More Concerns About Dean At The Top Of The Ticket
The latest "We're scared to have Dean as our nominee" story was run by the New York Times this morning. But in another story in the Post, the concerns of these Democrats seemed to be validated by Dean's behavior and comments in response to criticism he is receiving from his Democratic opponents over Iraq.
The Times story did have valid quotes from some respected Democrats about Dean's ability to win a general election, and the point was made indirectly that one's accomplishment in energizing a base of 500,000 donors and activists is a laudable feat insomuch as it provides dedicated foot soldiers for the fall campaign. But what if in putting together this effort you leave behind the chance to reach beyond that base?
Many leading Democrats say they are uneasy about Howard Dean's candidacy for president and are reluctant to cede him the nomination for fear that his combative style and antiwar stance will leave Democrats vulnerable in November.
They acknowledge that Dr. Dean has run a strategically savvy campaign that has made him the candidate to beat. But their worry has been heightened anew, they say, by Dr. Dean's statement this week that the capture of Saddam Hussein "did not make America safer" and by his suggestion that Saudi Arabia warned President Bush about Sept. 11 even though "I did not believe the theory I was putting out."
There were the usual if valid comments from the DLC crowd:
Senator John B. Breaux of Louisiana, who has long sought to push the Democratic Party to the center, said Dr. Dean's remark about Mr. Hussein's capture was "not the smartest thing to say." Mr. Breaux added, "Most people in my part of the country think the world is indeed safer without a ruthless dictator."
But there were some new comments from the Clinton crowd that also reflected the bipolar nature of the Democratic Party now, between a Clinton pole and a Gore/Dean pole.
Joe Lockhart, who was President Bill Clinton's spokesman in the White House, suggested that Dr. Dean might lack the discipline for a general election campaign. "It's the unplanned, offhand comments that often seem to play a critical role," Mr. Lockhart said, adding, "You've got to be able to become a master of the game, not someone who just rails against the game."
"It's not just Dean, but all of the candidates who ran against the war in Iraq are going to be weakened by the events of the last few days," said Leon Panetta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House. "For Dean in particular, it makes it even more imperative that he has to make an adjustment in terms of his positions so he's not viewed as weak on national security."
Beyond that, Senator Breaux and others said they wondered whether Dr. Dean could broaden his appeal for a general election. They said they were concerned about where he might be taking the party.
As Mr. Panetta said, Dr. Dean's foreign policy speech on Monday was "a beginning," but, he said, he cannot "go back to the politics of anger." He added, "What has happened over the weekend makes the Democratic race much more competitive."
The Dean campaign had hoped that Mr. Gore's endorsement might have put these concerns to rest.
Instead, Mr. Gore's declaration that the Dean candidacy promised to "remake the Democratic Party" highlighted the fissures between President Clinton's carefully structured centrism aimed at the middle and Dr. Dean's aggressive appeals aimed at the Democratic base, especially on the war in Iraq.
A growing part of the concern of party insiders I think stems from the legitimate concerns about how downticket Democrats will fare next year in competitive races with Dean at the top of the ticket. And given Dean's over-the-top charge against his critics yesterday in New Hampshire, they have reason to worry.
Some of the unease reflects anxiety by officials seeking re-election who worry about having to run with an unknown quantity at the top of the ticket. They say the nominating process has been so accelerated that they have little sense of Dr. Dean's political prowess and whether he is suited temperamentally to the challenge of a presidential campaign.
Their unease also reflects a wrenching debate within the Democratic Party about what the party stands for and how it should define itself in the post-Clinton era. Even before Dr. Dean made his comments about domestic policy on Thursday some of the leading centrists of the Clinton years said they were dismayed by his rallying cry that "It's time to take our party back" ó and wonder, From whom?
"I assume he means the people who led it to this disastrous middle where 22 million jobs were created," said Al From, a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, formed to push the party to the center after its landslide defeats in the 1980's.
To Dean supporters, they would offer that a man and campaign that can mobilize over a half-million supporters and raise significant money argues well for how well a Dean led ticket can assist downticket candidates. But at a time when every Senate and House Democrat is precious to the Party's chances of staying within striking distance of filibusters or fending off Tom DeLay, any possibility that Dean would cause these candidates harm or push them to run separately of Dean needs to be contemplated now. It is easy to say that this should not matter as long as the party is running towards it base and reclaiming its natural roots once again with a Dean campaign. But it is also true that there is no reason for the Party to take steps that hastens its own demise either for the sake of ideological purity and anti-Bush anger.
As if to reinforce the concerns of some centrist Democrats that Deanís near-total fixation on the war as the primary justification for a Democratic candidacy next year, Dean himself gave such ammunition yesterday in an appearance in New Hampshire. He attacked his Democratic opponents for supposedly indicating that the capture of Saddam meant we could declare victory in the war on terror.
"For the past four days, the Washington Politics as Usual Club has taken every opportunity for attacks on me and my campaign that go far beyond questioning my position on the war," Dean said in a campaign stop. "The capture of one very bad man does not mean this president and the Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terror."
Huh? Can Dean or his campaign show me one statement from a Democrat or even Bush where they said that Saddamís capture meant we can declare victory in the war on terror? This thin-skinnedness that Dean wears on his sleeve when his opponents dare attack him as the front-runner are lethal for the party's standard-bearer with a fawning media ready to help Bush once again. Furthermore, such behavior and comments from Dean only provides support for what Joe Lockhart said above, which is that Dean's "unplanned and offhand comments" arenít comforting when you move from being the insurgent candidate to being the top-of-the-ticket frontrunner.
And to cap it off, if you decide to take a somewhat imperial attitude towards the media with a "whom are you going to believe, me or the media," only invites that same media to go after you and your quotes even more.
At a news conference after his speech, Dean was asked repeatedly about a Washington Post report that detailed instances in which his comments on a variety of subjects proved to be untrue or misleading. Dean did not address the article's specifics, but said voters can believe him "or they can believe The Washington Post."
The longer Dean stays at the top of the heap and demonstrates such behavior in responding to criticisms from his Democratic and media opponents, the more downticket and party insiders have good reason to fear a Dean-led ticket next November.
Governor Dean, we already have one prima donna political leader at the top in this country, we donít need another running against him. At some point, the Democrats need to seize the opportunity to run an adult of seasoning and temperament against Bush in order to beat him, and being a hothead who casts questionable aspersions against your opponents and then copping an imperial attitude against the media won't cut it next year, no matter how many of your supporters root you on.
Maybe its time for Dean's opponents to hammer hard against these latest comments, make Dean show where anyone said we could now declare a victory in the war on terror, and keep reinforcing the Howard the Hothead image. It's not like Rove won't do the same thing next year.