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Dean Does It

Dec
1
2003

About a week ago, longer if you consider deadlines, conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote an important essay on the Howard Dean campaign for the Sunday Times of London.
Sullivan, a conservative who positively loves George Bush, took a look at Dean’s campaign and pronounced it viable, vital, even – and I don’t want to go overboard here – uh, exciting. This isn’t the “bring it on” thinking of the Bush administration which has said – perhaps a little too loudly – that it wants to run against Dean because Dean can be beaten. And it’s not the condescension of the Democratic establishment, which dismissed Dean using almost the same words until, of course, he started raising more money then their tow-headed boys.
No, Sullivan is taking Dean seriously. He’s not saying anything different from what columnists like Dan Gillmor have said. But he’s saying it to a very different audience.
That in itself is interesting. Particularly when you take a look at the coverage Dean has been getting as it’s become very clear (to anyone who is not Sen. John Kerry) that Dean is almost certain to get the nomination. Dean seems to be moving slowly but surely to the right. He may have started out as an anti-war McGovernite. These days, he’s looking more like a shorter version of Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. In today’s LATimes, Dean’s an arm-twisting fiscal centrist. This on the same day that ABC’s The Note starts referring to the “Stop Dean” movement within the Democratic Party. Hmmmmm. Nice timing, eh? Things keep going like this and we’re going to have an election between a “compassionate” conservative and a hard-nosed practical Democrat. And, well, you know, that’s not exactly a recipe for a Democratic Party Debacle, particularly if Dean leverages his web savvy into an appeal to new tech rich “Progressive Liberatarians” who are just starting their forays into national (and California) politics.
The same dilemma facing Dean is simmering just below the surface here in the San Francisco election where a virtuous Lefty is taking on a reform-minded moderate Democrat. And should Matt Gonzalez win the San Francisco’s mayor’s race there will be a new, very strong validity to his claim that his ideas and his Green Party ideology is better than centrist Democrat Gavin Newsom.
Like San Francisco Lefties, the national Democratic party, still thinks it’s the party of the majority. So it’s not held back as it launches a war with itself. Earlier this month in The New Republic, Ryan Lizza talked about just how badly Democrats want to stop Dean because he’s not one of them, he’s not in the club (the free link is via Daily Kos where there’s also some discussion). Sullivan, too, makes a passing reference to the Democratic party’s unwillingness to forsake its traditional funding base – one even Democrats think of as corrupting – as evidence of just how much strength Dean has in the field.
Many Democrats think they can rely on their past as the party of the poor, the downtrodden, the working class, minorities and the disadvantaged means to talk the talk. But they don’t have to walk the walk – not really since Bill Clinton’s corporate-friendly, triangulating administration swept into Washington on a magic carpet of unattractive (and ultimately foolish) moral outrage. With Clinton as their leader, the Democrats have become hollow parodies of what they once espoused. They believe that saying you’re a liberal is good enough to guarantee that your ideas, your policies, your politics will be seen as somehow morally superior. And since much of this country’s literate establishment supports that talk – we all like to think of ourselves as virtuous — it’s turned into a circle of the same voices making the same speeches to the same bunch of cheering, nodding, disgruntled and newly powerless Liberals.
Everyone knows this, particularly people who are not in New York and Washington. That’s why Howard Dean’s message is effective and welcome. He’s saying someting new, something attractive, telling people something they haven’t heard in a long time: that he shares their own frustration with a culture that’s run by a small group of people on the Left and the Right who don’t care much for anything else besides the sound of their own voices. What Dean says may not be the truth – it rarely is in politics, and let’s be clear, Howard Dean is a smart and savvy politician – but it’s as close to honesty as you’re likely to see on national television these days.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 2:05 PM | Permalink

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