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.