I've been off this blog of late...
in part because I had little to say...and also because there's something brewing in my analysis that isn't quite fully formed.
Here it is...in half-baked form...because sometimes you've just gotta lay it out before it's perfect...
We Democrats are in a mightly messed up situation....mirrored, of course, by the fact that our nation..and our political opponents, the Republican party, are in a pretty fine mess as well....
I have stated elsewhere that we need to rebuild our party and win this election...
I am not currently bullish about the prospects for either, and I am growing more convinced that the two goals have warring agendas. ie. what we need to do to "win" is different than what we need to do to "rebuild".
In a nutshell, here's my rationale.
* the legacy of the Clinton years has sabotaged a true "rebuilding" of the Democratic Party.
Bill Clinton was about winning. Period. End of sentence. To the extent that this benefitted our country and party, bully for us. But, at the end of the day, and evidenced in the Lewinsky debacle....Bill Clinton was also deeply about Bill Clinton....to the detriment of our Party, and I think, even to the detriment of our ability to win elections.
In my mind, the dysfunctional convention we hosted in 2000...with its "Bill" day and its "Al" day epitomizes this problem. We have never adequately dealt with this, and it shows.
From all the goofy gaffes and decisions that led to our loss in an "unloseable" election in 2000...to our insane "roll over" in 2002...we have never recovered from "impeachment" and the Clinton/Gore rift.
In some ways, it's still with us, and it's called Dean / Clark. Howard Dean is the candidate for rebuilding (and supported by Gore)....Wesley Clark the candidate for winning (and implicitly Clinton's man.)
* If you are interested in reinventing the Democratic Party...Howard Dean's campaign is the only game in town. No one else even comes close. Not the Congressional Dems, and not the "loner" campaigns of Kucinich, Braun, Sharpton and Clark.
This is despite the fact that Howard Dean's strength is primarily as a mechanical politician. He may get attention for being a "fighter" but his mechanics are awesome and the real reason he's where he is today.
The Dean model for fundraising, running a national campaign, and, moblizing the Democratic voter is awesome. The genius of the Dean campaign is this: Howard Dean understands that there are Democrats everywhere. Montana. Mississippi. Arizona....and he taps in to them.
In effect, Dean is breaking out of the "bi-polar" red and blue split of the United States...he is awakening the sleeping giant of American politics...the isolated voter who was "just waiting to be asked."
This is the necessary first step for revitalizing out party. We need fresh voices, fresh money, fresh commitment. Howard Dean understands this...and is rapacious in his pursuit of that vision. His early support of candidates in House races is envigorating and admirable.
He has earned strong consideration for the Democratic Nomination for President in 2004.
* However, Howard Dean is not our best candidate for winning in 2004.
Simply put, our nation is still fully engaged in the process of recasting itself in the wake of 9/11. The Bush administration chose a highly contentious, ill-advised and polarizing strategy of response to 9/11: ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 2004 election is, in some part, a referendum on those wars. On those facts alone, the Democrats might lose. The American voter is extremely reluctant to vote "anti-war". But there is another component to this. If the voters are to choose to replace Bush and his strategy mid-course...they will need strong indications from the Democratic Party that we can be trusted with two things...
a) the "hand-off" of managing and rerouting current policies and
b) creating a compelling new vision for "recasting" the role of America in the world.
The epitome of this dynamic will be expressed in the 2004 Presidential debates.
I have said elsewhere that I think that Dick Gephardt would be the best candidate to debate George Bush. I stand by that view, even now.
But, to be realistic....Gen. Wesley Clark currently has a better chance of winning the nomination, the debate and the election than Rep. Gephardt. And it seems to me, at this point, that the General could make a convincing case for both points a) and b) above. Not simply on his bona fides, but on the weight of his elaborated proposals. (And do not neglect, incidentally, the much underweighted fact that Clark's "tax cut" proposal is much better politics.)
Either way, Howard Dean's critical flaw...the crucial weakness of his candidacy...is the fact that he is extremely weak when it comes to the question of "handing off" the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and "recasting" our response to 9/11.
It's not just that he chose to run his campaign on a "proudly anti-war" plank that appealed to primary voters and core Democrats but does not hold broad appeal...
it's also that the very tenacious, pugnacious characteristics that make him run a 'fighting' campaign and impress his admirers lead him into statements and positions that are not very presidential. It's one thing to be Harry Truman and come into the Presidency through the Vice-Presidency...and then prove to be a "give em Hell" kind of guy.
It's another thing to be a "shoot from the hip" candidate in a time of war and who has real problems generating the gravitas necessary to win over on-the-fence and middle-of-the-road voters and convince them to make you Commander in Chief.
Nothing Howard Dean has done since he became the clear front runner has assuaged these concerns. In fact, the concerns have increased.
I am not saying here that Wesley Clark is the only candidate capable winning support for the Democrats in this regard. What I am saying is that the foreign policy question is the "make or break" issue of the 2004 campaign. A candidate can do everything else right...and lose on this issue alone.
For this reason, Howard Dean, despite being the best candidate for reinventing our party...is not the best candidate for winning in 2004.
(And yes, he can win, and I will support him if he's the nominee...)
* Where does this leave us? Well, if the race were down to Clark and Dean...we might be in a difficult, albeit 'healthy' place. Ripe for real, honest debate. However, it isn't.
There are still fully nine candidates running. Despite the fact that this is bad for the Party.
Further, not everyone is running everywhere. Which means that Iowa is being cast as Dean v. Gephardt, New Hampshire as Dean v. Kerry and Clark...and South Carolina as whoever's standing versus Dean.
The more muddled we look, the more it seems like it's in Joe Lieberman's or John Kerry's best interest to hang around for awhile longer....the more we face the prospect of another convention disaster, and the more everyday Americans see us as the "goofy" party.
Look at it this way: the Gore endorsement of Dean is only good if Dean is the nominee. The only people who care about Gore's endorsement now are politicos and party faithful...come election season, however, that endorsement will begin to hold greater weight. Of course, if Clark is the nominee, then it's also a bit awkward.
If there were ever a time for Democrats to get their act together it would have been in the last month or two.
Unconventional times call for unconventional tactics...there would be much to be gained from some mature, behind the scenes negotiations between the different factions of our party.
I still think that Gephardt or Edwards should be on the ticket, period. (heck, I still think we could win with a Gep/Edwards ticket.) Someone, somewhere needs to get someone to drop out...and, perhaps, make a preemptive VP move....
Clark + Gep or Edwards would offer a real choice and some real energy. It seems unlikely that Dean would choose any of these three as a running mate, nor that Clark would run with Dean.
Clark + Gep or Edwards versus Dean + an exciting VP pick would offer primary voters a real and clear cut choice. Could it happen...dunno?
Should it...??? Yeah, I think so...among many, many other things....