By his "gaffes" he shall win
Dean's greatest strength in the upcoming race is the same he has used since he first broke through on the national scene: he has a remarkable ability to change the dialog to suit his purposes.
He did it a few weeks back when, in the midst of all the media celebrations of the capture of Saddam Hussein, Dean spoiled the fun by stepping up and saying, "Yeah, that's nice. But we aren't any safer."
His comments produced a lot of shock amongst his opponents and in the media, but subsequent facts have born him out and the polling on this matter has consistently shown that Dean's opinion is shared by the large majority of all Americans.
But, what his comment really did was stop the "We got him" celebration in its tracks. By making an assertion so contrary to conventional wisdom Dean forced a lot of people to sit back and say, "Could he really have said that? Could he really have meant it? Is he insane? Or...could he be right?"
Once people start asking the questions, once people start questioning the conventional wisdom, that wisdom breaks down and people begin to realize that Dean is right.
And now he's doing it again. During yesterday's debate, when criticized for his call to repeal all of Bush's tax cut, Dean flat out asserted that "there was no middle class tax cut." Joe Lieberman and others were, naturally, flummoxed by his comment since everyone knows that the Bush's tax cut did include breaks for the middle class.
Or did it? Yes, some of us got those $300 checks. But, at the same time, we are getting hit in the wallet through increases in local and state taxes and in other changes to the cost of living (losing your job is a pretty nasty tax hike as well). As someone over on dKos put it best in the discussion thread on the debate, "[...] the Bush administration stuck $300 dollars in your front pocket while taking $500 dollars or more out of your back pocket and hoped you wouldn't notice."
This is an idea that Dean has been trying to push for over a year, but even I will admit that it is hard to sell because it is a rather complicated formulation. It needs a good sound bite to sell it (the $300 in, $500 out line is pretty good). But it also needs the verbal equivalent of a 2x4 to the head to get people to pay attention to what Dean is trying to say.
"There was no middle class tax cut" is that 2x4. It's a statement he should repeat over and over and over again precisely because it seems so contrary to what we "know" to be true. Why? Because it will get people to stop and think: he obviously doesn't mean that literally, so what does he mean? (thanks to TT poster pt bridgeport for this excellent formulation).
Once they start asking that question then Dean has them right where he wants them.
Dean needs people to question the basic assumptions. He needs them to question the conventional wisdom. It is those that are the only thing protecting Bush from the kind of scrutiny he deserves. Dean, by his "gaffes", is getting people to realize that it is the assumptions, not the "gaffes", which are absurd.