Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Comparing numbers

Some interesting stats I got from a poster over on dKos (haven't confirmed them yet):

Clinton Q3 to Q4 1995: down 36%.
Gore Q3 to Q4 1999: down 44.5%.
Dean Q3 to Q4 2003: up 2% (and not done yet).

So if anyone says that Dean is stalling because he just barely managed to beat his Q3 numbers be prepared to smack them across the face with these stats.

Tempest in a teapot

I've come to the conclusion that most of the heated rhetoric about Howard Dean is actually coming from a fairly small, but vocal, minority within the Democratic ranks. Most of it is coming either form his opponents or people who have already declared their support for those opponents. I have seen little evidence that Dean is as divisive within the remainder of the Democratic establishment or the rank-n-file as some would like us to believe.

I made this point before and I think it needs to be re-iterated: just because that small group is making a lot of noise now does not mean that the Democratic party is in an uproar about the possibility of a Dean nomination. Dean's favorable to unfavorable ratios remain among the highest if not the highest in polls of all the early primary states and these are the opinions of people who have had the most exposure to Dean.

"Dean is divisive" may be just another media myth created and promulgated in order to make the race more exciting ("let's you and him fight") or divide Democrats against themselves ("good work Karl!")

The principal behind The Pledge remains: don't let our support for one candidate blind us to the disinformation designed to get us fighting amongst ourselves. Fight the disinformation. Fight the real enemy. Don't fight your friends just because they have come to a different conclusion than you have. We will all need each others support before this is over.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

It comes down to this

Dean supporters think their candidate is the best capable of short-circuiting the Republican plan to stereotype the Democratic nominee.

Clark supporters think their candidate is the best capable of short-circuiting the Republican plan to stereotype the Democratic nominee.

The good thing in this is that both camps understand that the basic plan of the Republicans is to run against a stereotype, not against whoever actually gets nominated.

As long as the supporters of either candidate don't presume that there is anything about their guy that automatically immunizes them from such attacks then I think either one of them can win.

They just have different strategies for doing it and none of us can really say whether either strategy has a better chance of working.

Hell, it's possible that neither strategy will work.

As long as we don't insult each other for favoring one strategy over another than we shouldn't have problems re-uniting after the primaries are over. It's when we start labeling the followers of a different strategy as "idiots" that the Republicans begin to cackle with glee. That's what we have to watch out for.

The West Wing Sphincter Meter just jumped

Ashcroft Recuses Self From CIA Leak Probe

WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Ashcroft will recuse himself from an investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative, Justice Department sources said Tuesday.

The investigation will be headed by the U.S. attorney in Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald, who will report to Ashcroft's new deputy, James Comey, the officials said. It was not immediately clear why Ashcroft made the decision.

Investigators want to know who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer, to syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July. Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who has said he believes his wife's identity was disclosed to discredit his assertions that the Bush administration exaggerated Iraq's nuclear capabilities to build the case for war.

The leaker could be charged with a felony if identified.

Patrick Fitzgerald is apparently the prosecutor who is currently going after former Gov. George Ryan. Don't know anything else about him yet.

More news here.

More on Fitzgerald here.

Dean vs. Clark

Go here for an insightful analysis from Sterling Newberry of the coming Dean vs. Clark race for the Democratic nomination.

I was especially taken with Sterling's points on the thinking of some Democratic party insiders. Their opposition to Dean is not so much a matter of whether they think he can or cannot beat Bush but rather what impact his nomination will have on down-ticket elections, especially the five open Democratic Senate seats in the South. There is the feeling that of the two, Dean or Clark, Clark is the one who gives them the best chance of retaining those seats, regardless of whether Clark has any chance of beating Bush. So the political calculus may be to write off the White House and hope for the best in the Senate.

If this is so, and I think it is, than it is yet another demonstration of the loser strategy that has dominated Democratic political thinking for the last couple of election cycles: play defense, staunch our wounds, don't risk making things worse and hope for the best in the future. The reason this is a loser strategy is because it almost inevitably leads to the very things it is defined to defend against: Democrats are increasingly seen as wimps, they  lose more power and their future prospects become dimmer and dimmer.

Dean may not be the figure that leads the Democrats out of the wilderness. But until someone actually tries to do it the best the Democrats can hope for is to not walk even farther into the gloom.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Don't get to worked up

Kos quotes this interesting column by Political scientist Thomas Schaller that points out that the vast majority of super-delegates (typically party officials who can decide on their own which candidate to support) tend to remain uncommitted until it is clear who is winning the primaries and caucuses. As I read this it occurred to me that it is important for Dean supporters not to blow the size of the opposition to Dean within the party out of proportion. No doubt there is such an opposition. But a large part of it is made up of people who have already committed themselves to one of the other candidates. And the size of that opposition is not necessarily reflected in its loudness.

If we were to treat all the leadership as being in the same anti-Dean camp we could easily drive them away from ever giving 100% of their support to Dean if and when he gets the nomination. That would be bad.

Just something to keep in mind.

My greatest fear

Garance Franke-Ruta recapitulates my greatest fear:

My fear for the Democratic Party is not that Dean will divide the party, but that the leaders of the DLC -- many of whose policy ideas folks around these halls are intrigued by or agree with, by the way -- and certain other nodes for un-elected party leaders already have so much invested in their anti-Dean agenda that they won't be able to come around if he wins the nomination.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Dean said something today

Received the following today on one of the Dean mailing lists I subscribe to:

~ NEWS FLASH ~

The press announced today that Howard Dean said something again!

Republicans as well as some presidential Democratic hopefuls are equally outraged and appalled that Dean would actually say something again. This after he just said something again yesterday!

"Doesn't he know that he's only hurting himself every time he says something again?" Said one Republican Congressman. "By saying something again, Howard Dean has shown that he is unelectable", said several political pundits on cable news.

Clark, Gephardt, Kerry and Lieberman all agreed that Howard Dean should stop attacking the other Democratic candidates by saying something again.

When asked to elaborate, Clark referred all inquiries to his aid Mary. Kerry however responded immediately and said that now that Howard Dean has said something again, he was going to say something too. Lieberman was quoted as saying "Dean is in a spiderhole of denial if he thinks that he can get away with saying something again." When Gephardt was questioned directly, he said "I have boots on the ground in Iowa just in case Dean decides to say something again tomorrow."

Trolls on Howard Dean's web site are calling Howard Dean a liar and lacking in leadership for saying something again.

However, Howard Dean's popularity continues to rise at a quickening pace and so does the contributions to his campaign. Once again, Howard Dean is not hurt by saying something again!

Stand by your agenda

A poster on Table Talk named Ox had a superb point that I want to repeat:

Dean says that when we hold up the Democratic agenda for America against the Republican agenda, the Democratic agenda wins every time. All I see him doing is holding up the Democratic agenda. The question I have, which is just a variation on Mary's last post, is do we believe in our agenda for America or don't we?

When a party's leaders publicly raise questions about whether the party's agenda will appeal to the American people the underlying message is that those leaders don't believe in that agenda. The voters then have to ask themselves, "If they don't believe in their agenda, why should I?"

That's what Dean meant when he talked about representing the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. It's not a  statement of advocacy for leftism but a statement that he believes the Democratic party is simply, fundamentally, better for the American people than is the Republican party.

If the party's leaders can't say at least that much then they should not be allowed to retain their leadership positions.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Danger Howard Dean! Danger! Danger!

