Thursday, September 11, 2003

An Analysis of Electability and National Security

I have maintained for some time that Dean's stance on the Iraq war, far from the prognostications of other political analysts, makes him the most electable of the current crop of Democratic candidates. Perhaps I can illustrate why I believe this with a simple that matches possible outcomes of the Iraq War with the stance of the candidate on that war.

For the purposes of this illustration, when I say that "the war is going well" I mean that, in the eyes of the American electorate, the situation in Iraq appears to be going well. In other words, the reality of whether things are going well or not is not as important as the perception of the voters when they enter the voting booth.

  War is going well War is going badly
Candidate supported war George Bush will get credit for a positive outcome no matter whether he deserves it or not. Rove is media savvy enough to pretty much ensure this. Bush's opponent will, at best, be able to say "I supported it also but I'll be better on domestic issues". If national security is a primary concern next Fall (and Rove will make sure that it is in this case) than most swing voters will look at this and say, "Why should I vote for the 'me to' candidate when I can vote for the guy who has already proven himself to be successful?

Assessment: Likely Bush win.

George Bush will be striving hard  to avoid blame for the problems. He and Rove will have to pull out every stop to keep him from getting hurt on this. However, his opponent will have difficulty using this issue against him because many people will view his criticism and say, "Well, if it was such a bad idea, why did you support it in the first place?" The Democrat might be able to sell the, "He lied to me like he lied to you defense" on this matter. But that's a pretty weak argument for saying you should be put in charge. If you can be fooled on this what's to say you can't be fooled on other matters?

Assessment: Toss-up.

Candidate opposed war This will be a very difficult sell for the candidate. If Bush is riding high on national security then the economy would really have to tanking bad in order for his opponent to gain any traction. And even then it will be difficult to counter the impression that you were simply wrong on the most vital issue facing the country and should therefore not be trusted with the reigns of power.

Assessment: Even more likely Bush win.

George will be running and hiding from the "I told you so" attack. His opponent might still be attacked for being weak because of an apparent unwillingness to commit forces. But the failures in Iraq will be a daily reminder to the American people that maybe we should be more cautious in our military commitments. The "weak on defense" argument will look pretty weak under these conditions.

Assessment: Good chance of a Democratic Win

The above is, of course, a simplified view of what might happen. For instance, the public's assessment of the Iraq War might be undecided at the time of the election, which means it will be counted as neither a win or a loss for George. In that case the economy really would become the #1 issue and Bush will likely suffer in that area.

I hope you can see from this why I think Dean is the most electable candidate when it comes to the question of national security. If the war in Iraq goes well for Bush then I don't think ANY of the current field of candidates could stand a chance against Bush when it comes to the question of who can best defend the American people. But, if the war goes bad (as it appears to be doing), than Dean will be in the best position of all the candidates to make a principled argument for a credible alternative to Bush's cowboy diplomacy.

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