Howard Dean's Electability
Posted by Mary
Joan Walsh has a very interesting column in Salon about Howard Dean's electability. She's been a Kerry supporter for awhile and has written several articles questioning whether Dean would be capable of beating Bush. But, after a couple of weeks following him around, she no longer believes he isn't electable.
Does all this mean I think Dean can win the nomination and beat Bush? I still have no idea. Although he's leading in key primary states, he still trails at least Lieberman and Kerry, and sometimes Gephardt too, in national polls among Democrats. But the comparisons to Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988 are silly: They were both charisma-impaired party regulars who never really excited the base, let alone captured the mainstream. Dean has the capacity to do both, which doesn't mean he ultimately will. The links to George McGovern strike me as more sound: The South Dakota senator inspired a lefty base but could never catch fire with moderates. But I'd say Dean's already made more inroads with the mainstream than McGovern ever did -- and has the potential to do much more.
It's obvious that she has picked up some of the excitement that Dean and his campaign exhibit from her time with the Deaniacs and with Dean himself. But probably the most interesting thing in this article was her recognition that one of the reasons even people like Donna Brazile are excited: Democrats of all persuasions are looking for a candidate that can beat Bush and right now Dean has tapped into that energy.
The other thing Dean's got going for him is that he seems comfortable in his skin, and that attracts voters of every skin tone. Al Sharpton has reportedly told friends that of all his campaign-trail colleagues, he likes the gray-haired white boy from Vermont. Dean positively flirts with Carol Moseley Braun at debates and other joint appearances. I wouldn't dismiss his ability to attract minority support. "Black voters are pragmatists; they'll support someone who can beat Bush," says Brazile.
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But one thing I know for sure: With Bush's approval rating at its lowest level ever -- down 20 points from just after the first phase of the Iraq war -- it strikes me as crazier than ever that some Democrats are trying to do Karl Rove's work for him, and dismiss the Dean surge as the angry squawking of the party's loud but tiny throwback base.
Not surprisingly, Donna Brazile agrees. "I think Dean has to move beyond his base, attract institutional players, work the mainstream. But his campaign is telling us that the left is going to have a seat at the table again. That's the message to the DLC: Get used to it. Stop saying liberals are no longer good enough for the Democratic Party. Somebody needs to knock 'em a new asshole."
I think this will be a very interesting primary season. What I want to see is the strongest candidate we Democrats can produce with the goal of rescuing our country from the clutches of those neocons who only understand bombs and death. As Walsh reports, even people who haven't committed to Dean think he might be the only one tough enough to beat Bush and to outsmart the Rove machine.
I don't know if Dean will get the nomination or not, but I do know the things I like about him:
- Dean has found a way to energize and focus the base of activists that we will need to get the vote out.
- Dean has found a way to fund his campaign with tens of thousands of "little guys" which I think is the only way that we can combat the Bush war chest. (And besides which, this is the essence of our reclaiming our democracy from the moneyed powers-that-be!)
- Dean has found a way to stand up to the bullying of the Bush administration which I believe is essential if we wish to survive this particular regime.
- Dean has articulated a national defense policy that rejects the flawed and deadly policy that Bush has implemented.
- His campaign has been very open to grassroots ideas. What a concept -- our ideas might make a difference.
I've not yet made up my mind about who I want to support as I worry about who will best beat Bush on national security, but I have to say, if Dean can get elected, I'll be happy to vote for him in 2004. And he just might be better than other "Anyone But Bush" candidates in restarting a national conversation about what our democracy should be like and where we want our country to go.