Monday, May 05, 2003

Adam Nagourney has more on Saturday's Democratic debate and what he sees as the emergence of two camps of candidates (here). He categorizes them as either pragmatist or fiery partisans, which I think is a fairly reasonable starting point. However, I disagree a bit over his inclusion of Gephardt as fiery partisan. Nagourney bases his judgment on Gephardt's willingness to repeal the Bush tax cuts, but what he glosses over is Gephardt's constant reminder that he supported the war with Iraq. I think to ignore the candidate's position on Iraq is to miss a crucial difference and one that is clearly very important to Democratic primary voters.
Gephardt is a tough candidate to get your arms around. He had early ties to the centrist DLC, yet is extremely close to labor. His anti-free trade votes put him outside of the orbit of the DLC, as do some of his previous votes on taxes and spending. But he avoids the kind of fiery rhetoric of the Dean and Kucinich. He even saw his health care proposal get attacked from the Left (by Edwards) Saturday night. It is tough, at times, to tell who the real Dick Gephardt is. Still, I think this is not because of opportunistic changes of position, but from what may be idiosyncratic personal beliefs.
Nagourney also noted Edwards' populist themes and his claim to "fight for working people." This, to me, is eerily reminiscent of the Gore campaign. Edwards has sounded these notes several times on the campaign trail and seems to be adopting it as his campaign mantra. While this may play well in Democratic primaries and caucuses, it does not work so well in general elections. There are many people in the Democratic Party who relish a bit of class warfare, driven by their animosity towards the wealthy. But the average American, despite the scandals of Enron and WorldCom, etc., do not view the wealthy as some sort of enemy to be beaten. Most voters are intelligent enough to realize that there are bad people in every socio-economic class. And, as many Americans aspire to wealth, they refuse to punish the wealthy for their success.
One last note. Is it just me or did Dean look awful Saturday night? He grimaced every time Senator Kerry spoke. And, when Dean himself spoke he came across as stiff and perhaps a bit out of his league. Now that the Iraq war is over Dean has lost a good deal of his thunder, and his appeal narrows just to those Democrats who will not accept our victory in Iraq, similar to the Dems who are still reliving the 2000 campaign.
But, was there a winner Saturday night? I would have to lean towards either Graham or Lieberman.


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