Friday, July 18, 2003

I start to emerge from my work-induced hypnosis and I discover that I have started a brush fire that threatens to SWEEP THE BLOGOSPHERE!

Well, no, but it got some harsh words from the three or four friends that actually read this blog. And I couldn't help but think that it sounded a lot like the very same AM radio grousing that I had posted about.

Distinctions can be drawn between Dean and McGovern, sure -- though I don't agree with half of the assertions about Dean (since when is anything from Vermont "centrist"?) -- and there are probably many more that weren't even addressed. But the issue is not to literally lay McGovern next to Dean and do a compare-and-contrast essay on them. The issue is this: What can we learn from the McGovern campaign?

McGovern's op-ed was wrong, because he didn't learn the message of his own campaign. (For a nice contrast, you should listen to Ann Richards explain sometime exactly how Dubya beat her. It's very cold and clear-headed.) The Left was fed-up with all the puffy, old-guard Big Labor leaders. They were also fed up with the fearmongering Nixon administration, and feeling full of piss and vinegar about the Vietnam War. So they rejected Big Labor in order to vent their spleen against Nixon. The result was an intellectually satisfying campaign that stands as one of the most ignominious losses in recent American electoral history; it drove the union members right into the "law and order" camp that Nixon was building. McGovern sees that as the great time in American history when people finally spoke their minds. But the Left should see that as a time when they failed to recognize the need for coalition-building, which directly resulted in more Nixonian madness. And the fact that Nixon and Agnew were out of office in two years had nothing to do with the McGovern campaign and everything to do with their own stupidity.

So, here we stand. We're already getting mired in a hateful and stupid war halfway around the planet, and we have a President who lies and dissembles. (By the way: did you catch his non-response response to the reporter who asked if he would take responsibility for the falsehood in the State of the Union speech? Long answer: "I take responsibility for sending the troops to stop a madman," etc etc. Short answer: no, I will blame George Tenet for not preventing me from knowingly telling a falsehood.) There's a substantial part of the Left that is steaming mad about this. They're also fed up with the mealy-mouthed moderation being sputtered by the nominal Democratic leadership in Washington. So, they're ready to call shenanigans on the Bush administration and get down and dirty.

But it would be error to strike the wrong balance. The Dems can't decide to run a campaign on the theory of "let's say whatever the hell we want and let the chips fall where they may." They have to run a campaign that says "We have a candidate whose opinions match those of the leftmost 51% of the American public." That is, they have to be uniters, not dividers. Karl Rove understood this, and we have to give the Devil his due. He carefully crafted a plan that would take advantage of the electoral college's bias toward rural America in order to appeal to the rightmost 51% of America. He managed to bring that last 1% into the tent, and in doing so he managed to satisfy everyone else in that tent, no matter how much farther to the right they were than the "undecided" voters.

Dean seems to be a good man, and a smart man, and a man who is different than George McGovern in many ways. But it is my impression that Dean does not now, and cannot ever, command the votes of the leftmost 51% of the voting American public. He will repulse the mushy center "undecided" voters and persuade them that they should keep Bush. And in thirty years, Dean will write a self-serving op-ed about how he was the candidate willing to "stand up and say what he thinks, regardless of the consequences." Meanwhile, Dubya will have written history.

This brings me to another touchy subject. Gore lost. He lost. The fact that he won the popular vote doesn't matter under the U.S. Constitution, so it doesn't matter at all. So any attempt to continue harping on the "popular vote" thing sounds like someone complaining about the designated hitter rule after the game has already been played, and it doesn't help any analysis of strategy for the 2004 election. Moreover, Gore lost the election all by his own self. It's true that the newspaper coalition's recount concluded that there was one scenario under which the ongoing recount could have led to a Gore victory by six votes. I am unpersuaded that the Florida courts would have applied that fairly extreme standard to the recount, though, and personally conclude that the infamous Bush v. Gore was an outrageously wrong decision that nevertheless had no practical effect. I say all this to reiterate the same points as above: (1) Karl Rove knew how to play the game, and we should learn from him; (2) Gore lost the far left and the middle, and that failure to build a coalition resulted in a loss.

And that's why I say that Dean is like Nader in kind. He's different in degree because Dean already has far more support than Nader. But supporting Dean is the same as saying "we should stand up and say what we think, regardless of the consequences," which was the rallying cry of the Naderites in 2000. Just remember that in 2000, the "consequences" were violations of civil rights, a White House sold to corporate interests, and lies spread to justify needless wars.

 9:57 AM

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