swear, if I hear one more Democratic honcho say that Howard
Dean is not electable, I’m going to do something crazy. (Maybe
that’s what happened to Britney in Vegas this weekend.)
The contention is nothing short of idiotic.
Consider the source: The folks besmirching the good doctor’s
Election Day viability are the very people who have driven
the Democratic Party into irrelevance; who spearheaded the
party’s resounding 2002 midterm defeats; and who kinda, sorta,
but not really disagreed with President Bush as he led us
down the path of preemptive war with Iraq, irresponsible tax
cuts and an unprecedented deficit.
Dean is electable precisely because he’s making a decisive
break with the spinelessness and pussyfooting that have become
the hallmark of the Democratic Party.
So, please, no more hand-wringing about Dean being “another
Dukakis.” And no more weepy flashbacks about having had your
heart broken by George McGovern, whose 1972 annihilation haunts
the 2004 Democratic primaries like a political Jacob Marley,
shaking his chains and warning of the Ghosts of Landslides
There is a historical parallel to Dean’s candidacy, but it’s
not McGovern in 1972, as the DLC paranoiacs would like us
to believe—it’s Bobby Kennedy in 1968.
Like Kennedy, Dean’s campaign was initially fueled by his
antiwar outrage. Like Kennedy, Dean has found himself fighting
not just to represent the Democratic Party but to remake it.
Like Kennedy, Dean is offering an alternative moral vision
for America, not just an alternative political platform.
And like Kennedy, Dean has come under withering attack from
his critics for the very attributes that his supporters find
could be intemperate and impulsive . . . the image of wrath—his
forefinger pointing, his fist pounding his palm, his eyes
ablaze.” Sean Hannity on Howard Dean? No, Theodore White on
Bobby Kennedy in The Making of the President 1968.
It’s the same ludicrous charge of being “too angry” that’s
being constantly leveled at Dean. Have his Democratic opponents
(and the notoriously decorous Washington press corps) suddenly
morphed into Miss Manners? Personally, I could never trust
a man who does not occasionally get hot under the collar.
Of course Dean is angry. Take a look at what’s happening in
Iraq, where another 236 American soldiers have been killed
or wounded since Saddam was dragged out of his spider hole.
And take a look closer to home, where we have 12 million children
living in poverty, six out of seven working-poor families
unable to afford quality child care, record levels of personal
debt, and more and more U.S. jobs being “outsourced” overseas.
If you still have a pulse (are you listening, Joe Lieberman?)
you should be royally pissed.
have traveled and I have listened to the young people of our
nation,” Kennedy said during his announcement speech, “and
felt their anger about the war that they are sent to fight
and about the world they are about to inherit.”
And young people have been the spark that has lit the fuse
of the Dean campaign. As he pointed out this weekend in Iowa,
“One-quarter of all the people who gave us money between June
and September were under 30 years old.”
So while the Democratic establishment is once again dusting
off its tried-and-untrue swing-voter strategy, Dean is running,
as he put it, “a campaign based on addition, not subtraction.
We want to add new people to the Democratic Party so that
we can beat George Bush. It’s the only way we can beat him.”
Kennedy was drawn into the ‘68 race by his indignation over
the direction of America’s foreign policy. “This nation,”
he said, “must adopt a foreign policy which says, clearly
and distinctly, ‘no more Vietnams.’ ” Dean has been saying,
clearly and distinctly, No More Iraqs, even when 70 percent
of the public said they approved of Bush’s policy. That’s
leadership, and that’s the kind of boldness the Democratic
Party has been sorely lacking.
Far from Dean not being able to “compete” with Bush on foreign
policy, he’s the one viable Democrat who isn’t trying to compete
on the playing field that Bush and Karl Rove have laid out.
No Democrat can win by playing “Whose swagger is swaggier?”
or “Whose flight suit is tighter?” Instead, Dean unambiguously
asserts that “we are in danger of losing the war on terror
because we are fighting it with the strategies of the past.
. . . The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military
resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against
terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.”
In the same way that Kennedy was able to take his outrage
over Vietnam and expand it to include the outrages perpetrated
at home, Dean has gone from railing against the war to offering
a New Social Contract for America’s Working Families that
harkens back to the core message of FDR: “The test of our
progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those
who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who
have too little.”
It’s a message that Bobby Kennedy made central to his campaign
but which the Democratic Party has since abandoned.
Howard Dean has resurrected it and made it his own because,
as he says, 2004 “is not just about electing a president—it’s
about changing America.”
That is a big vision. But anything smaller guarantees the
reelection of George Bush.