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The Dean Dilemma


Previous Entry The Dean Dilemma Jan. 4th, 2004 @ 01:31 pm Next Entry
“The Dean Dilemma” Howard Fineman, Newsweek, 1/12/04

The murmurs of doubt are faint, barely audible above the background hum of the Internet cosmos, but they are worth listening to at the moment, for the doubters don't seem to be "trolls"—provocateurs in digital disguise—and they express concerns about their favorite son, Dr. Howard Dean, in the bosom of his own blogosphere.

“Dammit, tell him to get his mouth under control!" says "WVMicko" on a forum conducted by Dean's official Web site. "He's been all over the map on a lot of things, and the way he shoots off his mouth is a big reason why." A poster to the site named "Lancaster" frets that his wife is put off by Dean's confrontational personality. "Her initial reaction to Dean? 'That guy scares me.' Now, I'm not a full-fledged Deanie, but I'm strongly leaning that way ... but she's still not convinced that Dean is the right guy for the job." A writer named "irmaly" also views Dean's personality as a vulnerability. "I am a strong Dean supporter," irmaly declares, "but I think the campaign is missing this most important point—the need to focus strongly on getting up over the perception of 'mean, angry Dean.' Dean is portrayed as a man who, rather than share a beer in a local hangout, will fight you for yours. I realize this isn't true, but Bush and Company knows perception is everything, and they have already had some success at seriously hurting Dean on this perception. I don't know how you get up over this, but you have to, or we will lose."

Like the meteoric Internet start-up he in many ways resembles, Dr. Howard Dean is poised to merge with—or conduct a hostile takeover of—an "old media" conglomerate, the Democratic Party. For now, the country doctor and former Vermont governor remains the odds-on favorite to win its presidential nomination in a voting process that, technically, began last week when the Michigan party began accepting e-mail requests for e-mail ballots. The first events in the physical territory of politics take place later this month: the Iowa caucuses on the 19th, the New Hampshire primary on the 27th. Of the nine candidates in the race, Dean has raised the most money, claims to have the most cash on hand and has the lead in all the national polls and in those early-voting states, too.

…[Wesley] Clark has the potential to be Trippi's—and Dean's—worst nightmare, and a comeuppance of a sort as well: a second, fast-closing Web-based outsider who can, in ways Dean cannot, appeal to insiders while at the same time "plugging that hole" Dean has on defense and foreign policy.

One Dean defense against the rise of Clark may be the devalued—but not quite defunct—campaign of John Kerry, who began last year as the pundits' pick. But his campaign has been riven with confusion and mixed messages from the moment last spring when he voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq.

Now, in one of those cruel ironies that only politics can impose, Dean and [Dick] Gephardt—for disparate reasons—want to prop Kerry up. Dean's motive: to make sure that Kerry, not Clark, finishes in second place in New Hampshire; Gephardt's motive: to siphon crucial votes from Dean in Iowa.

Asked by NEWSWEEK which states Gore lost in 2000 that Dean would win in —2004 (excluding Florida), the doctor mentioned West Virginia, Arizona, Montana, Ohio and New Hampshire, "just for openers. I don't have the map right in front of me."

But Karl Rove does. In his office at the White House, and at campaign headquarters in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, the people who run "BC04"— the Bush-Cheney re-elect—are savoring the possibility of what they regard as the best outcome: the triumph-damaged Dean, wrapped in miles of videotaped criticism from his fellow Democrats. A top Republican Party official argues that the former governor's commitment to a "personalized angry campaign of the left" is too deep to be retooled, and would make him easy pickings in the fall. In the BC04 view, Democratic "Blue States" are turning "Purple" under the influence of Bush's sunny persona, good news on the economy and the capture of Saddam Hussein. Bush strategists scoff at the idea that Dean can compete in the South. And they note that the president's e-mail list—more than 10 times the size of the Dean campaign's—is geared to getting out the vote, not for chitchat. But say this for Dean: he's letting his supporters speak their mind—and even express their concerns about him—and that is good for democracy no matter who wins in November.
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