Dean must tread carefully when making comments like this:

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he's caught? Dean said he didn't think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.

But wouldn't most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America - and put to death?

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials. So I'm sure that is the correct sentiment of most Americans, but I do think if you're running for president, or if you are president, it's best to say that the full range of penalties should be available. But it's not so great to prejudge the judicial system."

If Dean isn't careful he risks falling into the Dukakis trap. Dukakis got ripped in '88 because he gave a legalistically correct but seemingly unfeeling answer to the question of how he would react if his wife was raped and murdered. The problem with Dukakis' response was not that it was incorrect on the merits but that it gave the impression that Dukakis didn't really care if his wife was attacked.

Similarly, Dean runs the risk of giving people the impression that he doesn't feel in his gut the tragedy of the 3000 deaths on 9/11. Bush, for all of his failings, understands that the American people get off on having a leader that expresses visceral outrage when an injustice is done.

The proper response to a question like this is to always lead with that visceral outrage ("I'd like to string him up by his nuts!") but then follow-up with the statesmanlike response ("But doing that without due-process would make us no better than him.") The people need to feel that their leaders will jump into the breech at a moments notice and not waste time quibbling over the niceties of how best to respond. But they also want to believe that the way their leaders will respond in a way that is commensurate with American principles of justice and fair play. Bush is superb at the former but a "miserable failure" at the latter.

Now, as much as people may cringe at his off-the-cuff comments, it is the comments he makes in his more thoughtful moments (such as this) that have a greater potential to screw him up. Dean does as well at the visceral response as any Dem alive today and he should stick with that. Leave the thoughtful exposition to advisors and spokespeople.

Optimistic response

Hesiod provides a good first draft for a Dean response to the pessimism campaign.

Google News Democratic Primary Poll for 12/26/2003

  This Week (12/26) Last Week (12/19)
1 Howard Dean 8980 25.5% +0.4 1 9490 24.2%
2 John Kerry 4960 14.1% +0.1 2 6110 15.6%
3 Wesley Clark 4920 14.0% +0.3 3 5150 13.1%
5 Joe Lieberman 4280 12.2% -0.5 4 4670 11.9%
5 Dick Gephardt 3780 10.8% +0.7 6 3990 10.2%
6 John Edwards 3570 10.2% -1.0 5 4180 10.6%
7 Al Sharpton 1910 5.4% +0.0 7 2220 5.7%
8 Dennis Kucinich 1760 5.0% -0.2 8 2260 5.8%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 996 2.8% +0.1 9 1180 3.0%

Dean settles in at +25% while the remainder of the next tier candidates continue to jostle for position several lengths back. I find it hard to get excited talking about who might come in 2nd in this race. Who really cares?

The following is a chart of the Google News Media Share over the last few months:

(Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

Dean is optimistic

(Updated for maximum linkage)

So the Bush campaign is allegedly going to push the idea that Dean is a pessimist (and Bush is an optimist) on the theory that people will vote for the optimistic candidate over the pessimistic candidate every time (good comments on this strategy can be had from Matthew, Atrios and Kos).

To some extent this is true. People prefer the positive outlook. (think Carter's malaise vs. Reagan's morning in America). But there is more to being optimistic than just having a sunny disposition. Optimism, for me, means believing that, no matter what happens, you can overcome it and still achieve great things.

Since Dean is a doctor, he should approach it in the same way he would approach a cancer victim: be realistic in his assessment of their condition, but be optimistic that they can defeat the cancer that is eating them up from the inside. But first they have to avoid the quack selling snake oil. The quack who is trying to fool them into thinking he can take away all their problems. The quack isn't optimistic. He is opportunistic.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Politics and Journalism

I'd like to recommend two important essays on the role the media will play in the 2004 election. The first is from Eric Alterman and the second is from Paul Krugman. In the first, Eric describes a litany of recent journalistic histrionics from the Washington press corps, not the least being the report from Howard Kurtz that political reporters are shocked that Dean expresses no interest in their personal lives. In the second, Paul gives the same press corps a list of rules they should follow in the 2004 election that, if they were followed, would probably lead to the first "fair and balanced" coverage of a political campaign in my memory (cynic that I am I doubt any of those rules will be followed).

Check 'em out.

Politics and Faith

Some noise is being made about this Boston Globe article that talks about Dean's plans to start talking about religion more in this campaign.

Presidential contender Howard B. Dean, who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state, described himself in an interview with the Globe as a committed believer in Jesus Christ and said he expects to increasingly include references to Jesus and God in his speeches as he stumps in the South.

Is this just a blatant pander to voters, especially Southerners, who tend to view spiritual life and political life as much more closely bound together than others? Or is it an honest attempt to open up about his personal beliefs in a way that he is just not used to doing?

My impression from reading what little has been reported on this is that Dean is a religious and spiritual individual but he comes from a tradition that frowns on public displays of religiosity. Dean, in his naturally rough style (born out of his lack of experience talking about these matters), is essentially saying that he understands that this is an important issue for some people and he is willing to open up more about his personal beliefs in order to reassure them.

Dean quotes one of my favorite Bible passages:

[In an African-American church in Columbia, S.C.,] before nearly 100 parishioners, Dean said in a rhythmic tone notably different from his usual stampede through policy points, ''In this house of the Lord, we know that the power rests in God's hands and in Jesus's hands for helping us. But the power also is on this, God's earth -- Remember Jesus said, `Render unto God those things that are God's but unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's,' '' a reference to Jesus's admonition that the secular and religious remain separate.

This is one of my favorite passages because it is one of the clearest expositions on the separation of church and state.

Dean's faith tradition is much like my own. I don't belong to any particular denomination (though my wife and I attend a local Presbyterian church on a semi-regular basis) nor do I consider myself a Christian in particular. I believe that faith is important and that it ultimately cannot be separated from the rest of our life. But I also believe that religion and government, when to closely intertwined, can seriously damage each other.

I also, like Dean, do not believe in public protestations of faith. Not because I am uncomfortable with them but simply because they often seem to be based more on a "holier than thou" attitude than any legitimate concern about the well-being of others. By your acts, not your words, shall they know you.

[Dean] is a steadfast believer in separation of church and state, he said, and opposes the placement of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, is uncomfortable with a prayer invocation before a congressional session, though he would leave the matter to Congress, and is not bothered by the phrase ''under God'' in the Pledge of Allegiance.

On the issue of a moment of silence in schools, Dean said, ''Whatever the courts say is OK with me.'' The US Supreme Court has struck down state-required moments of silence in schools.

Of the president's faith-based initiative for social services, Dean said, it is ''overdone.''

''It's not a bad thing to have churches involved in delivering social services, but I think the president has used it to reward certain churches and make it less likely for others churches to prosper,'' he said.

Asked whether a presidential candidate could win without talking about religious faith, Dean said, ''Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan never said much about religion. I think it's important, and you have to respect other people's religious beliefs and honor them, but you don't have to pander to them.''

He added, ''That's why I don't get offended when George Bush or Joe Lieberman talk about their religion . . . I have a feeling it has something to do with them as a human being, and they are entitled to talk about what makes them human.''

I'm impressed, and I'm not just saying that because I am already a Dean supporter. I know many people are driven ape-shit by Bush's public professions of faith and I understand their reaction (as I said above). But Dean's attitude towards the faith practices of others just feels right and accepting in the best religious tradition. If Bush's faith requires of him that he speak about it publicly on frequent occasions than more power to him.

