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

Tuesday, February 17, 2004  

Although I have no credibility on the issue anymore, I nevertheless have a few thoughts about Howard Dean. In the event that he doesn't win Wisconsin today, he will be presented with a valuable opportunity. It won't seem like it to a man who felt he was a whisker away from the White House. But if he steps back and looks at the situation, he might realize his role as an outsider is far more valuable than as an insider (one could reasonably call that the central lesson of his campaign).

When Dean first decided to run, he had no earthly reason to believe he would become a viable candidate (though no doubt that was his aim). The freedom of running from way outside allowed him the objectivity to judge the country's situation, the electorate's wishes, and his own strategy. Like Dylan said, "when you got nothin,' you got nothin' to lose." So he reached out and found a vast group of educated, wired Americans who were feeling revolutionary. Thus a serious candidacy was born.

The nerve to throw his lot in with revolutionaries catalyzed the party--but also freaked it out. Revolutionaries are groovy and all, but it's the stable old-timers who tend to see you through when things get tough. Dean's major failing was that he kept talking revolution too long; staid Iowans and flinty New Hampshirians, presented with the task of defeating Bush, looked at the revolutionary approach and blinked. The debacles that followed--Dean throwing in with Neel and old, decidedly non-revolutionary Dems--were too late and too desperate to win back the moderates.

So Dean is essentially back where he started, but with some surprising gains. Kerry may win, but the party looks far different--it is safe now to talk revolution, to take the fight to Bush, and to quit genuflecting to Reaganism. (Man, am I glad about that last one--if I had to endure another election where the Democrat expounded the virtues of self-reliance and corporate cronyism, I think I'd move to Canada.) Even with a Kerry victory, it is Dean who commands the revolutionary army.

If he wants to continue to remake the Democratic Party, he must face reality and step away from the race. His opportunity is in showing that politics isn't just about political races--it's about ideas and coalitions. Stepping aside now and cheerfully supporting the nominee would put Dean in the position to continue to demand Democrats act like Democrats. He can show that there's more to offer a party than candidacy and act as an example to all his supporters who will now wonder what they should do. Setting the party's agenda, crafting policy solutions--that's where the real power is. That's where real change begins. It's also absolutely critical in rebuilding the party from the ground up; Kerry may win the election, but Deaniacs could actually seize the party from the DLC.

Dean was an outsider when he started, and he showed how powerful that can be. If he loses in Wisconsin, he'll be an outsider again. The decision about how to use that position is up to him.

posted by Jeff | 8:08 AM |
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