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Half a year ago, it gave me (and Joe Lieberman) pleasure to hear the most fanatical of Democrats say that they liked Howard Dean, but wouldn’t vote for him because he couldn’t win against George W. Bush. Dean still can’t win (a general election), but the left wing of the Democratic party has suddenly changed its tune.
It’s hard to say how it happened. Maybe through gimmicky statements about representing the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” or through his impressive grassroots organization, but it’s appropriate at this moment to call Dean the front-runner in the Democratic primary race.
Of course, Democrats in the throws of ecstasy over hearing a Democratic candidate say exactly what they want to hear think that Christ himself has come again in the form of Howard Dean. Those who only last year sullenly declared Dean as unelectable have now perked up, abandoning a mellowed support of John Kerry or one of the other, more boring candidates.
But for most Americans—that is, those who are not the privileged rich kids that populate antiwar protests—who cannot even name who Dean is, quotes from him probably seem as if they are come-agains from the Weather Underground or Students for a Democratic Society. Not even two minutes after every major Bush speech, Dean quickly brands it with some spicy adjective that The New York Times takes great glee in putting into type. Such is the case with Bush’s Sept. 8 speech on the recent events in Iraq. Dean made quick work of Bush’s 18-minute monologue, labeling it “outrageous.” And after he was done with the more quippy part of his denunciation, Dean quickly moved on to liken Bush to LBJ and Tricky Dick. (In Iraq, 300 soldiers have died; in Vietnam, 47,000 did.)
Dean’s position on Iraq isn’t entirely contrary to Bush’s. He would, unlike dark horse Rep. Dennis Kucinich, keep troops in Iraq. But this campaign promise, made in the most odious of bad faiths, is essentially a promise to demoralize “the boys” and get them out of the Middle East as soon as possible. Does Dean honestly think he’ll get the vote of any American who has even the least bit of love for Bush (well over half at this time), or those who rank terrorism or defense as the most “important issue” (more than a third of Americans)? If he, or his supporters do, they’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
The sad truth is that Dean may very well be electable...in the primary. And if he does well there, perhaps campaign materials will someday be the same sought-after treasure that Barry Goldwater posters are to John Birchers. Of course, this might be counting out the good doctor too soon. He is, after all, a slippery politico and no doubt will attempt to moderate his insanity, once the raving protestor base is secure.
For this point, it is best to remember that Bush is a far more slippery politico, and no doubt Karl Rove has a treasure trove of video tapes of Dean’s speeches to the “Move On” crowd in safe storage for a potential general election.
Hopefully, that won’t even be necessary. Democrats are sure to get bored of the antiwar talk soon enough, and Dean has little else to offer that is any more appealing than what Kerry, Lieberman, Gephardt or any of the boys has to say. Indeed, in the five months until the first votes of the primary are cast, the gimmick may well end.
It is true enough that Bush’s support is declining among those Americans who worry about the economy and an enormous deficit. But those moderates and fiscal conservatives, who do not altogether detest Bush, will never support a candidate so shrill as Howard Dean, who when all is said and done, is just another McGovern.
—Travis R. Kavulla is an editorial editor.
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