Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Judis off-base on Dean

A recent article in Salon by John Judis, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority", argues that Dean will likely be beaten badly by Bush in the General Election. Thus if Democrats are serious about beating Bush, they should not nominate him, but rather a more moderate figure such as Kerry, Edwards, or Lieberman. Judis cites several reasons to support his case, let us examine each in turn.

I have a great deal of respect for the work of John Judis The demographic trends, which point to the emergent dominance of the Democratic party, considered in detail in his book are quite compelling. The central thesis of his work, simply stated, being that the areas and populations which are experiencing the most net growth, and vote at the highest rates, are solidly Democratic. Oddly, the very group Judis identifies as leaders of Democratic thought and policy making, and the emerging core of Democratic Party support constituting 20% of the voting electorate, the Urban Professionals, are those most attracted to Dean and his message. Yet it is this very appeal which Judis cites as being disastrous for Dean and the Democrats.

Judis draws a parallel between the McGovern campaign of 1972 and that of Dean 2004. The parallel is facile and based solely on the anti-war stance of both candidates. Judis points out that in reality McGovern and Dean are appealing to the same demographic, anti-war protestors. What a difference a day makes. The baby boom was the heart of the anti-war constituency, but they were young, and voted sporadically, now they are approaching retirement, vote religiously, and have had a proufound cultural effect upon their younger siblings, children, and grandchildren. The anti-war movement is no longer confined to a single generation, there are doubts about the wisdom of the war in all generations and all demographic groups.

Polls indicate that only 53% of Americans approve of GWB's handling of Iraq and nearly 40% think that the Administration may have lied. This, at 18 months out from the general election; these numbers have a lot further to run. The likelihood that Bush will be able to make these questions go away and create a growing, rather than shrinking support for the Iraq mission, especially in the face of an increasingly disaffected military, is low. Dean's intelligent criticism of the war is likely to find an ever larger audience, not a shrinking one. If another prominent and outspoken critic of the war enters the race, it will only bolster Dean's credibility and appeal, especially if that critic is retired General Wesley Clark.

Support for GWB himself has plunged 10 points in just 70 days; if that trend continues Bush's support would be underwater by election time. He is unlikely to lose support among his most ardent base, millionaires and religious fundamentalists, so I predict his approval rating will be around 30% by the election. Bush's growing weakness in the face of foreign policy failure, and more importantly, domestic policy failure is not even considered in Judis' article. A record 455 billion dollar deficit, not counting expenditures on Iraq, a record unemployment rate, continued flatness in the economy, growing resentment of Bush's tax policies now that they have proven to be a bonanza for the wealthy and not a stimulus for the nation, all fuel growing doubt about the ability of the Bush Administration to fix what they broke- the economy. A general election pits one candidate against another. No one who is convinced the Bush lied to them, led us into a disastrous foreign quagmire which is killing our sons and daughters, destroyed the economy and raped it for the benefit of his fat-cat friends or doesn't give a fig for the millions of American's out of work and suffering, is going to vote for the man. They will vote for his opponent, regardless if they agree with his every policy, as long as he has some demonstrable competence.

Dean doesn't have to be the perfect candidate to beat the pants off Bush, he has to be a better choice than Bush- he must be 'not Bush'. For Dean, that will not be hard to do. For some of the other candidates, being 'not Bush' is not nearly so assured. Judis' inattention to the most important aspect of the race, the opponent, completely invalidates his thesis.
Judis also neglects the distinct lack of parallels between the foreign policy situations in 1972 and the present. In the 1972 campaign, both McGovern and Nixon said they wanted peace, but they wanted it different ways. McGovern has no concern about saving face, Nixon promised peace with honor and that the negotiated end of the war was at hand. For most voters the election was not a choice between war and peace, but an ignominious peace and an honorable one. This election does not, as yet, present such a choice. The choice is between turning over Iraq to UN and NATO allies and at least 5 more years of grinding guerilla war and hundreds more dead Americans. The calculation could change if the Administration gets smart after Dean is nominated and pulls the issue out from under him by proposing a UN/NATO turnover themselves. Given the Administration's ideological proclivities such a proposal is very unlikely.

Judis points to Dean' lack of foreign policy experience as a problem. I might remind people just how miserably unprepared GWB himself was on foreign policy issues in 2000 (and some might say he remains woefully unprepared today), facing an opponent who had spent 8 years at the heart of an Administration's foreign policy decision-making. Given the high level critiques now being leveled at the Administration's anti-terror efforts, nation building in Afghanistan, and occupation of Iraq, I doubt this issue will be as one-sided as Judis implies. During the general election Dean is likely to put forward a much more detailed plan for defense and anti-terror and a much more scathing and persistent attack on Bush's record. Additionally, Dean, being a doctor, understands the proper use of specialists. By the general election he will likely have in place an extremely impressive staff of foreign policy, military, and terrorism experts to proxy for him, advise him, and eventually take places in his Administration.

