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

Thursday, January 29, 2004  

In the interest of clear-eyed, unflinching journalism (which I've never had an interest in before), I must now note with shock how badly Dean has managed his campaign. Tapped pours salt into the doctor's wounds:

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Dean campaign has blown through all but $5 million of the $40 million it raised last year. With no public funds forthcoming and fundraisers cancelling events after the Iowa loss, keeping the campaign going means keeping the fundraisers on board.

More from Tapped:

In any case, none of this has to do with Trippi. Tactically and strategically, Trippi ran a brilliant campaign. He turned Dean from a dark horse into a frontrunner, and in doing so, changed politics forever, whether or not Dean wins. And it's especially odd that Dean would hire Neel as a replacement. Neel, a former Gore aide, is a classic K Street Democrat, a Beltway insider with a thriving career lobbying for the telecom industry. Those of Dean's hard-core supporters who aren't disillusioned by Trippi's firing will probably will be by Neel's hiring. More to the point, Neel's one of the guys who was in charge of Gore's lackluster 2004 campaign. How many more chances do these guys get?

Nick Confessore, who wrote that last bit, hints at the broader problem at the Dean campaign: what's Dean standing for?

Under Trippi, he was the populist from the "Democratic wing of the Party," a man who made his own decisions and charted his own course, focus groups be damned. I felt that those who saw contradictions between this Dean and the staid Montpelier politician just weren't looking hard enough. Whatever his personality, after his tenure as governor, Vermont was a decidedly more progressive place than when he found it. I compared his results to my home state's (Oregon), where a fiery liberal MD ran the state over the same period. Despite great politics, at the end of his two terms, Oregon was near fiscal collapse, his own healthcare system was dying on the vine, and the state was far less progressive. So I gave Dean some latitude.

But where's independent Dean? Where's the guy who's running on a vision for America, not a personal history of moth-eaten accomplishments? Where's the unconflicted populist who knows his course, focus groups be damned? Yesterday on an interview with NPR, Dean failed to offer any vision at all. Bob Edwards asked him a silly slate of questions befitting a political analyst, not a candidate, but Dean was surly and uncommunicative. Offered the opportunity to describe why voters thought Kerry was more electable, Dean dismissed the question. (How about: "John Kerry is a national hero. His service to the country should make every American proud and thankful. But this election can't be about a person's resume, it has to be about a vision for America. If we're going to beat George Bush, we need a leader with a strong vision who can take us into a new era of peace and prosperity. John Kerry is a wonderful man, but I'm the candidate with the vision.")

Instead, Dean fires his biggest asset, the one guy who seemed to sense--literally a year before the rest of the country--what the electorate would want in 2004. We had a guy with a great resume last time, and we yawned. Dean was poised to capture that latent desire among most Americans to see real change, to hear a new hopeful vision. Even with losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean was in the position to make the argument. Firing Trippi and hiring Gore's man Neel seems to indicate that for Dean, maybe the charting-your-own-course rhetoric was focus grouped. Dean's appeal was his independence. Either he finds it damn quick and proves it on the campaign trail, or he'll lose even his ardent supporters. And with them, of course, the election.

posted by Jeff | 9:16 AM |
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