Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Best of times. Worst of times.

I've had one of those up and down kind of days. Specifically because of the changing fortunes of the Dean campaign. I am up because I think he was superb in yesterday's debate and because he seemed to get a lot of positive press from it. I'm also up because I think he has handled the whole "evenhandedness" flap very well so far.

However, I am down for two other reasons: (1) the re-emergence of the Democratic Circular Firing Squad in the form of Nancy Pelosi and other congress critters circulating a memo that sides with Joe Lieberman's scurrilous characterization of Dean's opinion as somehow anti-Israel and (2) Dean's serious misstep in trying to lay claim to the mantle of being the only candidate who talks to white audiences about race.

I could talk about the first problem but really I need to deal with the second because it is the first time I have really been disappointed in Dean. Put simply, he blew it. By making a stupid claim like that he has exposed himself to a lot of trouble he and we don't need right now. Furthermore, it sounds like he's not confronting his mistake head on like he has with past mistakes and is instead trying to brush off the criticism. Apparently he has claimed that he has said this before and no one complained then. That won't cut it I'm afraid.

On top of all that Dean has ruined what used to be a really good stump line for him. I've heard him use the "white politicians need to talk to white audiences about race" line before. But then he did it in a general sense without claiming any special status for himself. By doing so at last nights debate he plays into the arrogance meme that is forming around him. That could be particularly dangerous given how claims of "arrogance" were handled by the media in the last election.

I think Dean needs to make amends for this and do it quickly. He needs to acknowledge that he misspoke when he tried to claim exclusive credit for broadening the racial dialog with white audiences. He needs to acknowledge, indeed he should praise the other candidates for the good work they have done.

The damage is already done. But Dean has demonstrated a skill in the past when it comes to recovering from mistakes. Some of them have even worked to his advantage (making mistakes adds to the "plain-speaking" image).

I just hope he can do the same this time.

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