting he's a loose cannon? While the Dems criticize Dean, they're ready to follow him. What worries the GOP is that Americans will follow him too--and this bodes ill for the jackboots worn by DeLay, Hastert, Bush, and Frist. Dean is a polarizing figure, much like Bush. But that's the evidence of his leadership.

I don't think anyone actually thinks Dean is dishonest. Those who criticize him fear his honesty: in a world of blow-dried, pre-packaged politicians, a guy who speaks his actual thoughts is scary. His inconsistencies arise from not having robotically memorized all talking points. This will be a point of attack for his opponents, but Dean seems like a classic straight-shooter.

Bottom Line
Dean is strong stuff. Like McCain, he may alienate the people he needs to be elected. But despite the constant attacks, he hasn't wavered on a single position, hasn't changed his style or his beliefs.

I'm on the fringe, admittedly. But to Dems who wonder who the best candidate is, I'd say this. Among the top five you've got a group who all have fairly similar views. The trick isn't reading the tea leaves to see which one has the best chance to beat Bush. It's selecting the one who'll go straight at Bush. You want a candidate who's ready to spit in Karl Rove's eye. If we're going to lose the election, let's start winning the political war. Let's build a party. I look at the field, and the choice seems pretty clear to me on that score. Count this Kucitizen in the Dean column.

posted by Jeff | 6:45 PM |
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