November 13, 2003
That Damned Dean
I understand the establishment Democrats (registration req’d.) are frightened about Howard Dean possibly becoming the Democratic nominee in 2004. And I agree, there’s a very real chance he could be nominated and get completely Punk’d by Karl Rove, Destroyer of Worlds, eventually dying friendless and alone in a Shaker commune, clutching his Joe Trippi doll.
But come now.
Marvel at the rhetorical contortionism some columnists demonstrate in portraying Howard Dean as the True Emerging Evil of the 2004 elections.
There’s Gregg Easterbrook, in The New Republic, weighing in with an article ominously entitled, “The Dark Side of Small Donors.”
Actual Quote: “But the problem in seeking large numbers of small donations may be that it forces Dean to sell out to everyone.” (Emphasis his. All his.)
Fear the American people! That $77 donation is the price of your soul, Dean!
Welcome to democracy, Gregg. Kindly remove your shoes.
I’ll try to take the next entrant in the Dean wars more seriously.
Except George Will, the aforementioned next entrant, makes it awfully hard. He starts off strong (that’s irony, for those of you playing along at home) with a completely incoherent anecdote about the WWII-era Labor Party in Britain, then launches an equally incoherent attack on campaign finance reform/Howard Dean. He then forces himself into the amusingly awkward position of having to make his argument on the one hand through complete agreement with the words he puts in Dean’s mouth, and on the other hand through denouncing Dean in the severest possible terms (including one reference to — wait for it — Communist Berlin).
I respect Peter Beinart’s argument the most: The Democrats are looking to close a conversation about race, to get people to see beyond it, not to open one up. But Beinart’s loathing for Dean will not allow him to get away with sticking to that one, controversial-but-completely-defensible thesis.
Right when the article should end, Beinart succumbs to temptation, with the words, “Dean’s problem … “
Then he launches into the tale of woe about how Dean’s foreign policy stance and support for gay civil unions will destroy him with Southern voters. He sort of haltingly acknowledges that all the Democrats face these problems, but tries to excuse himself by explaining that it’s all a matter of degree, that “while Republicans will try to hang the issue around the neck of any Democrat, Dean … is the most vulnerable.”
Beinart’s difficulties show most clearly in this Actual Quote: “In Georgia in 2002, Vietnam veteran and triple-amputee Max Cleland couldn’t overcome his party’s September 11, 2001, problem and appeal to Southern whites on health care and education. If he failed, how can Dean possibly succeed?”
Substitute “Dean” for “Clark” or “Gephardt” or “Edwards” or any other pretty little word you can come up with in that sentence, Mr. B. They all make just as much sense.
Any Democrat has a long, hard slog in ‘04. Winning at this point would be a matter of making sure Bush’s slog is longer and harder. If libs are already framing the battle in purely defensive terms, they’ve already lost.