Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Electability AGAIN!

Kevin Drums weighs in on the electability question:

So while I realize that obsessing about Dean's electability can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — and it's also the fastest way I know to start a comment war — I have to say it: I think Dean is unelectable. Without going into tedious detail, just try to imagine that it's April and the $200 million attack machine has geared up. And think about what the ads are going to look like, especially to moderates who aren't true believers in the Dean phenomenon already. (Go ahead: use your imagination. And try to be brutally realistic.) To me, they look devastating. I know it's not fair, but this election isn't going to have anything to do with fairness.

Here's my beef with the whole "electability" thing: it appears to be based purely on the question of resume rather than actual political ability. Dean may look like an easier target to attack than Clark, on paper. But that only tells part of the story. If you focus on just where the candidates are vulnerable to attack you miss the bigger picture of how they respond when they are attacked!

I've been saying for months that resumes are just pieces of paper, they have no predictive value when it comes to electoral success (otherwise Bush would have been laughed out of the voting booth). Give me a strong campaigner over a strong resume any day.

So far Dean has proven himself to be a strong campaigner. Not perfect, but certainly better than the competition by a long shot. Clark has been iffy on this front (I'd actually rate Gephardt above Clark) and Clark has yet to really tested under fire. Dean has had to deal with multiple hard attacks on him and each and every time he has come out of the attacks stronger than when he went in.

That to me is the surest sign of a winning candidate.

Democrats have got to stop playing defense all the time. It just makes them look like wimps. If Clark's candidacy is based primarily on the "he can't be attacked on this, this, and that" than he won't be able to deal with it when he inevitably is attacked on "this, this, and that". It is naive in the extreme to think that any Democrat can be made immune from those attacks.

I've had this as an open challenge to supporters of other candidates: name an issue that could be used against Dean that their candidate is immune from.

The war? Clark opposes it as well. But at least Dean's opposition was clear and unequivocal from the beginning whereas Clark's has only recently gelled into a consistent "I'm against it".

Homosexuality? All of the Democrats support the idea of civil unions. Clark has publicly argued for a re-evaluation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". This will be an attack point by the GOP in the 2004 election and none of the current candidates are immune from this attack. Dean at least has the advantage of actually having to deal with the issue through a complete legislative cycle so he knows what to expect when the battle will be joined (remember he had to go around wearing a bullet-proof vest for several months).

Taxes? Yes, Dean has called for more than most of the other leading candidates. But I hate to be the bearer of bad news folks but all Democrats will be tagged with the "wants to raise your taxes" smear regardless of what their actual position is. At least Dean's position has the merit of actually sounding like it is based more on principle than a political calculation that he can get away with asking for just some new taxes. As long as the Democrats continue to run from this issue they will continue to lose over and over and over again.

I am not going to say that Dean will have an easy time of it. Hell, Clark could yet demonstrate that he is up to the challenge. Gephardt has certainly proven better on the campaign trail than I expected (while Kerry and Edwards have proven to be far worse). But, as of now, Dean is still the most promising candidate where it counts: real world results.

I want a winner and Dean is a winner.

 

P.S., I just want to say that I am really glad this debate is happening now. We need to shake these things out now if we are to avoid some serious internecine battles within the Democratic ranks in the months leading up to the nomination. The thing I most want to avoid is the kind of doom-and-gloom talk we are hearing now popping up during the course of the campaign. No matter who wins the nomination in the end it will do none of us any good if the news cycle becomes dominated by stories of Democrats rebelling against their nominee.

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