The Washington Post
does a pretty good job of discussing the issue of Dean and electability in terms that are pretty familiar to Kos readers.
Dean is vowing that he would defeat Bush by energizing his party and drawing new voters with a bolder, brasher and less defensive alternative than Democrats have offered in recent years, including when Bill Clinton (news - web sites) was president. Speaking here the other day, Dean expressly rejected the constant focus on moderate swing voters that was Clinton's hallmark.
"Our strategy is not to go to swing voters first and hope everybody else will come along," Dean explained to his audience. Of young people and other nonvoters, he said, "The reason they don't vote is because they can't tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans, and we're going to show them that there really is a difference."
Such an approach, many Democratic strategists believe, could represent a historic miscalculation if Dean retains his precarious lead and carries the Democratic banner. All of Dean's major competitors are arguing that they are better positioned to pivot from a nominating contest to a battle with Bush for moderate voters in critical states.
I think this about sums up the basic difference in approach. The trouble with Dean's approach is that, while it is a great way to win a primary election there is no evidence that such a strategy works in the general election. Indeed, the examples of candidates which fired up the base but did not appeal to swing voters are all of spectacular losers: Goldwater, McGovern come to mind.
Trippi and Dean take the argument to another level by arguing that an excited base will excite the center because, essentially, moderate swing voters will want to join because of the mood and "promise" that Dean offers.
In an interview, Trippi said, "The established way is to go after the middle, even if it means depressing your base." He said that swing voters will look at large issues -- the war and the budget -- but that policy positions are secondary to the larger mood and promise Dean conveys.
That promise, in the campaign's view, is a revival of grass-roots democracy to challenge Bush's alleged coziness with corporate special interests. Independent voters don't necessarily gravitate to the most moderate candidate.
"There's something very appealing about taking a party back, and that crosses party lines," he said. "The middle tends to go the most energized party."
Penn said there is no evidence for this. "The real swing voters are not members of either party, and they are not excited by 'political momentum,' " he said. "They make up their mind without reference to political parties."
Penn is absolutely right to suggest that voters should be asked to see evidence that swing voters are swayed by momentum and "promise." I don't see it. From my perspective, perhaps the best thing to hope for is that Dean is simply lying and all this stuff about a strategy of energizing the base is really a tactic to win the primaries and will be as quickly jettisoned after a primary victory as remarks about campaign finance spending limits and the retirement age. My fear is that the damage will have already been done.
American politics is a tiresome business in which every four years people are asked to vote for the lessor of two evils. About the only point of consensus is that both choices are fairly miserable. In that context it is understandable that a candidate who promises a no-compromise approach will be popular with his base. But it is folly to try and deliver on that promise. If Dean is in trouble now it is because most primary voters understand the bleak realities of politics: the political equivalent of indivually wrapped slices of American cheese has a broader appeal than farm fresh sharp Vermont cheddar. When cooking at home we all would use the cheddar everytime. But we are selling a product that needs to get the highest sales so American cheese it is.