More on motives
I've done some more thinking about my previous post and I'm even more convinced that Dean's primary problem started with his questioning the motives of his opponents. His original "What I Want To Know" attack was not based on the premise that the Democratic leadership was deliberately selling out Democratic principals but instead that they were engaging in a naive political strategy that was demonstrably not working (at least, that's how I interpreted it). It was an attack that resonated strongly with the Democratic base who were equally suspicious of their leaders political acumen. However, as the campaign went along, and especially when Wesley Clark got into the race, Dean started directly questioning the motivations of Democrats who took different positions from his own. By calling Clark and then Kerry "Republicans", he was implying that their positions were not based simply on misguided politics but instead of ulterior intentions to deceive Democrats while actually pushing Republican ideas.
I know that there is a significant minority of the Democratic base who buys into this notion (i.e., that the DLC is nothing more then a collection of warmed-over Republicans). I am not one of those. I just think the leadership is dominated by political strategists who have lost sight of what made Democratic policies popular in the first place.
By attacking his opponents motives, Dean put much of the Democratic party on the defensive, even those who were initially receptive to his message. When that happened they started rejecting him in droves.
I have always tried to avoid questioning motivation. First of all, you can never really be sure what people's real motives are. Even close family and friends will remain a mystery to you as long as you. Attempts to discern motives can often lead to the manifestation of latent prejudices that are not necessarily connected with reality. Many of the most paranoid conspiracies have their genesis in the attempt to figure out why people do what they do.
Second, questioning people's motivations can prove extremely counter-productive. As in the Dean example, it can turn people off who might otherwise want to be on your side. The same is also true with Bush. Some people may not like his policies but they still like him personally. They will react negatively to the suggestion that his policies are based on a deliberate strategy to screw people. Which is why I advise people to attack Bush's competence, not his motivation.
Finally, why someone is doing something ultimately doesn't factor into the question of whether what they are doing is the right thing to do. Even if you are correct in your belief that Republicans derive enjoyment from screwing people, your correctness does not alter the impact that that behavior has on the world. They are still screwing people over.
If some guys is about to kill you, questioning his motives is a waste of the precious time left to you. Time that would be better spent trying to figure out how to stop him.
With regard to Dean, my wife had a good point: he is a physician, not a psychiatrist. He is good at diagnosing what Democrats are doing wrong. But he's wasted precious time on questioning why they were doing the things they were doing. He will never get that time back.