Thursday, January 22, 2004

Dionne on Dean: Here's an interesting theory, from E.J. Dionne:
Howard Dean was exactly what the Democratic Party needed -- last year . . . What Democrats needed after their disastrous losses in the 2002 election was a backbone transplant. The party's rank and file were clamoring for less timidity in confronting George W. Bush . . . The good doctor Dean answered the need and he soared. What he did not count on is that Democratic presidential candidates are a teachable species. They made adjustments. So did the voters.
Dionne implies several things here. First, that liberal anger has awoken to the possibility that losing with the anger candidate might be less satisfying than winning with a compromise candidate. Granted, all of the candidates are mouthing the words necessary to woo Dean supporters. (Hell, for that matter, Dean himself was mouthing the words.) But the fact is that, among Clark, Kerry, Edwards, and Lieberman, there were four candidates who supported the war (and three on record as voting that way), and one who boasted that he helped write the Patriot Act. Does Iowa show that we're well into compromise territory?

Second, Dionne implies that the war, as fait accompli, is off the table now. Even Howard Dean, at one point, acknowledged that pulling out of Iraq is not an option. The standard Dem line now is "We're in it, so let's win it." We can debate to what extent the UN should be involved in Iraq ("Not at all" seems to be the current UN answer), but there isn't much difference in Iraq policy at this point between Bush and any of the leading Democrats.

This seems, on the surface, to be as good an explanation as any for why Dean lost Iowa. Democrats hate Dubya, yes; but they hate being out of power more. I'd also submit that early polling in Iowa was unreliable, and that Dean's army flaked out on caucus day. (I mean, honestly: You're a 19-year-old college kid, and you're going to go sit in somebody's living room for four hours while farmers and teamsters and bunches of "petit bourgeoisie" gab on about dental plans and day care costs? Nope. It's just not as glamorous as going to a "die-in" and not as easy as simply pulling the lever in the school gymnasium.) The real test will be in the last N.H. debate. See if Dean modulates or moderates at all. The polls so far aren't rewarding kookiness; watch for him to play it straight, to sound sober (!) and responsible. Meanwhile, Kerry is the frontrunner. He's trying to deny this, because he knows that makes him a target. He may get a pass for New Hampshire, since his momentum is new and the race is short -- after that, media physics kicks in again and Kerry will likely become the whipping boy. If Kerry wins next week, Edwards may be in the best position turning south. A strong showing in Iowa and a second or strong third in N.H. will send him south as the real underdog, but with the home field advantage.

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