Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Blowing shit up

Matthew Yglesias comments this morning on a post by Glenn Reynold's where Glenn suggests that Dean is not a wimp and thus can be perceived as someone who would respond appropriately (i.e., with force) if terrorists attack (sounds like Glenn might be getting it as well, double damn):

I believe that to be roughly correct. Watch Dean give a speech and he definitely seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem blowing all kinds of shit up in response to a terrorist attack. That should serve him well in the campaign.

I've been thinking about this lately with respect to the Dukakis campaign in '88. One of the seminal moments of that campaign was the picture of Dukakis in the Tank. This has become the classic example of a bad photo-op. But why, I wonder, did that picture strike so many people as wrong?

I think it is because many people had difficulty imagining that Dukakis would ever actually use that tank for the purpose for which it was created. Many people did not view Bush's prancing on the deck of that aircraft carrier in a similar light because they knew that Bush would and had used it. But it was just hard to imaging Dukakis ever getting anything out of pulling the trigger.

The question becomes, why did people come to doubt Dukakis willingness to blow things up when necessary? I think it had something to do with the other seminal moment in the '88 campaign: his terrible answer to the question of what he would do if his wife was raped and murdered. Dukakis answered that question in a reasoned manner instead of demonstrating any sense of outrage over the imagined crime. His response left people cold because it looked like Dukakis didn't really care about the trauma that victims of serious crime go through.

Dukakis wouldn't fire that tank for the same reason that Dukakis didn't get angry about a possible attack on his wife. It doesn't matter if that was a fair perception, it was the operant perception.

Dukakis' mistake was in thinking that he had to act above the normal responses of an ordinary human being. He thought that, because he would be President, it wouldn't be appropriate for him to express anything but a measured, reasoned response to an outrage like that. What he didn't understand is that people want to believe that their leaders are human beings first before they are measured, reasoned individuals. They want them to get outraged. They want them to be angry when an injustice occurs.

But they also want their leaders to use the resources at their disposal wisely. Bush gets the first part of this equation and it is why he is so personally popular. But he has no appreciation of the advantages of restraint and measured response.

Dean gets angry in the face of outrages. But, he understands that he can't let that anger overwhelm the need to do the right thing by this country. The anger drives his campaign, it doesn't dictate it.

And that is why Dean will beat Bush.

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