Judis claims that Dean support for civil unions will hurt him among conservative voters. I think this is irrelevant. Gore also advocated civil unions in the 2000 campaign and specifically endorsed the Vermont act. Not only did Gore win the popular vote despite this stand, 58% of Americans polled as agreeing with him. Civil unions will not be an issue that will swing any voters from Dean to Bush. If a voter would be turned off by civil unions they would be voting for Bush anyway, not even a conservative Democrat like Lieberman could prevent that; that voter would just vote for Bush because Lieberman's a Jew.

Judis claims that Dean will be extremely weak in the South because he is a Ivy League Northeasterner. That's what running mates are for, son. This race happens to be full of good Southern candidates. Edwards, Graham, Gephardt, possibly Clark, and one can't overlook the possibility, no matter how absurd, of Clinton. He couldn't succeed to the Presidency, but there would be no issue of a primary fight for the nomination with Hillary in 2012. The Democrats may not win much if any of the South in 2004, but they can be competitive with a correctly balanced Dean ticket. In fact, many have suggested that if Gore had properly balanced his ticket in 2000 he would have won the Presidency. If he had chosen another Southerner, such as Bob Graham of Florida, instead of the odd choice of Lieberman, he would have carried Florida, likely a few other southern states, including his own, and won the Presidency. I don't think Dean is likely to choose another Northerner to compliment his ticket.

Judis ends, "Just as the country was not ready for McGovern in 1972, so it is probably not ready for Howard Dean in 2004." On the contrary, the country is begging for a change from the vocabulary challenged, insecure, dim-bulb, bully the Supreme Court foisted unwisely upon us. I dare say that every single person who voted for Al Gore, will vote for Dean regardless if they disagree with him on a few issues. Add those swing voters who unwisely voted for Bush because he was more 'real' and 'a regular guy' and have now learned their lesson about the results of having Joe Six-pack in the oval office. Add those people who voted for Bush because they found Gore, "a little creepy." Add those who were outraged the Supreme Court saw fit to award the Presidency to Bush. Add those who have been directly hurt by Bush's "cater to the rich and screw the poor" policies. Add those union members who are gong to be devestated by Bush's roll-back of the 40 hour work-week and mandatory overtime. Add those Green Party members who now see their vote for Nader helped Bush roll back environmental regulations. Add the families and friends of military personnel who lost a loved ones. Add the military men and women who feel betrayed by a CiC who lied to them about why they were going to war and about the length of their rotation, cut their vets benefits, cut educational funding for the their kids, and tried to cut their hazard pay. Add those millions who are out of work and see no prospect for improvement and no concern from the White House (not just Democrats lose their jobs, Republicans do, too). Add those people who genuinely expected Bush to return honor and dignity to the White House and got an aircraft carrier landing, media staged wars, and "bring 'em on!" Add those middle class people, expecting a tax cut, who get instead higher state and local taxes and a growing mountain of debt they will have to pay for in their old age, or that their children will inherit. That's a few people.

My point is, as much as one votes 'for' a candidate, one also votes 'against' his opponent. His critics know there is a lot to be against in Bush; the public is beginning to take notice. His popularity is a house of cards, built upon an illusion of American exceptionalism and political inevitability that his staff carefully fostered with war, jingoism and the fascistic combination of political power with corporate media. The first 9 months of his Presidency are more indicative of his true stature. At that time his job approval was mediocre, about 50%; it will slide far below that. It is already down to 55% and falling fast. At that time his hard re-elect number was 49%, now it is 47%. His hard non-re-elect number was 42%, now it is 46% and trending upward. The cards have begun to be pulled from the Bush house as the media reasserts some independence. Bush's card castle of political triumph will soon turn into a messy pile of resentments at having been lied to, impoverished, and exploited. When considering the chances of any Democratic contender in 2004, one makes a grave mistake to not factor in the pending disintegration of the Bush Administration and the meltdown of the GOP to follow.

In my view, the Democratic primary will not just determine who will be the Democratic nominee, it will determine who will be the next President. By the general election Bush will have bled-out politically. Fairy tales just don't happen here. Americans are smart and quite capable of smelling bullshit; it just takes a little time for the scent to spread.

Dean is not just a viable candidate, he is the best candidate for the times; he is the anti-Bush.


At 1:35 AM, Anonymous About Health Blog said...

Add those who have been directly hurt by Bush's "cater to the rich and screw the poor" policies.


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