The real Dean Dilemma.

A mostly political Weblog.
Jan. 8 2004 11:00 PM

How Now Mad How?

The real Dean Dilemma.

Howard Dean vs. the special interests!  Vermont's teachers' union had "suspicions about [Dean's] views on school choice" and refused to endorse him in 1996 and 1998. Did AP's Ross Sneyd bury his lede? ... Is Dean's public centrism so boring only because he doesn't dare say what he really thinks? How un-McCainish. ... Meanwhile, what about the acclaimed  Kerry Surge? His third-place  support is soft in Iowa, according to the (admittedly tarnished-by-its-Davis-performance) L.A. Times poll. And he's a digit away from single digits in Neighboring New Hampshire! ... 12:39 P.M.

Friday, January 9, 2004

Here's one obvious idea for how Howard Dean could solve his "Bad or Bland" dilemma. Dean's challenge, remember--now that it no longer helps him to get livid--is to make the essentially moderate, un-self-critical and uninteresting substance of his politics exciting. On the stump, he occasionally does this by discussing decisions he made as governor--for example, how he told the head of the state prison department that the prisons could forget about a budget increase, but wound up giving them one because they needed the money. This story serves three purposes: it shows Dean can be tough, it shows he can be self-deprecating and it shows he can go against conventional liberal instincts. Dean needs more such stories, lots of them, and one way to get a steady stream is to go post-modern and turn his campaign into a reality TV show! Let the cameras wander the halls, recording policy meetings, fights, staff tantrums. Let's see the 2004 equivalent of the prisons chief in Dean's office begging for money. (They could bleep out Trippi like Ozzie Osbourne!) It could be riveting and might help Dean break the standard presidential dominance of the news. And if a lot of it had to be staged ... well, it's a reality show! Most of them are staged. ...  Eventually enough voters might become addicted and come to like Dean. ... Hey, it worked for Paris Hilton! [But she had that sex tape.-ed You don't think .... nah.] ... P.S.: R.J. Cutler, who made "The War Room," is just the man to do this show, although he has another, not dissimilar project. ... P.P.S.: There could be a carefully-calibrated substantive component too--the candidate visiting people who don't have health insurance, following them as they get wildly expensive emergency room care, etc. (as long as this was followed by more fights and tantrums!). ... P.P.P.S.: Would the Dean campaign be giving away campaign secrets to the opposition? Not necessarily. Like most reality shows, this one could be edited and released after the secrets were no longer so secret--e.g. a show on debate prep would be shown after the debate in question. ... 3:03 P.M.

The Iowa Caucuses--Excrescence on the Body Politic: A four-year old videotape shows Howard Dean perceptively maligning the sacred Iowa caucuses as "dominated by special interests" and "the extremes." Rep. Richard Gephardt seized the moment:

"The remarks he made about the Iowa caucuses to me are unbelievable. I guess I'd ask him a question: Who are the special interests dominating this caucus? Is it the farmers? Is it organized labor? Is it senior citizens?"

Um ... how about "yes", "yes" ... and "yes!" ... [Thanks to colleague W.S.] 2:31 P.M.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Kerry's N.H. tracking poll number asymptotically approaches zero, or Lieberman, whichever comes first ... But Fineman thinks the vaunted "Kerry surge" in Iowa is not just prop-him-up Deanie spin. He reports Kerry is in "a strong second place position." Not in these polls, though (where he's a strong and close third).  ... P.S.: Usually New Hampshire voters react to the Iowa results. But what if the Iowans read the New Hampshire tracking polls and conclude Kerry's a goner? ... 8:59 P.M.

How Now Mad How? Why did Howard Dean persist in "having a little fun" by sneering at Bill Clinton and the moderate Democratic Leadership Council at the very moment when he was supposed to be making his long-awaited pivot to the center? My tentative theory, which may be blindingly obvious, is this:

1) The essential triumph of Dean's campaign has been making a relatively moderate, conventional Democratic agenda seem radical, rebellious and exciting. He's done this, as everyone knows, by being really angry. But when he has attempted to lose the pose of leftish insurgent and move to the center, he's tended to replace angry populism with ... blandness and banality. Read, for example, Dean's recent big domestic policy speech, "Keeping the Promise of America." It's Dukakis with a head cold!  Dean tries to hype his platform--saying it's nothing less than "a fundamental renegotiation of the rights and responsibilities of the critical actors in the American economy: families, corporations and government." Why, it's a "new Social Contract for America's families" to supplant the New Deal!  But it's not. It's the New Deal plus health care and day care and tuition grants--just like all the other New Social Contracts moderate Democrats have put out over the years.

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