Monday, April 21, 2003

Ben was too kind: The correct title of this article should be Howard Dean seeks meaningful support.

Dean is a leftist, and I mean, we're not talking Bill Clinton's left-lean here, either. He will not be the nominee. He certainly will not be President.

Let's re-cap: America is a right-of-center country. Not, sadly, as right-of-center as I, but certainly not purely centrist, or left-of-center. Want proof? Abortion: We're still uncomfortable with it. We still debate it, and part of why there's broad support for it at all is because folks mistakenly think it's rarer than it is. In left-of-center countries, they treat it as a fait accompli. Taxes: We like lower ones, thank you kindly. The one candidate of whom I can think who ever called for a tax increase became synonymous with political failure. Pick an issue, and we're either right, or right-leaning.


To win a national (presidential) election, one must win over a significant enough plurality of the population to gather the requisite 270 electoral votes. Practically, this means you must gather unto yourself your base (20-25% each of the electorate from the farther ends of the spectrum, depending on which party you're using), and enough of the rest to put you over the top. You must convince that middle 50% -- or, rather, enough of that middle 50% to win -- that your ideas are smart, useful, or, at the very least, very little like Jimmy Carter's. Jimmy Carter had to show that he wasn't Richard Nixon. No problem there, and he (barely) won. (Ford was a stand-in, let's be honest.) Reagan had to show that he wasn't frightening, and that he wasn't Carter. He won. Mondale had to show that rolling over for the Soviets, and hiking taxes, were winning ideas. He lost, and got panned on SNL. Dukakis had to show everyone that every failed Democrat idea of the last two decades was a good one, and his only remaining supporter is a fat guy who lives in the Upper West Side and pretends to be from Flint. Clinton had to prove that he wasn't as patrician and silly as Bush, and that he was willing to execute people for the cameras. He won.

You get the idea. The broad point is that to win the Presidency, you must make yourself tolerable or attractive to a slightly rightist country. It's therefore easier for (light) conservatives to accomplish this than for "moderates" (what are those, anyway?) to do so; "moderates" than liberals; and liberals, than Howard Dean. Carter -- the only avowed liberal in the above recitation -- could only barely win, because he convinced enough folks that, first, he wasn't dangerous (he wasn't McGovern, in other words), and second, he wasn't as crooked as Nixon. Clinton, who wasn't as far left as all that, won because he managed to convince folks that "law and order Democrat" was suddenly possible again. They appealed to the broad middle with vaguely conservative-sounding platforms.

It bears repeating: Howard Dean will never be President, because most Americans will think he's nuts. The same goes for Kucinich, and Sharpton, and Moseley-Braun. They're too far out there for most Americans to be serious about.

Think of it this way: Howard Dean and friends are New Coke. At first, you're shocked they'd even roll out a new model; then you try it. Some people will love it, and will try their damnedest to get everyone else to drink it. Most folks will think it tastes too much like that Pepsi crap, and want the old model back. Now, the question is this: Do the executives at Coca Cola Headquarters -- which is to say, the part of the Democrat party that pushes a favored son to the fore, gambling that he'll be the best standard-bearer -- stick with the new model, for which sales, let's be honest, suck, or go back to the older model, with new packaging?

The question barely deserves a response. No "liberal" will win the Dem nod, especially after 9/11. No "liberal" will be able to convince the American people that Democrats can be trusted with the nation's security. It's why Kerry's an iffy proposition, at best -- you can tell he'd much rather be waving a white flag. A "moderate" in the Clinton mold -- only with a spine -- is the only chance the Dems have.

Much as it hurts me to say this, the Dem primaries will therefore be amusing for only the first few. After that, one of the more moderate liberals will get the party banner, and get trounced by Bush in the general election. Edwards woulda been my bet, but he's not ready for prime-time, and he has no power base: Even the folks in North Carolina don't want to elect him. Gephardt, anyone?

Oh, and by the way. This:

Dean routinely talks about other issues, notably health care; he and his wife are physicians. One of his biggest crowd-pleasing lines is "White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not [Republicans], because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools, too."
is why the Democrats will remain the ugly girls home alone on Saturday night for a very long time. Treating what used to be your base -- and still represents a large, active voting chunk, as Max Cleland will attest -- like simple-minded children is only gonna end you up in Mondale-land.

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