The problem with religion is not the individual practice of it but the way we deal with the conflicts that arise between faith traditions. That is the real test of our character and Dean's open attitude on this is one I would like to see adopted by more public officials.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Interestig poll analysis...

...over at NDN:

Although he is known as the candidate of the antiwar Democrats, Dean draws roughly equal support from Democrats who believe that the war in Iraq was not worth the cost and from those who believe it was, another sign of his broadening support. A solid majority (60 percent) of Democrats continue to say they believe the United States should not have gone to war.

The Post-ABC poll suggests that Dean's recent surge has come disproportionately from Democrats who do not closely identify with their party. In mid-October, Dean claimed the support of one in six Democratic-leaning independents and an equal proportion of party rank and file. Today, he gets significantly more support from independent Democrats (35 percent) than he does from party faithful (26 percent).

So, Dean's anti-war stance is not hurting him amongst pro-war Democrats and his support is greater amongst Democrats who do not actively identify themselves with the Democratic party (registered, but probably don't participate in party activities or contribute money to the party). This latter point is interesting because it suggests that Dean may be on his way to doing precisely what he has been saying he wanted to do all along: re-energize Democrats who have felt disenfranchised and win by bringing them back to the polls. I know that some political analysts have scoffed at this idea, but Democratic participation has gotten so bad in recent years that its a strategy that, just this once, might work.

Time to change tactics

This message is directed at all the Stop-Dean forces.

Guys, it's time to face facts. The "electability" argument isn't working!

The more you bring this up the more his poll numbers go up. I think it is about time for you to realize that electability is an argument that plays well only within a small circle of political junkies. It is a turn-off for the general electorate.

The argument doesn't help you because you only make your candidates look weaker. The average voter, looking at the standings in the polls today, has got to be asking themselves why, if Dean is so "unelectable", all the other Dems are losing to him?

Furthermore, the continued pushing of this argument just cements in people's mind the "inevitability" of Bush's re-election. If and when Dean gets the nomination a lot of people will have had their first exposure to him be a bunch of nay-sayers in his own party asserting that his case is hopeless. So why even bother?

Your case is not helped by repeatedly making this argument. If you want to believe that Dean's chances are hopeless than you have that right. But loudly asserting it is a defeatist position in so many ways and does nothing but hurt our ultimate chances against Bush

However, if you want to make the argument that your candidate is "more electable" than Dean than please do. That is an argument we can have without hurting our chances in the fall. It's even an argument that you might win.

But you are not winning and will not win the argument that Dean has no chance of winning. If you continue to make it than you will lose, whether in the Winter and Spring against Dean or in the Summer and Fall against Bush.

A Good Idea

Nick Confessore expresses reservations about Robert Scheer's suggestion that reporters should not have the legal right to protect their sources when those sources knowingly propagated falsehoods (and know they can get away with it because the reporters won't reveal their names).

Says Nick:

I'll admit that it would be nice to know, for instance, who was responsible for leaking Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak. But I think the solution here is not to ask the government to force journalists to reveal their sources, but for editors to have stricter rules about using leaked information.

The problem, of course, is that there is every incentive for editors to not adopt such stricter rules. The news business is so competitive that a news organization that adopts lax guidelines for sourcing is more likely to produce the "exciting" news that will increase readership/viewership. What Scheer is arguing for is a counter-weight to that incentive, a disincentive that says that if you become a conduit for official lies than you lose that 1st amendment protection. Such a rule would encourage journalists and editors to be much more circumspect in running with a leak that comes from a single, biased source.

Frankly, I think responsible journalists should welcome such a rule. Many of them probably hate the single, biased source problem as much as we do. But their livelyhood has come to depend on it to such an extent that it has become inherently corrupting. Scheer's rule would allow journalists to re-assert a certain level of journalistic ethics without having to suffer, as much, from the slings of an editor's wrath when the competition scoops them on a story.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Selling responsibility

Many of Dean's critics have made the (justifiable) argument that it will be hard to sell the America people on a domestic policy of eliminating all of Bush's tax cuts. It doesn't matter, the critics say, if Dean is right that most people really haven't seen a benefit from those tax cuts. They will still think that Dean is trying to take money out of their pockets and will vote for Bush instead.

I think Howard Dean is trying to push the idea that we should operate under the principal that taxes should be as low as possible but as high as necessary. The Republicans have successfully sold a political model that talks exclusively about the first half of that equation while purposively ignoring the other half. Dean is trying to change the dialog back to talking about the full consequences of taxation, not just the short-term equation of what it means to the taxpayers checkbook but the longer term equation of what it means to their entire quality of life.

Of course it is a harder sell! Responsibility always is (just ask any parent).

Does that mean it is foolish to even try? Isn't it even more foolish to simply concede the battlefield to the opposition?

The Bush Tax

How Much Is It Costing You?

This is the new web site from the Dean campaign that tries to explain precisely how much The Bush Tax has cost Americans. It includes links to information on the costs in individual states. Not all states are listed, but many swing states are.

Bush to break military tradition...

... in order to make a political point:

In a move that is increasingly unpopular with some of the nation's military personnel and retired veterans, the Pentagon has decided to award the same campaign medal to those serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. This decision, ultimately taken by politically appointed civilians from the Bush administration, is meant to subtly convey a central -- if increasingly controversial -- tenet of their worldview: that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are part of the same seamless global military fight against terror.

This unfortunate and politically inspired decision breaks sharply with military tradition and does a disservice to veterans of these two impressive military operations.

The problem is that the nature of the enemy and the rationale for war in Afghanistan on the one hand and Iraq on the other are substantially different, and some suspect that the decision on campaign ribbons is just part of a larger effort to blur these distinctions.

What is more, the decision to give the same recognition for service in two dramatically different regions breaks with a long military tradition of recognizing service in specific campaigns based on geography, not the political rationale or overarching ideology of the struggle.

Did the military award different medals in WWII for service in the Pacific and service in Europe?

Gore takes The Pledge!

If capturing Saddam has made us safer...

...why are we upping our troop committment in Iraq?

Signs of hope

I thought I'd pass on this bit of good news just to make people feel better. Recently, Jodi Wilgoren and other journalists have taken to using the word "smirk" to describe Howard Dean's smile. Some people have written Ms. Wilgoren objecting to the negative connotation of that characterization. Ms. Wilgoren has responded to these critics that "smirk", to her, is almost synonomous with "mischievous" and was not meant to imply anything disparaging.

A poster over on Table Talk named NicoleM also wrote to the NY Times editors about this. Today she received the following reply:

Thank you for your inquiry.

Other readers have also written to us with this concern.

The standards editor, Al Siegal, agrees that 'smirk' was inappropriate and has so informed the political editors.

Cheers, Arthur Bovino Office of the Public Editor The New York Times

This just goes to prove that complaining can produce positive results.

This is a war that will be won by winning the little battles like this one.

