Saturday, February 07, 2004

Should Dean Exit the Race?

The answer to that question is probably obvious on several levels. Dean has failed to win ANYWHERE; abandoned both Michigan and Washington this week; staked his continued presence in the race on a victory in a state in which he is polling a distant fourth (Wisconsin). But, on the other side of the coin, Dean has hundreds of thousands of loyal supporters who were willing to stick with him in bad times; an amazing ability to raise big money quickly; and, because of these two other factors, Dean is the candidate most able to push a certain agenda, and ensure that the Democratic Party actually has a backbone.

While Dean may be prone to gaffes and vitriolic rhetoric, he also plays a valuable role in re-energizing the party. He has been able to enlist both new participants to the process and to re-energize those who had forgotten their role in the democratic process. Sure, the good doctor has been pushed a bit too far left by some of these folks, and his centrist record as Vermont governor has been overshadowed by his anti-war stance. Sometimes it is just that Dean's passion gets in the way of his critical thinking abilities. For example, no one is going to confuse John Kerry (ADA lifetime rating of 96 or so) with a Republican. But the point Dean was trying to make was that equivocation and coziness with special interests are not limited to the Republican Party. And he is RIGHT!

A race without Dean, and lacking a strong Edwards or Clark, as a counterbalance to the Kerry juggernaut would result in disaster come November. Not only would Kerry not be fully battle tested in a one-on-one race, but it would allow Kerry to slip back into his pandering, wishy-washy, wet finger in the air ways. No matter how many times Kerry says "bring it on", no one is ever going to mistake him for a true, principled fighter. Kerry has a history of making bold pronouncements without any follow up.

A Kerry coronation would serve only to de-energize Dean's base and many would sit home this fall in disgust. And some people may poo poo such an outcome claiming that if Dean's base was so good he would have won somewhere by now. But these people ignore the closeness of the divide in this country and just a few Nader votes in Florida cost us the White House in 2000. Others would dismiss the internet and blogging community's support for Dean, but this phenomenon is real as evidenced by the thousands of regular folks who logged on and Me(e)t Up and by the internet fundraising machine established by Dean. Many Deaniacs are deeply and openly hostile to John Kerry and what he represents. They see him as a politician on each side of every issue, willing to say whatever it takes to get elected. These are the sort of committed and active folks the party needs to be courting.

The Dean phenomenon was a stinging rebuke to the weakness of the Democratic Party over the past several years. While the reports of the Party being Bush Lite are overstated, there is a pronounced lack of fight in many of the Party's leaders. And while the Party is certainly in need of a backbone transplant, it should not transmogrify into the kind of Stepford Wives orthodoxy of the GoOPers.

Despite the fractious relationship between the two wings of the Democratic Party, there is widespread unhappiness with the lack of fight shown by our Washington leaders. Those on the left side of the room should not assume that the centrists in the Party are overcome with joy at the losses the Party has sustained over the past four years. Perhaps the level of dislike of the President varies by wing, but neither group believes that BushCo. should get another four years to ruin the country. But with Dean out of the race, there may not even be the chance for reconciliation as the Deaniacs turn their backs and the centrists say good riddance. And that is not good for any of us.


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