Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Inspiring America

David Kusnet has a rather glowing review of Howard Dean's announcement speech from yesterday. He makes the point that Dean has elevated his message from being a simple attack on Bush and on his rivals for not fighting back enough to one that inspires people to believe that they can achieve something better than what is currently being offered to them.
Gone were the attacks on his Washington-based opponents and the claims that, as a physician and former governor, he understands health care and other domestic issues better than anyone else. Instead, Dean offered himself as the champion of everyday Americans who have lost their retirement savings and are in danger of losing their jobs and health coverage, to boot, but worry most that they are losing American democracy to wealthy special interests and secretive preemptive warriors.
I think this is a message that really can resonate. I commented previously that the Democrats have lost the moral argument in American politics and have become to focused on issue politics. Dean, with this speech, has reclaimed the moral standard for the Democratic party.
In his only boast about his accomplishments in state government, Dean expressed his pride in "Vermont, where we balanced our budgets [and] made sure that every child had health coverage." But he devoted more time to quoting the nation's founders, including John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, and even a founder of the Massachusetts colony, John Winthrop. All were cited as believers in a citizenry who govern themselves, care for each other, and don't dream of imposing their will on the world. Making a conservative argument against world empire, Dean recalled, "Our founders implored that we were not to be the new Rome. We were not to conquer and suppress other nations. . . . We were to inspire them."
It's not just a simple matter of whether one is for or against the war on Iraq, cutting taxes or universal health coverage. It is whether one is for an America that hammers on those who disagree with us or an America that tries to change the world by "inspiring" everyone to do better. I think Dean said it best in his speech when he said that America has to be more than just "might makes right". It has to be both "might AND right".
While one speech doesn't define a campaign, Dean's announcement can rescue him from being the latest in a line of losing Democratic candidates whose appeal was based on their being intellectually and morally superior to their rivals and, implicitly, their fellow citizens as well. Starting out as refreshingly free from political cant, Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas, Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson all ended up appealing to affluent voters who saw politics as an expression of their cultural identities, not a way to improve their own lives and others'. With this announcement speech, Dean has the opportunity to reverse his predecessors' path and inspire at least a segment of those discontented voters whom he gracefully admits understand the nation's problems better than he did when he began his campaign.
I have been complaining for years that our "leaders" don't seem to understand just how pissed off and frustrated we have become. We keep trying to tell them this, but they just don't seem to listen. Dean set out on his campaign to push a few select agenda points. But in the course of his campaign he discovered that there was a more fundamental problem, a heart-sickness that was eating away at the American soul. It is to his credit that he recognized this problem and adjusted his campaign to address it. It is also to his credit that HE gives the credit for this change to the people he has talked to.


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