Quotes to remember

"I'd also like to say that whatever it is that Howard Dean knows, or whatever it is that he eats for breakfast every morning, if I could give it to every other Democratic office holder and would-be office holder, we would immediately become the majority in the Congress and we would have about 35 governors. (Applause.) I have to tell you, I think a big part of it is just producing for people, actually doing what you say you're going to do at election time. And I very much appreciate what he said about what we've tried to do here in Washington." -- Bill Clinton, November 12, 1997

Google News Democratic Primary Poll for 12/19/2003

  This Week (12/19) Last Week (12/12)
1 Howard Dean 9360 25.1% +0.9 1 9490 24.2%
2 John Kerry 5220 14.0% -1.6 2 6110 15.6%
3 Wesley Clark 5100 13.7% +0.3 3 5150 13.1%
5 Joe Lieberman 4730 12.7% +0.8 4 4670 11.9%
4 John Edwards 4150 11.1% +0.5 5 4180 10.6%
6 Dick Gephardt 3750 10.1% -0.1 6 3990 10.2%
7 Al Sharpton 2030 5.4% -0.2 8 2220 5.7%
8 Dennis Kucinich 1930 5.2% -0.6 7 2260 5.8%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 1030 2.8% -0.2 9 1180 3.0%

Dean goes over 25% for the first time in the poll's history. At this point Dean is pretty much in a tier all his own. Kerry drops dramatically while the remainder of the 2nd tier (Clark, Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt) and 3rd tier (Sharpton, Kucinich and Braun) remain steady.

I hate to say it but this is almost getting boring.

The following is a chart of the Google News Media Share over the last few months:

(Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

You want to know why Democrats lose?

Just read this comment from Leon Panetta in today's NY Times:

"It's not just Dean, but all of the candidates who ran against the war in Iraq are going to be weakened by the events of the last few days," said Leon Panetta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House. "For Dean in particular, it makes it even more imperative that he has to make an adjustment in terms of his positions so he's not viewed as weak on national security."

Mr. Panetta, listen carefully to what I have to say. Weak politicians follow the mood of the country. Strong politicians change the mood of the country.

That is what Dean is attempting to do. By strongly asserting that capturing Saddam has not made America safer he is attempting to wrestle control of the dialog away from the Republicans. What Bush and Rove want more than anything else is for people to believe that Hussein's capture has made America safer, regardless of whether it has or not. They are trying to change the mood to match their political goals. Democrats like Panetta are saying we should go along with the attempt.

What Panetta doesn't understand is that Dean's position is in the mainstream of American thought. The CBS poll I pointed out yesterday says 78% of voters say that Saddam's capture has not made us any safer (some even say it has made us less safe). And what does the Times article say about the opinion of Americans?

[...]  The latest New York Times poll showed that the capture improved Americans' view of President Bush and his handling of the war but also that 60 percent said the United States was as vulnerable to terrorist attack as before the capture.

Dean's argument since the beginning has been that the Iraq war was a distraction in the war on terrorism. It is the heart of his argument that Bush is weak on foreign policy. Bush can win this fight only if he can convince the voters that Iraq was an essential part of that war. Democrat's like Panetta want to concede this point before the battle has even begun. If Dean were to go along with Panetta's advice then it would destroy Dean's entire foreign policy argument.

That is why Democrat's like Panetta lose.

Fortunately, this article suggests that Democrat's like Panetta are on the losing side of the argument within the party as well:

"There is some anxiety," said Pat Griffin, who was President Clinton's liaison to Congress.

Such concern, Mr. Griffin said, was "a legitimate part of the process" but "it would be a mistake to say that people have drawn a conclusion that Dean's candidacy can't work."

At least Mr. Griffen seems to understand that all this talk about Dean's unelectability is a non-starter and potentially very dangerous.

Some saw Dr. Dean's remark on Mr. Hussein's capture as a sign that he would remain defiant toward President Bush, a quality that his supporters greatly admire.

"We don't want a wimp in this part of the country," said Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio. "Everything I've read that Dean has said about Saddam seems to be right on point. Our people have struggled to make a living and they want a fighter. They don't want some kind of Hollywood production with hair spray."

The time for figuring out how to "adjust" our views to "match the mood of the country". Is over. Democrats have adjusted enough. It's time for us to start insisting that other's adjust as well.

Timing is everything

Anyone besides me find it odd that the story of Bremer surviving an ambush is coming out now rather than when it actually happened? You don't suppose the fact that reporting it before the capture of Saddam might have fed into the increasing sense that things were out of control in Iraq had anything to do with it not coming out until now do you?

Nah!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Does Jodi have a sense of humor?

Dean campaign staffers have a little fun with the press:

In converting the Gulfstream jet that carried Dean from California into a press charter, the candidate's aides were careful to remove all campaign materials and transfer them to his new aircraft. However, when a group of four reporters took the seats occupied the night before by Dean and his top aides, they discovered a red folder on which the campaign's political director Kate O'Connor had written the following message: "Gov: Here's the final Iowa caucus plan. Please do not lose this, Kate."

Of course, curiousity got the best of the bunch of reporters, and one of them opened the folder. Inside was a piece of paper addressed to Newton native Jodi Wilgoren, the New York Times reporter assigned to the Dean campaign. The note read: "Jodi, We knew you couldn't resist. Ha Ha!"

Now, that's what we call "gotcha" journalism. (For the record, Wilgoren was not the scribe to open the folder.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Out of the mainstream?

There are times when two news stories put in perfect relief how out of touch the establishment is in this country. The Washington Post has an editorial today in which they try to argue that Dean is out of the mainstream:

Yet there are important differences between the Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean, and the other five. In his speech Monday, Mr. Dean alone portrayed the recruiting of allies for Iraq as a means to "relieve the burden on the U.S." -- that is, to quickly draw down American forces. Only he omitted democracy from his goals for Iraq and the Middle East. And only Mr. Dean made the extraordinary argument that the capture of Saddam Hussein "has not made Americans safer."

Coincidentally, CBS has a new poll today in which they ask the public specifically about this:

Dean has said that while he applauds the U.S.' capture of Saddam, it will not make the U.S. any safer, and most voters agree. 85 percent of Democratic primary voters think the threat to the U.S. will either rise or stay just as it is following Saddam's capture -- a feeling shared by 78 percent of all voters nationwide.

Dean's position is only "out of the mainstream" of establishment thinking on Iraq (represented by the Post editorial board). A full 78 percent of all voters agree with Howard Dean! It is the establishment that is out of the mainstream.

Update:

Josh Marshal has this update from that radical left-wing organization called the U.S. Army:

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a intelligence report prepared for the US military in Iraq argued that "seizing Hussein could provoke more attacks by making the insurgency more acceptable to Sunni Muslims who were not members of Hussein's Baath Party elite."

Again I ask, who is out of the mainstream here?

Perhaps I've become to jaded...

... to believe that something like this will actually become the big news story it deserves to be:

For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

"This is a very, very important part of history and we've got to tell it right," said Thomas Kean.

"As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done," he said. "This was not something that had to happen."

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

"There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed," Kean said.

....Kean promises major revelations in public testimony beginning next month from top officials in the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, National Security Agency and, maybe, President Bush and former President Clinton.

(Courtesy Kos and Kevin Drum).

Whoa!

It just became harder for the Bush campaign to use Civil Unions against Dean.

Bush Appears to Open Door to Same-Sex Unions

President Bush on Tuesday appeared to open the door to same-sex unions that stop short of marriage, by saying people should be able to make "whatever legal arrangements" they want as long as a state recognizes them.

Bush, who has steadfastly opposed gay marriage, said in an ABC News interview for the first time that he would support a constitutional amendment enshrining heterosexual marriage. "If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that."

