Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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.


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