I read two opinion pieces about Howard Dean last night: “Republicans for Dean” by David Brooks in the NY Times, and “If Not Dean, Who?” by Richard Blow on TomPaine.com. As you might guess, they make opposite arguments; if Brooks is right, Dean’s nomination will lead to an easy victory for Bush in 2004, and if Blow is right, the nomination of anyone besides Dean will hand Bush another term. I am thinking that both are basically correct in that neither Dean nor anyone else can defeat Bush in 2004. I’ll say more about that, but first I have a few questions about the Brooks piece.
“I called eight of the best G.O.P. pollsters and strategists,” he writes. Why GOP pollsters? Well, I suppose you don’t want to ask a pollster in the employ of, say, the John Kerry campaign, since you can perhaps expect a “Of course Dean is unelectable; now Kerry on the other hand…” regardless of the facts. But, it seems to me that this Vizzini-esque worry applies equally to GOP pollsters. If Howard Dean is the one they’re really worried about, why wouldn’t they say something like, “Dean could never beat Bush, so the Dems would be making a big mistake if they nominated him. [nervous laughter]” Why not ask some more apolitical pollsters or political scientists, if such animals exist? Probably because Brooks already had the phone numbers for the GOP guys.
Brooks does have some unusual theories here, like, “Democrats are behaving suicidally by not embracing what you might, even after yesterday’s court decision, call the Schwarzenegger Option: supporting a candidate so ideologically amorphous that he can appeal to these swingers.” What, Democrats aren’t ideologically amorphous enough? Everybody was saying back at the midterms that the problem with the Dems is that they don’t stand for anything, but Brooks thinks they should stand for even less. Interesting.
A final comment on Brooks, leading into why I think Bush is unbeatable: “George Bush makes many liberal Democrats froth at the mouth, but he does not have this effect on most independents.” This is certainly true. The question is, why not? This administration is very right-wing and it’s hard to believe that moderates approve of their ideology. Part of the problem is that the administration lies about what they’re doing (and the media doesn’t call them on it).
Here’s perhaps the most stunning example. 69 percent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, despite the fact that there is not one single shred of evidence to support this (and this is certainly not for lack of searching on the administration’s part). Dick Cheney goes on Meet the Press and is asked about this by Tim Russert. He proceeds to list off a bunch of bogus, discredited “links” between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Cheney is flat out lying here when he says his story has not been discredited, and Russert gives him a pass on it.
Now, I know that Americans are internationally notorious for believing in things for which there is no evidence. But given our history, I would have hoped for a little less trust in authority. The relevance to the 2004 election? If the Bush administration has enough power over the minds of 69% of Americans to convince them of a totally unsubtantiated claim like this, how can any opponent hope to compete? Why wouldn’t they be able to convince people that “[Democratic candidate] will be bad for the economy/homeland security/whatever?”
The thing about Howard Dean is that he’s the candidate least hesitant to stand up and point out that Bush is lying to us. Unfortunately, we’re told that the swing voters are like the kid in the Twilight Zone episode; they don’t like those Negative Nellys with their bad thoughts. So if the candidate doesn’t fight, Bush gets away with his lies (because it’s not like the “liberal media” are going to call him on it), and if the candidate does try to let the voters know they’re being deceived, he’s being “negative”. This problem seems intractable to me.
And that’s just the swing voters. The Democrats also have to get out their base, because we know Bush’s will be at the polls – let’s not forget that many of them actually believe he was chosen by God to be president. There’s no way the Democratic base is going to turn out for, say, Lieberman. This is more or less the point Blow is making in the TomPaine.com piece. Bush is inspirational to his supporters (somehow, despite the smirk and the inability to speak coherent English), so his opponent won’t be able to compete without also being able to inspire people. It seems to me that Dean fits this criterion more than anyone else.