However, he also said, "The position of this administration is that whatever legal arrangements people want to make, they're allowed to make, so long as it's embraced by the state or at the state level."

He said marriage should be a state issue, "except and unless judicial rulings undermine the sanctity of marriage. In which case, we may need a constitutional amendment."

His comments indicated that Bush, as he heads into his reelection campaign, was walking a fine line between the interests of his social conservative base which favors a constitutional ban on gay marriage and other voters who have shown more acceptance of same-sex unions.

That may be the best news the Dean campaign could hope for on this matter. I have serious doubts that Bush's nuanced approach will play well with his base. The reason they want FMA is to prevent legal sanctioning of homosexual relationships. Bush has affectively said they can have their amendment, but only if it only has symbolic meaning.

In the mean time, it will now be much harder for Bush to use gay marriages as a weapon against Dean. He can still try (and no doubt will) but Dean can turn the attack back on Bush by asking Dubya to explain, in excruciating detail, how their positions differ. The more Dean can keep Bush on the defensive on this matter the better.

Another Pledge

Sign the Democrats.com Unity Pledge.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Dean asks the important, if controversial, questions

Dean gave a foreign policy speech yesterday that was decidedly more wonkish than his usual speech. It has generally been getting positive reviews from those who were not already inclined to spin anything Dean says in a negative light. However, attention has been focused on one comment in particular:

"The capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will help keep our soldiers safer. But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

Dean's comment has drawn fire from the likes of Lieberman and Kerry who are trying to paint it as yet another indicator that Dean doesn't know what he is talking about. So we have to ask, has Dean made another gaffe that will hurt him?

I think not.

I think Dean made this provocative comment deliberately. He did it in order to get the dialog off the Bush/Rove theme that everything is going great now that Saddam is in custody. He did it to get the American people to ask the truly important question: has Saddam's capture really made us any safer?

As much heat as Dean may take for saying this, it will inspire a lot of water-cooler conversation. It is necessary for the Democratic candidate, whoever ends up getting the nod, to get people talking about these important questions. It is absolutely vital to get the media cycle off the preferred Rovian script and Dean, by his comment, is doing just that.

It ultimately may not work, but if we just went with the typical Democratic strategy of avoiding controversial questions like this then I can guarantee you that we will lose.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Defining victory

William Saletan knows a little something about prematurely calling a presidential election. He very prominently wrote an article in late 2000 saying that "Bush was toast". He is now warning his colleagues not to make the same mistake with respect to Dean, especially since the Governor seems to understand precisely how Bush managed to run against and defeat a successful administration:

[...] You dissolve the successes into history and ask what the administration has accomplished with those successes. You move the goalpost.

Dean seems to understand. "Our troops are to be congratulated on carrying out this mission with the skill and dedication we have come to know of them," he said this morning. "This development provides an enormous opportunity to set a new course and take the American label off the war. We must do everything possible to bring the U.N., NATO, and other members of the international community back into this effort. Now that the dictator is captured, we must also accelerate the transition from occupation to full Iraqi sovereignty."

Notice how Dean repeats every element of the 2000 Bush approach. Somebody other than the president—in this case, our troops—gets the credit. The mission becomes history. Capturing Saddam becomes a means to a more difficult end: getting the United Nations into Iraq, and getting the United States out.

I also noticed Dean's ascribing of the capture of Saddam to the troops and specifically not to Bush. I hadn't noticed that Dean, at the same time, moved the goal-posts for defining what success means. Sweet!

Dean seems to understand, better than any other Democratic politician today, that he who defines what "victory" means is the one who will eventually achieve it.

Reasons for taking a break

Yesterday, when the news of Saddam's capture broke, I made a conscious decision to suspend discussion of the political implications for 24 hours. Generally speaking, long-term speculation while breaking news is still breaking is liable to leave you open to making a lot of foolish comments. (This is also why I generally avoid watching the commentariat during such periods). There is also the fact that I didn't want to let my partisan impulses influence my writing during the course of a story that should be celebrated for the good news that it is. There are times when politics just have to be left at the door and yesterday was one of them (I was glad to see that Howard Dean took essentially the same tack. To bad a few other candidates did not.)

Note that this rule applies regardless of whether the news is "good" or "bad" for your side. This means that those who have gloated about how this hurts Democratic chances in 2004 are just as bad as those Democrats who tried to portray it as meaningless. They are all trying to put political spin on news that is apolitically good.

Now, while 24 hours have passed, I'm still not much in the mood for political speculation on this point. I'm sure the mood will return, but I'm not going to force it.

In the meantime, I recommend this post from Jesse at Pandagon:

Does it strike anyone else that major reaction on much of the right (internet, print and TV) yesterday to Saddam's capture was about Democrats, liberals, and anti-war folk? It's almost as if they only cared about the War in Iraq as a means to cement domestic political power rather than...nah.

This kind of proves my point about how the 24 hour rule should apply to all sides. The "winners" embarrass themselves when they deliberately go looking for people to whomp on when things like this happen. I know it is hard to resist the temptation to gloat, but really, do you think you are helping your side at all when you talk as if the primary benefit of the capture of Saddam is that it might improve Bush's re-election chances?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam Captured

It's a good thing. Congratulations to those in the field that made this possible. You deserve it.

I'm not going to talk about the political implications of this because those kind of discussions should be left to the long term, not the short term and it tempts the fates to much to make political speculations in the short term.

Let those who deserve to celebrate celebrate. Politics will take care of itself.

Besides, I've got something else to celebrate today: my son's 10th birthday.

We'll talk later.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Ha!

"If I may quote the president," Dean told reporters with a smirk, "Bring it on."

Note that Dean is taunting the Republicans to attack him while the real Smirk was taunting Iraqis to attack US soldiers.

What's with the recent spate of journalists using the word "smirk" when talking about Dean's smile? I've never seen him smirk.

An interesting misunderstanding

Someone quoted to me the following from a Josh Marshall blog post:

Think back to your grade school science class.

We're like the Saber-toothed Tiger sinking into the tar pit. And over on dry land are a few giraffes munching away on some leaves. And we're taunting them with what terms we're going to give them to buy into the good thing we've got going on.

Yes, an over-dramatic metaphor. But you get the idea.

I had to read the whole post to realize that Josh was talking about the Bush administrations involvement in Iraq and their appeal for help from the Europeans. When I first read it, I thought he was talking about the Democratic leaderships' reaction to the Dean campaign.

Time to Believe

Michael Tomasky gets it (emphasis mine):

[...] If one thinks of the Democratic Party as rebuilding itself after its disastrous 1980s, then Dean—or more appropriately, "Deanism"—is a new and potentially more powerful stage of the rebuilding process. Clinton rebuilt (forgive the Marxist terminology, but it happens to fit) the superstructure. Dean is rebuilding the base. "If Clinton modernized the message," says Simon Rosenberg, the most prominent centrist Democrat who's enthusiastic about Dean, "then Dean is rebuilding the party. In the '90s party, it was, 'Write us a big check.' Regular people were left out of that equation. Now, through new technology, we're getting them back in."

There's a tricky thing about this rebuilding stage, though: It excludes party insiders. It has nothing to do with Washington. It's no wonder that Democratic insiders, so accustomed to having complete ownership of a process like a party primary campaign, should dislike Dean and even fear him: He has stolen the process right out of their hands. He is not "of" them in any way, shape or form. In fact, his accumulating successes merely serve to emphasize their irrelevance to this rebuilding stage. No wonder they should take a kind of emotional comfort in writing him off as the new George McGovern; it's much easier to dismiss a thorny thing than to come to terms with it.

