Friday, November 26, 2004

Smearing Dean Supporters

Jonathan Chait in today's LA Times (link):

Let's begin with Howard Dean. Most of us thought that Dean's spectacular defeat in the Iowa caucuses last January meant the end of him and his movement. Instead, it was more like the ending to "Terminator 2," where the evil robot is blasted to smithereens and presumed dead, then the fragments slowly regroup and come to life. As we speak, Deaniacs are reconstituting in their yoga studios and organic juice bars, plotting — in their benevolent, cheerful but fundamentally misguided way — to make Dean the leader of the Democratic Party.

Why would this be such a disaster? Because, remember, the Dean campaign advanced two novel theories about national politics. The first was that Democrats paid too much attention to winning over the center. What they really needed to do was mobilize the base by nominating a candidate like Dean who'd fire up liberals. This turned out to be doubly wrong. Democrats were fired up enough that they didn't need a Howard Dean to inspire them to unprecedented enthusiasm. And a fired-up Democratic base, volunteering and donating at unprecedented levels, was not enough to win.

Second, Dean argued that Democrats didn't really need to engage the cultural issues that Republicans had long used to win white, working-class voters. Instead, Dean argued, it would be better to persuade culturally traditional whites to vote their economic self-interest. But of course, a candidate can't always decide for the voters what issues they should pay attention to. Economics is complicated. Cultural issues are visceral. The presidential election showed pretty decisively that Democrats can't get a hearing on their more popular economic platform if voters don't think their values are in the right place. A secular Yankee like Dean is about the worst possible candidate.

This garbage just makes me livid. Where to start?

  • Anyone who characterizes Dean supporters as attendees of "yoga studios and organic juice bars" demonstrates right from the start that they haven't any idea what the Dean movement was about. I have never gone to a yoga studio and organic juice makes me gag. I don't know any Dean supporter who does either and I was heavily involved in the organization effort here in the Portland area. This "yoga studio and organic juice bar" shit harkens back to the "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading" crap perpetrated by the Club For Growth's "Back To Vermont" ad (link). That Mr. Chait chooses to buy into Republican stereotypes of Democratic candidates indicates that he is part of the problem, not the solution. How can anyone trust his judgment of the qualifications of Howard Dean when he himself fails the first test in understanding the man and the movement?
  • Chait propagates yet another myth when he said that Dean advocated for a campaign that appealed only to the left. This is yet another fallacious misreading of Dean's campaign. Dean didn't say we shouldn't appeal to the center. He said we should appeal to it by standing up for what we believe in! Dean understood better than any other Democratic candidate that you don't appeal to the center by adopting any particular ideology. You appeal to the center by demonstrating that you believe in your own positions strongly enough to win them over to your side. Does George Bush soften his stances and adopt more left-wing approaches in order to "appeal to the center"? Of course not! He stands proudly on what he believes in and many people in the center reward him for that even if they personally disagree with his position!
  • Dean was one of the first advocates of the idea of appealing to people's values and not just their pocketbook. So for Chait to suggest that it is Dean that is promoting the idea that you can win the middle through an "economic self-interest" argument is the height of absurdity!

Dean is a moderate. Dean's supporters are moderates (as well as leftists). Dean is an advocate for the Democratic program, as opposed to many other Democrats who are advocates for hiding from the Democratic program because doing otherwise would require them to defend it. Dean is an early adopter of Lakoff-style values framing.

Mr. Chait thinks that Dean and his movement are the last gasp of the old left wing of the Democratic party.

Sorry Mr. Chait, but we're already miles ahead of you in this debate. Perhaps it is time you caught up to us?

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