Dean RIP

Really? The post-mortems are flowing fast and furious now, since Dean's poor showing in Iowa and the stupid yelp controversy (on which Mark Schmitt has a fine take in the midst of a longer post about Paul Wellstone). I think the post-mortems are probably a bit premature, but they do reveal a lot about this next phase in the nomination process (also known as the 'first' phase to the rest of the country).

One epitaph says that Dean and his organization became too obsessed with the messianic movement aura that had been created around the campaign. That it stifled substance in favor of inevitability and moral certainty and only really appealed to pundits and the people that fancy themselves pundits for what it said about the future of campaigning, Democratic party organization, etc. When the movement left the confines of the invisible primary and went in front of real voters, it lacked a coherent policy vision, seemed too negative compared to Edwards and Kerry, and maybe even a bit creepy. The outside the box campaign slammed into the hard wall of said box, inside of which were the regular voters and John Kerry.

Another says that the regular voters just don't hate Bush that much. The passionate anti-Bushness at the center of the Dean campaign was news to the voters, and other candidates, who had more fluid anti-Bush messages, were able to capitalize on this. The upside of this postmortem says that Dean has served a truly invaluable purpose during this election cycle. He drew the anti-Bush anger of the Democratic base away in a way that avoided the narcissism of a Nader candidate. Attentive democrats were angry about Bush. And had no candidate emerged to lead that anger it would have ended in a primary season characterized by divisiveness and bitterness. But that's over now, and people want a candidate that can win.

I guess my question is, can we really give up on 'process' that easily? Many smart people constructed very smart reasons around why a new campaign strategy would be required to beat G2. Obviously one issue is money. If Dean is out, the only candidate than can hope to raise his money is Kerry, by plundering his wife's fortune. The narrow population of Democratic donors is a big problem for the party, one that the Dean campaign promises to resolve. The second issue is a question of message. As many would-be Dean theorists said, the Al Gore message would not rouse the base and independents to the level it needed to win the election. Of course any departure is a gamble, but the gamble, as exemplified by Dean, was the only shot at defeating the Bush juggernaut.

The latter reason is why I feel ultimately ambivalent about Kerry. I don't have any real dislike for him, he just doesn't excite me, and I think the primary thing necessary in this campaign is a sense of excitement. Everyone is now discrediting the Dean strategy of mobilizing the base, since the late arrivals in Iowa sealed his loss, but I don't think that utterly disproves the idea, and my gut tells me woe to the candidate who thinks he can win this election with some mushy crap designed to appeal to swing voters.

Dean, regardless of his future has been useful. He made regular Democrats who give a damn feel like someone understood their horror at the Bush administration, and that's no small thing. Personally, I like Edwards more every day. He has transformed the message of middle class disenfranchisement into something powerful and eloquent, and he's the kind of candidate you can fall in love with. He'll definitely need to make a big stand on foreign policy/homeland security, which won't be easy. But if he can snare that, he may just get the nomination.


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