[...]

The voters, the process and the man himself will tell us [who will be the candidate] in time. Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and John Edwards would all be perfectly good candidates. Each has an argument. With regard to Wesley Clark, we can't quite say yet whether he'd be a good candidate, though he brings a few qualities to the table whose potential appeal in November is obvious. And goodness knows, if any of the above manages to overcome Dean and become the nominee, he sure will have earned the title.

Unless, that is, he benefited from an insider-driven process designed to block Dean at all costs. At this point, after he has amassed the armies of small donors and bloggers and volunteers, blocking Dean is not blocking one man. It's blocking the hopes of millions of Democrats who—understand the importance of this—would walk through fire for a candidate for the first time in their lives. That isn't something that should be done cavalierly; in the long term, blocking the active participation of these millions may do more damage to the Democratic Party than four more years of George W. Bush.

[...]

Insiders need to start thinking about making their peace with Deanism. The party—the (still) post-1988 party—needs a rebuilt base, and Dean is doing that in a way that has no precedent. And instead of fretting about all the ways Dean could lose, the insiders might do better to spend some time thinking about how he might win.

Gee, where have I heard that before? :-)

Dean's success isn't all his fault

This USA Today article makes the point that Dean's success is as much because of his attention to the fundamentals as it is his use of innovative new techniques for organizing. I might add that Dean was blessed by a Democratic Party establishment that has become so ossified that it didn't comprehend what was happening until it was (probably) to late. I'm as big a fan of the Dean operation as anyone, but I don't believe he would be the nominal front-runner today if at least one of the establishment Dems had run a halfway decent campaign. Institutional support is hard to overcome.

The battle in the general election will be a lot tougher because, unlike the Democrats, the Republicans have a much more solid and robust political machine up and running. But, I also sense that that machine is becoming complacent in its success and is ripe for defeat.

Dean may not be able to do it. But I have seen no evidence that any other Democrat could do it any better.

Concede nothing

Aziz of Dean Nation makes a point I should have made earlier about this whole "Sista Souljah" idea: if Dean does what some of the experts are suggesting then he will, in effect, be conceding that he is weak on foreign policy. This is precisely the wrong approach to take.

The Bushies want to paint Dean as weak on foreign policy. They want to cast the story as the neophyte vs. the seasoned veteran. Dean has, smartly, refused to abide by this story. This is why he continually talks about how it is Bush who is weak on foreign policy. Dean is trying to turn the story around to say that it is Bush who is the amateur who can't be trusted with the power of the United States. If Dean were to tacitly admit to being weak on foreign policy he would essentially be conceding a major point to the Bush campaign.

Dean has a tough row to hoe in the coming year. The so-called experts want him to put on some more chains to make it even harder.

Google News Democratic Primary Poll for 12/12/2003

  This Week (12/12) Last Week (12/5)
1 Howard Dean 9490 24.2% +2.2 1 6870 22.0%
2 John Kerry 6110 15.6% -2.2 2 5560 17.8%
3 Wesley Clark 5150 13.1% -1.8 3 4670 15.0%
5 Joe Lieberman 4670 11.9% +1.0 5 3410 10.9%
4 John Edwards 4180 10.6% -0.7 4 3540 11.3%
6 Dick Gephardt 3990 10.2% -0.1 6 3190 10.2%
7 Dennis Kucinich 2260 5.8% +0.2 7 1740 5.6%
8 Al Sharpton 2220 5.7% +1.2 8 1400 4.5%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 1180 3.0% +0.3 9 836 2.7%

Gore's endorsement gives Dean his highest media share yet. Ironically, it also improves Joe Lieberman's standing a little, but primarily because of the "did Gore diss Joe?" stories. Kerry and Clark both fell off because of the oxygen sucked up by Dean and Gore. The rest of the field remained the rest of the field.

The following is a chart of the Google News Media Share over the last few months:

(Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

Bush knows politics

There is one thing we should keep in mind about this whole Iraqi reconstruction projects/debt renegotiation imbroglio: it may be bad policy and bad diplomacy, but it may very well be good politics. Bush's stated position that only those who sacrificed blood for the Iraq effort should share in the spoils could have a strong visceral appeal to the average American. There's a part of us, myself included, that says, "Hell YES only those who risked their lives and capital should be able to benefit from the results!"

Bush may be stupid about many things, but when it comes to politics he is one of the sharpest there is (it's not just Rove that is the brains of this outfit). He knows very well that this kind of "stuff it" attitude plays like gold in the heartland. So, if we are going to bring him down over something like this, we have to avoid getting drawn into that kind of argument.

How?

Concede the point that, in principal, only those who take the risk should share in the booty. But point out that there is more to leading this country then simple macho bravado and that those we piss off today could come back to hurt us tomorrow.

Civility and good manners are not just a way of lording it over the uncouth. They demonstrate that you actually care and respect the opinions of others. Why is this important? Because some day we will need them to pull our butts out of the fire!

Bush appeal is of the appeal of the kindergarten bully. He looks strong because he is willing to beat up anyone who crosses him. But, when the bully gets hurt, who exactly is going to step up and help him out? More likely than not most of the playground residents will simply cheer his pain.

That is the kind of future Bush is setting up for us.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

My own conspiracy theory

I've been thinking about the conspiracy theories that are running rampant about what is going on in the Democratic party, particular with respect to the Clintons and Wesley Clark. Frankly, I think most of them are just paranoid delusions.

For one thing, I don't believe for a minute that the Clintons don't like Howard Dean or what he is doing. In fact, I think they are intrigued by the operation he has put together and would much rather get on his good side than piss off the legions who support him.

But it goes back even further then that. Remember, it was Bill Clinton who effectively short-circuited the first attempt by the DLC to stem Dean's momentum when, just prior to the release of the From & Reed anti-Dean screed, Clinton gave an interview in which he praised Dean as a model New-Democrat. I remain convinced to this day that Clinton did this deliberately because he disapproved of what the DLC was trying to do.

That does not mean that I don't think the Clintons haven't been involved in encouraging Clark to enter the race. But I don't think they did so in order to stop Dean.

Here's my own personal theory: at the time Clark entered it was painfully obvious to the politically observant that Dean was trouncing the rest of the field. None of the other candidates had emerged as a viable alternative to Dean. In fact, some of them (Kerry in particular) had failed so badly at the job that it would be a joke if they were to ever go on and win the nomination.

But then, the only way that could happen was if Dean imploded and it was still not clear at that time if his campaign was for real. There had to be a real concern that if Dean imploded there wouldn't be any viable candidate left on the field to pick up the pieces.

I think that if there was any political calculation involved in the Clintons' encouragement of Wesley Clark to enter the race it was the simple idea that he could act as a safety net for the Democrats if Dean's high-wire act should falter.

That's just my theory of course.

