Thursday, February 19, 2004

The past and the future

There are lots of post-mortems being written on the Dean campaign (I wonder who in the campaign will get the first "insider" book contract?). One of the best I have read so far is by William Greider for The Nation. Greider is fair in his acknowledgement of faults both in Dean and in his opponents and in the media (especially the media) but he also acknowledges many of the grander things about Dean that get lost in the noise:

[...] I already feel nostalgia for his distinctive one-liners:

"Too many of our leaders have made a devil's bargain with corporate and wealthy interests, saying 'I'll keep you in power if you keep me in power.'"

"As long as half the world's population subsists on less than two dollars a day, the US will not be secure.... A world populated by 'hostile have-nots' is not one in which US leadership can be sustained without coercion."

"Over the last thirty years, we have allowed multinational corporations and other special interests to use our nation's government to undermine our nation's promise."

"There is something about human beings that corporations can't deal with and that's our soul, our spirituality, who we are. We need to find a way in this country to understand--and to help each other understand--that there is a tremendous price to be paid for the supposed efficiency of big corporations. The price is losing the sense of who we are as human beings."

"In our nation, the people are sovereign, not the government. It is the people, not the media or the financial system or mega-corporations or the two political parties, who have the power to create change."

Makes me want to work for the guy all over again! I can't but feel if more people had heard these messages that Dean would have wiped the floor with both Kerry and Bush. Unfortunately, while the Dean campaign was good at dealing with new media, they were deficient in dealing with old media (and were, perhaps, deluded by notions that they didn't need to care about old media anymore).

[...] Dean's big mistake was in not recognizing, up front, that the media are very much part of the existing order and were bound to be hostile to his provocative kind of politics. To be heard, clearly and accurately, he would have had to find another channel.

For the record, reporters and editors deny that this occurred. Privately, they chortle over their accomplishment. At the Washington airport I ran into a bunch of them, including some old friends from long-ago campaigns, on their way to the next contest after Iowa. So, I remarked, you guys saved the Republic from the doctor. Yes, they assented with giggly pleasure, Dean was finished--though one newsmagazine correspondent confided the coverage would become more balanced once they went after Senator Kerry. Only Paul Begala of CNN demurred. "I don't know what you're talking about," Begala said, blank-faced. Nobody here but us gunslingers.

Begala, a man who I have otherwise admired, had two conflicts of interest in this battle. He was both a political and a media insider. He was threatened by what Dean represented on two fronts. He can deny it but we know the truth.

Greider points the way towards a possible future:

[...] The Dean campaign demonstrated, most dramatically, that people can make their own politics via the Internet and elsewhere by raising lots of money from outsiders, i.e., mere citizens.

This momentous knowledge is liberating--if people figure out how to use it in other places. I can imagine, for instance, insurgent challenges launched by young unknowns against Congressional incumbents, especially in Democratic primaries. Most of these incumbents haven't faced serious opposition in years. At a minimum, it would scare the crap out of them--always healthy for politicians. In my Washington experience, nothing alters voting behavior in Congress like seeing a few of their colleagues taken down by surprise--defeated by an outsider whose ideas they did not take seriously.

Scare the crap out of them indeed. And also intrigue them immensely. How many of them, upon seeing the potential power of a Dean lead or Dean inspired organization wouldn't go out of their way to make nice with that group? The campaign had the right idea on this when they directed their supporters to donate to the campaign of Cong. Boswell. They need to do more of this if they are to turn this "movement" into something longer lasting.

Atrios had some interesting comments on this today. He noted the online success of the Chandler campaign, but he also pointed out that not every congressional candidate can expect similar success if they all start going after the same money pot. There may be a lot of money out here in, but it won't mean crap if it is spread to thin.

Here's what Dean should do and he should do it sooner rather than later: come out with a list of ~10 congressional candidates (the Dean's List) that the Dean corps could focus their time and money on. I know that Joe Trippi worked out such a list that the campaign would target if Dean got the nomination. That Dean didn't succeed in that endeavor doesn't mean he might fail in the task of delivering a Democratic congress.

Imagine what a nice inaugural present that would be for a President Kerry or President Edwards!


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