December 24, 2003


Diary Of A Dean-o-phobe (Jonathan Chait,, 12/23/03).

Now, today the Democrats have a somewhat different set of political vulnerabilities. The old one about raising taxes on the middle class remains. But the September 11 attacks, and Bush's political fortune in having held office when they occurred, have reopened the national security divide. And the Clinton sex scandals, combined with Bush's skill in passing himself off as a regular, God-fearing country boy, have opened a large cultural gap between the parties. In order to win the White House, Democrats have to show they're tough on terror and not allow themselves be typecast as arrogant or morally permissive, which is how Republicans painted Gore. This requires them to put some emotional distance between their nominee and the hard-core socially liberal, antiwar base. The concessions it requires are less substantive than symbolic.
Diary of a Dean-o-phobe is must reading for conservatives. Not only is it well-written and devastating analysis of Howard Dean by the king of the haters, Jonathan Chait, which will come in handy in the future, but how often do we get to see our adversaries form a circular firing squad? Because Chait is a talented analyst and because he is caught firmly between his fear of Dean and his hatred of Bush, he is giving birth today to the future of the Democratic party.

What Chait brings home is that a complete house cleaning of the Democratic party is way overdue. It should have had one after 1972, but Watergate intervened and Democrats mistook disgust with Nixon as love of themselves. After the 1988 debacle, the party did get serious about nominating a more nearly centrist presidential candidate who was able to win with a plurality of the vote. Again this qualified success allowed the party to forestall the necessary reorganization the presidential level, despite its terrible record in Congress and the states during the '90s. When Al Gore felt that left-centrism wasn't quite working for him, his natural instinct to curry immediate applause led him left at the nominating convention. Now, with all the appropriate caveats, the party is facing the possibility of a blowout in presidential and congressional races. (Barring disaster, the Democrats have no chance of retaking the House this decade.) As luck would have it, Jonathan Chait is blazing today the road the party as a whole will have to travel in a year.

If this is right, then things are looking good for the Republicans. Chait's answer seems to be that Dean is a predictable and avoidable dissaster, not because his policies are wrong but because the way he presents them and his own failings make him unelectable. That's fine as far as it goes, but it is no rallying call for remaking the Democratic party. Even worse (or better, from my point of view), his explanation of W's success is that any idiot, being President on 9/11, would be all but unbeatable. No need there for Democratic soulsearching.

The Democratic party is a car speeding towards a cliff while the wheels are falling off. The driver counts himself lucky, because the wheels falling off will probably stop the car before it reaches the cliff. One guy in the back, ignored by everyone else, is suggesting they might want to consider stepping on the brake, just in case, but, still, he's pretty sure that's not really a cliff.

(Not that Chait's dismissal of W isn't annoying in the same way it's annoying when a favorite artist, who's artistry is so practiced as to look natural, is undervalued because of that very fluency. Here is a president who has at least three times staked his presidency on succeeding where success was not assured, and who has won each time.)

MORE (from OJ):
Washington Goes to War (with Howard Dean) (Eric Alterman, January 12, 2004, The Nation)

[T]he question of the Democratic nomination has come down to this: Will this election be about turning out your base, or winning over swing voters? Gore did the latter but not the former. He won the election, but, thanks to Ralph Nader's megalomania (with an assist from the SCLM--So-Called Liberal Media--and Gore's own crappy campaign), not by enough to prevent the Supreme Court from handing it to Bush. Today, the nation remains no less divided than four years ago, with about 20 percent of the vote up for grabs. The punditocracy has chosen its side. Perhaps it's time the rest of us choose ours.

Hard to imagine that you could fit more delusions into one paragraph, but far the most dangerous one for Democrats is that this remains an evenly divided nation and an election up for grabs. In fact, "the question of the Democratic nomination has come down to this", as David suggests above: do they go with Dean and just destroy the Party, then start over again? or if they pick someone safer like Gephardt do they get crushed and destroy the party anyway--because the Deaniacs take a walk. There is no choice where they keep the race competitive, but is there a way to preserve the Democratic Party as a viable option? Probably the only one who could do so is Herself.

Posted by David Cohen at December 24, 2003 2:16 PM

How would you like belonging to a Party that would owe its viability (and would thus, be owned lock, syock, and barrel for a generation) to...Herself?

Posted by: MG at December 24, 2003 5:09 PM

Will Dean go green if thwarted by the Clintonistas? Why not? He'll have nothing to lose.

I dream of Deanie as the light green heir!

Posted by: Genecis at December 24, 2003 5:42 PM

Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology by Lee Harris describes how we are in a war with an enemy whose actions make no sense when examined with logic. It now seems, based onthe two articles cited, that the Democrats have decided to base their domestic campaign on fantasies also-- that Bush is lucky and that there's a silent majority of Liberal Leftists who will rise up and "take back" their country.

In both cases, believers in those fantasies will do a lot of damage before reality will intrude. The real danger is how the Liberal Left Democrats react to a devastating loss next year. Based on their own words and their sheer nastiness, I can see a large contingent of them "going underground" and resorting to non-political means to acheive their utopian goals rather than admitting that they were wrong. (I figure the only reason we haven't had someone try a Squeaky Fromme or Sara Jane Moore is that they are still all talk and no action. )

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 24, 2003 5:57 PM

There are two different groups who hate Bush and who have been opposed to the war on terror in general, those who just hate all things America, period, and those who like Chait, just hate the fact that the successes since 9/11 have occurred under a Republican administration.

The former group, which went after Clinton at the World Economic Forum in Seattle in 1999, is in some ways more admirable -- they're moonbats, but they're ideologically pure moonbats, who probably would be holding up death's head images with U.S. flags on signs at some summit a few years into a Howard Dean administration. The latter group is more calculating, and over the past 18 months have treated the war on terror and the lead up to and post-war actions in Iraq as just another political game, like the battle over prescription drugs or a D.C. Circuit Court judicial nominee.

Chait says Al Gore would have received the same boost post-9/11 that Bush has gotten (though a Gore Administration, full of Clinton holdovers, would have had to explain why they had been in office for 8 1/2 years since the original WTC attack and did nothing, a problem Bush didn't have to deal with). But what neither he nor Alterman want to say is they would have been among the main boosters in the punditocracy of an Al Gore war on terror, instead of being among the main detrators of George W. Bush's war against the same people. To them the effect of the terror threat on U.S. presidential poll numbers is as important as its effect on the life and death of U.S. citizens.

Posted by: John at December 24, 2003 7:12 PM

Nice point, John.

After 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, I assumed that a Gore administration would have done the same; that it was a no-brainer. Now, however, I'm not so sure. I think there's a good chance that a Gore administration would have given us some claptrap about how Afghanistan is where armies go to die (remember the British, remember the Russians), and this calls for police tactics, and this was the bad Osama, not that nice Taliban gent, and in the end would have talked itself into launching a few missiles, declaring victory and coming home.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 24, 2003 7:19 PM

Gore would have faced terrible choices - he would have had the same Congressional mandate that Bush got (even with a GOP majority), but he would have had to make decisions that are opposed to his internal gearing every step of the way.

I just do not believe that a Democrat can make the decision to kill America's enemies anymore. That is why so many want to cede decisions on war to the UN. They can take the diplomatic high road and avoid fulfilling the oath. That is what it comes down to for Dean, Kerry, Edwards, Clark, not to mention the mini-echoes. Even Gephardt and Lieberman would be tangled up in Paris before putting force on the ground. And the war on terror cannot be fought from 15,000 ft.

I think David is right, and Gore would have taken the Bill Maher route.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 24, 2003 9:37 PM