Demographics

I stole this breakdown of the latest SUSA Iowa poll (pdf) from a poster over on the DailyKOS.

        | Dean
        |    | Edwards
        |    |    | Gephardt
        |    |    |    | Kerry
        |    |    |    |    | Other
        |    |    |    |    |    | Undecided
---------------------------------------
Overall | 42 | 10 | 23 | 15 |  7 |  4 |
Certain | 38 |  8 | 26 | 19 |  5 |  4 |
Probabl | 45 | 12 | 19 | 12 |  8 |  4 |
Male    | 41 |  9 | 21 | 16 |  7 |  5 |
Female  | 42 | 12 | 24 | 14 |  6 |  3 |
18-34   | 45 | 19 | 25 | 14 |  4 |  3 |
35-54   | 42 | 11 | 19 | 15 |  8 |  6 |
55+     | 39 | 11 | 25 | 16 |  7 |  2 |
White   | 42 | 10 | 22 | 16 |  6 |  4 |
Black   | 32 | 12 | 26 |  8 |  0 | 23 |
Hispani | 17 |  0 | 66 |  7 |  9 |  0 |
Other   | 45 | 31 |  6 |  0 | 18 |  0 |
Conserv | 46 | 12 | 22 |  4 | 10 |  6 |
Moderat | 37 | 11 | 27 | 18 |  6 |  1 |
Liberal | 47 |  9 | 15 | 15 |  7 |  6 |
Union   | 44 | 10 | 27 | 11 |  5 |  2 |
Non-Uni | 41 | 10 | 21 | 16 |  7 |  5 |
 

What I find most interesting in this is that Dean's lead among self-identified Conservative Dems is statistically the same as his lead amongst Liberal Dems. This is in direct contradiction of recent national polls that shows a large part of Dean's support coming from liberal Dems.

Now national polls at this stage still are more about name recognition than anything else and liberal Democrats are probably much more like to have heard and listened to what Dean has to say. But Iowa Democrats of all stripes have been hearing from Dean for months now and have had a better chance of judging him outside the media echo-chamber. This could explain why Conservative Dems are as supportive as Liberal Dems.

It also means that the more people get to know Dean the more they come to like him. So the challenge for the national campaign will be to get people to pay attention to his message is and not what the media says his message is.

Democrats are their own worst enemy

Add Bob Herbert to the "gets it" column (and he proves that you don't have to be a Dean supporter to "get it"):

The Dems may indeed sink like the Titanic next year. But I don't think Dr. Dean is the problem — at least, not yet. The problem is the party itself. God and the Republicans have blessed the Democrats with the high ground on one important issue after another, from the war in Iraq to national economic policy to health care to education to the environment.

But like the Union general George McClellan, the Democrats have been too timid to take full advantage. It's a party for the faint of heart. The Republicans are hijacking elections and redistricting the country and looting the Treasury and ignoring the Constitution and embittering our allies, while the Democrats are — let's see, fumbling their way through an incoherent primary season and freaking out over Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean.

Good to see I'm not the only one who sees a comparison between the Dems and General McClellan (who was a Democrat, coincidently).

To regain control of the White House, the Democrats need to give voters, who are frightened by terrorism and disoriented by the pace of 21st-century events, new reasons to hope. That can only be done by a thoughtful, united, energized and creative party. A party with a plan and a ferocious will to win.

A party that I don't see at the moment.

My biggest fear going into the 2004 election is what the Democratic party will do. Will they, if Dean gets the nomination, heed his call to work their butts off to defeat Bush? Or will they waste their times moanin' and groanin', and frettin' and fumin'?

The Democrat party, as it currently stands, doesn't deserve to win. Dean, so far, is the only one who has convinced me that it could be otherwise.

A useful analogy

There's a quote making the rounds the last couple of days (I just saw it posted on Dean Nation) that I think we should etch in our hearts. It comes from Gen. Sherman in response to criticism about the way Grant was executing the campaign against the South.

"Wilson, I'm a damned sight smarter man than Grant; I know more about organization, supply and administration and about everything else than he does; but I'll tell you where he beats me and where he beats the world. He don't give a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight but it scares me like hell. I'm more nervous than he is. I am much more likely to change my orders or to countermarch my command than he is. He uses such information as he has according to his best judgment; he issues his orders and does his level best to carry them out without much reference to what is going on about him...."

The Dean campaign succeeds because it doesn't suffer from the analysis-paralysis that has characterized the Democrats so much over the last few years. In fact, the Dems of today could be compared to Gen. McLellan. He had all the resources he needed to beat the South, but his hesitancy in the face of risky battles effectively stalled the Northern campaign for nearly a year and probably extended the Southern hope for victory even longer.

There comes a time when you have to stop theorizing and you just have to do. Now is the time.

Another recommendation

Read Steve Gilliard for yet another refutation of the doom-n-gloomers. The point is simple: Bush is very vulnerable to defeat, but we won't defeat him if all people can think about is how he might win.

Leave Bush's winning strategy to Bush. Work on our winning strategy instead.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Texas is Dean country?

There's a new Scripps Research Center poll (mentioned in this article) that shows Dean leading all Democrats in Texas:

Asked to pick the presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, 16 percent said they liked former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, followed closely by retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who each received 14 percent.

And Bush's approval rating in Texas has dropped to 58%.

The Dean Strategy

Check out this NY Times article about Bush's political advisers starting to focus their attention on Dean. I notice two interesting things in this article. The first is that Bush's advisers can't seem to decide whether Dean should be treated as a joke or not. This is a good thing. The longer they are unsure about how serious a threat Dean is the better chance Dean can slip under their radar (like he did against the rest of the Dem field) and catch them off-guard.

The second thing to notice is the emergence of the Dean campaign's approach to dealing with Republican attacks. I first noticed it with the ad the campaign put on the air in response to the Club For Growth attack. At the end of the responding commercial Dean appears on the screen and says, "I'm Howard Dean and I approve this commercial because they aren't attacking me. They're attacking you."

I noticed it again in the above story where there is a quote from Joe Trippi:

"They're not afraid of Howard Dean, they're afraid of the hundreds of thousands of Americans that are building Howard Dean's campaign up," Mr. Trippi said. "Howard Dean is the only Democrat who's been able to rally all those Americans in common cause to beat Bush, and it's nice that they're noticing."

Here's the strategy: Turn any attack on Howard Dean into an attack on the American people who might consider supporting Howard Dean.

It's almost breath-taking in its simplicity. The negative attacks are meant to make people uncomfortable with Dean. But, by re-directing those attacks into attacks on supporters and potential supporters, Dean can benefit from the natural defensive reaction people have when they are attacked. We have seen this already in the pre-primary season. Anytime Dean was attacked, his support went up! Why? Because those attacks were seen as attacks on the people who were supporting him. The only difference is that, with the Republicans, Joe and Howard are making the link more explicit.

"They aren't attacking me. They're attacking you."

"They aren't afraid of me. They're afraid of you."

"They don't want to stop me. They want to stop you."

Works for me.

Fat Tony strikes again!

SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS GORE’S ENDORSEMENT OF DEAN

Quick comment

Many people consistently misunderstand what "Democratic wing of the Democratic party" means. It means the part of the party that actually wants to act like an opposition party. Politically ideology has nothing to do with it.

More

Another excellent read

Can I get an Amen?

Open Memo to Clinton Democrats

Democrats are wimps

Go read Atrios now!

Atrios makes the point that all Dems must understand if they are to have a hope and a prayer of beating the Bush machine: do not buy into and propagate the themes manufactured by that same machine.

This is perhaps what has most bugged me about some of the Democratic critics of Dean. Much of their fear and angst seems to be based primarily on right-wing media stereotypes of Dean rather than what he really stands for. Yes, many of his critics know they are stereotypes, but they work from the assumption that those stereotypes will be the operant message in 2004 and that we might as well give up if Dean is going to be the nominee.

This is complete and total bullshit. The reason these lies become "truth" in the minds of the public is not because the Republicans dominate the media machine but because the Democrats don't fight back against them!

Instead, the Democrats consistently roll over and let the Republicans get away with their lies about where Democrats stand. Then they compound the problem by buying into some mythical notion of the perfect candidate who will be immune to these lies.

I have said this repeatedly but it bares repeating until it gets into some people's thick skulls: THERE IS NO PERFECT CANDIDATE WHO WILL BE IMMUNE TO THESE LIES!

The way to fight the lies is not to look for the perfect candidate but to fight them head on. When all you do is look for the bulletproof defense you come off looking weak and wimpy the general public.

And you know something, they're right! It's not just a false impression on their part. Democrats are weak and wimpy and will continue to be weak and wimpy so long as they continue to search for some white knight on a horse with bulletproof shields and an impeccable resume.

The key to the Dean campaign is that it openly acknowledges that its candidate is not perfect. But, it refuses to give into the pessimistic stew that the right-wing is serving up.

Stop being such wusses!

(Atrios' post was inspired by this excellent post by Jesse Taylor)

Bad political advice

Ruy Teixeira, who has argued against a Dean nomination repeatedly, at least goes halfway towards what I have been arguing Dean's critics should do: offer suggestions on how he might actually be able to win instead of focusing so much attention on how he might lose.

Unfortunately, while Ruy me be a good spotter of demographic trends, as a political consultant he is a disaster. His two pieces of advice to Dean are, to put it simply, atrocious.

1. His first suggestion is that Dean pull a "Sista Souljah" on the anti-war movement to demonstrate to the moderates that he isn't a peacenik. This is classic Clintonian triangulation: criticize someone to your left in order to demonstrate that you are more towards the middle. What Ruy doesn't seem to understand is that triangulation is one of the primary strategies that have gotten the Democrats into so much trouble. Not only does triangulation piss off the base because they (rightly) feel they are being stomped on in order to make a point. But it also turns off the middle who eventually see it as the politically calculated move that it is (especially when commentator's like Ruy talk about it so openly). It's triangulation that has given the Democrats the reputation of having no core principles.

2. Ruy then advises Dean to back-track on his promise to repeal all of the Bush tax cut and instead promise to retain the tax cuts for the middle class. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions! First of all, it would play right into the typical conservative spin that Democrats are engaging in class warfare. But, even worse, it would paint Dean as just another political opportunist who really has no principles and doesn't care about anything except what it takes to get elected. If Dean would back-track on such a fundamental element of his platform then what the hell would he stand for?

Dean understands, better than experts like Ruy, that what pisses the electorate off more than anything is political calculation without principle. Ruy's advice to Dean is to do exactly that out of some misguided notion that doing so will appeal to the muddled middle. It will do the exact opposite.

Dean needs to essentially do exactly what he has been doing all along: continue to stand by his positions in spite of the criticism and win the middle over to his point of view. The Undecideds are undecided because they don't know what they want. You can't appeal to their interests because they don't know what their interests are. What you have to do is sell them your interests and convince them that they are the same as theirs.

This is what the Republicans have done so successfully over the last few years. They have managed to convince the muddled-middle that they have the same interests (they don't, but they don't know that). The Democratic nominee has to do the same thing and, so far, Dean is the only one who has demonstrated an ability to do it.

I hope to God Dean ignores Ruy's political advice. It would be a formula for disaster.

Super-delegates

Check out this page that keeps track of the current state of super-delegate committments.

Turns out that Dean is leading there as well

(link courtesy Matthew Yglesias)

Knowing the real enemy

Josh Marshall talks this morning about the Pentagon plan to limit contracts for Iraqi reconstruction efforts to coalition partners only. He notes that it is unlikely that this is just an effort to punish those countries that didn't help us out. It appears to be part of a larger effort to leverage other countries into putting troops on the ground "in Iraq and in future efforts".

Says Josh, "You Dutch guys want contracts? You Kuwaitis? You know the price ..."

I think he is right.

I also keyed on this point from the actual order:

4. It is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States to limit competition for the prime contracts of these procurements to companies from the United States, Iraq, Coalition partners and force contributing nations. Thus, it is clearly in the public interest to limit prime contracts to companies from these countries.

You hear that France and Germany? You are now officially considered a potential threat to "the essential security interests of the United States" simply because you opposed the war.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Bending the media

Earlier tonight I was on an online forum reading a post from a Clark supporter who was bitching about some unfair media coverage. It suddenly occurred to me that I rarely find myself getting pissed off about distorted Dean stories anymore. Why? Because I know that those stories can be counteracted.

This person's specific complaint was that some reporter said that Clark didn't have much of a domestic policy compared to his foreign policy. She correctly pointed out that Clark has plenty of position papers on domestic issues but that "the media just doesn't want to talk about that."

My immediate thought was that the media didn't want to talk about Dean and his positions either, but he somehow managed to get them to do it anyway.

It was then I had my epiphany: Dean is controlling the media cycle rather than letting it control him. He doesn't rely on the media to do what he wants it to do. He forces it to do what he wants it to do.

Not even Clinton managed that.

How do you kill a hydra?

Matt Stoller make's an interesting observation:

The web has allowed punditry to scale dramatically, cracking open the social structure of the political establishment and force feeding the real storyline to every political junkie with a computer and phone line. When everyone's a pundit and everyone's a source, it can get pretty hard to 'create news' that isn't true. [emphasis mine - Chris]

That's the beauty of a distributed network like the Dean campaign. Traditional campaigns are easier to deal with because they usually have only one or two heads you have to attack. But the Dean campaign is a hydra. Cut one head off and ten more grow in its place.

Keeping secrets

Whoa! Dean even kept the secret of Gore's endorsement from Joe Trippi!

Dean kept his side of the bargain, refusing to tell even his campaign manager. Joe Trippi said he got wind that something was up Sunday when Dean ordered his staff to charter planes for Iowa. When he asked Dean what was going on, the boss said, "I can't tell you."

Trippi said he had a feeling Gore's endorsement was the big secret, but he didn't find out for sure until late Sunday night or Monday.

Also, apparently the reason Gore didn't call Lieberman ahead of time is because the news leaked out before he got the chance.

[...] Gore apparently wanted to give Dean's rivals a call late Monday night, officials said, but those plans were scuttled when the endorsement leaked.

So maybe the diss of Lieberman was not as bad as it first appeared.

It also looks like Gore's speech against the Iraq resolution last September was what stiffened Dean's own opposition to the war:

[Trippi] said the courtship began in September 2002, when Gore gave a speech denouncing President Bush (news - web sites)'s position on Iraq (news - web sites). He said the address stiffened Dean's opposition, and the former Vermont governor praised Gore in conversations some time after the address.

Sometimes an endorsement is just an endorsement

What he said:

Any pundit who think that Gore's Dean endorsement has anything to do with some secret plan to position him, or someone else, in 2008 is a ridiculous fool. Anyone who thinks that Gore, or the DLC, or the DNC, or the Clinton Cabal, or whoever, is so organized and so powerful that they have control over events 4-5 years from now hasn't been paying too much attention.