Saturday, December 13, 2003

Petty, Spiteful, and Foolish

If there's a hallmark of the Bush administration dealing with people it has disagreed with in the past, it's the petty, spiteful, and foolish gesture.

I don't really have a major problem with limiting contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq to people who supported the invasion. I think it's wasteful, as cutting out potential bidders inevitably means higher bids. But this ranks low on the list of things the Bushies have done that are wasteful.

However, as a PR move just as you are asking these same countries to help pay for the reconstruction, this is a colossal blunder. It's petty, spiteful, and foolish.

What is the possible motive for sticking your thumb in someone's eye, then asking for their help with your next breath? Have they gotten so used to bullying their way past the Democrats in Congress that they've forgotten not everyone marches to their orders?

If you're going to make a public example of people who oppose you, make sure you don't need their help first. Cause you're not getting jack after you do it. How elementary is that?

Can the Bushies get any more petty, spiteful, and foolish?

Friday, December 12, 2003

Not the Lefty They Think He Is

The original Conventional Wisdom on Howard Dean was that he was this election's Bruce Babbitt, the smart former governor of a small state who has some good ideas, gets attention from the press, but fails to excite the voters.

Then, lo and behold, he started to excite the voters.

Partly for his outspokenness on invading Iraq, partly because he was the only Democrat who didn't preface every speech with 10 minutes of "supporting the President", Dean was adopted by the activist base of the Democratic Party (not the officeholders who make calculated choices, but the unpaid activists who get excited about somebody and then hound all their friends into supporting him). These are the people you want on your side in a Primary.

Unfortunately, the new Conventional Wisdom is that Dean is this year's George McGovern, someone too liberal to win a general election. Leaving aside whether we would've been better off with McGovern than with Nixon, and leaving aside the fact that every election is unique and the lazy idiots in the press really need to stop reaching for an analogy to past candidates, we have these two questions: Is Howard Dean the flaming liberal everyone is now saying he is, and does this doom him in a general election against George Bush?

My look at Dean's actual policies tells me that the answer to #1 is no, and my gut reaction tells me that #2 is no also (but with a caveat).

Dean can be seen as liberal on some issues. He signed a bill allowing gay Civil Unions. He pushed forward a progressive plan for state funded healthcare and increased funding for public schools.

Dean can also be seen as moderate/conservative on some issues. He doesn't favor any new Federal gun control laws, and has a good rating from the NRA to show for it. He balanced the state budget for 12 years, while actually lowering taxes. He sometimes angered the left wing of his own party while in office. He even talked the legislature into passing the gay Civil Unions bill as a compromise which headed off a gay Marriage bill.

What does all this add up to? Dean is a pragmatic centrist, but one who has been adopted by the left for his willingness to rail against George Bush. There's a very good chance that if more prominent Democrats hadn't spent the last two years sucking up to Bush, Dean would, in fact, be the Bruce Babbitt of this election. What has attracted most of Dean's supporters has been his energy and his willingness to be critical of Bush in a way that other candidates haven't been. If they hadn't dropped the ball, Dean's poll numbers would probably still be in low single digits.

You don't win elections by talking about how much you support your opponent, and Dean appears to be the only one who knew this all along.

In a general election, Dean could be a very strong candidate [note the could].

1) He has 12 years experience running a relatively poor state with a balanced budget, which makes him much more credible when he promises to tame the Federal deficit

2) He's a doctor, which helps both with healthcare issues and overall with voter trust

3) He appears to say exactly what he means; and ,as we learned with McCain's candidacy, people respond to candidates who speak from the gut rather than froma consultants talking points

4) He's neutral on guns, which diffuses a tremendous wedge issue. Without guns in play, Nevada, Arizona, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee are all within reach. Other than Clark, Dean is probably the only prominent Democrat who won't be hung with the He wants to take my guns away tag come election time.

As I said, Dean could be a very strong candidate. Whether he is depends a lot on his campaign and on Democrats as a whole. The guys running against him are trying to paint Dean as too left-wing to win a general election. In this they are being aided by right wingers both in politics and in the press. If the Dean campaign becomes captive to their most ardent supporters and never fights their way back to the middle, if other Democrats continue to portray Dean as another McGovern; Howard Dean will never have a chance to become that strong candidate.

The Dean people and Democrats in general need to fight the attempts of outsiders to define who our candidates really are. It's important that we look at each person for who they really are, not for who some layabout on televsiion tells us they are. Just as John Kerry isn't a taller Michael Dukakis and John Edwards isn't a Democratic Dan Quayle, Howard Dean isn't a latter day George McGovern.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Give the Dude a Break

Not surprisingly, the same people who've been quick to jump on Al Gore's case every time he does anything at all have jumped on him for his endorsement of Howard Dean. They've criticized him for making the endorsement now, well before the primaries have started. They've criticized him for not telling Joe Lieberman and the other candidates first (Russert phrased it like he had an obligation to let them talk him out of it). I'm sure some no-talent ass clown has critisized Gore's clothes and hair on the day in question.

Unfortunately, Gore seems to have gotten used to the role of punching bag (my biggest problem with his campaign in 2000), so I'll have a make a few points he should make himself.

1) Oddly enough, an endorsement means a hell of a lot more before the election than after it. If Gore truly believes that Dean is the best man for the job, then why the hell shouldn't he try to help him out? It takes more guts to do that than to hang back and endorse the winner after the smoke clears.

2) Lieberman has done little else but distance himself from Gore for the last 3 years. Did he really expect Al to stand aside and let himslef be used as a whipping boy? [He probably did, given the way Gore has bent over for his critics in years past]

My guess is that Gore looks at Dean and sees the candidate he could have been, the candidate he wishes he'd been. One who isn't afraid of saying things that get people riled up, who doesn't let the consultants tone him down and warp his message to the point of incomprehensibility. It's the candidate I wish that Gore had been also.

I'm not sure if Dean is the guy I want, but I'm glad he's not gonna take shit from anybody. That's a quality that both Gore and I seem to admire in a candidate.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

More Electoral Politics

In 2000, Al Gore won the majority of the popular vote, probably the true Florida vote, and the West Coast, the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, and the Mid Atlantic states.

In order to win this election, a Democrat needs to carry all the Gore states plus either one more big one or a couple little ones (as the electoral vote totals have changed with the 2000 census).

My nominees for the big one:
1) Florida
2) Ohio

My nominees for the little ones:
1) New Hampshire
2) Missouri
3) Arkansas
4) West Virginia
5) Nevada
6) Arizona

The broken Bush promise on nuclear waste is gonna hurt him in Nevada, probably cost him the state to a decent opponent.

I'm really not sure how many Florida Gore voters in 2000 are gonna turn around and vote for the guy who they think robbed them of their choice. That won't be known until election day. Look for a big anti-theft backlash if Katherine Harris, the Cruella deVille of the 2000 recount, runs for Bob Graham's Senate seat.

The three key questions for Democrats should be

1) Who can hold all the Gore states

2) Who can pick up a few Bush states

3) Who would make a good President (unfortunately this isn't the only relevant question, as you can only become a good President if you first win an election)*.

The answers are out there, and there's more than one good one.

*Note to quibblers: While Bush did indeed become President without first winning an election, I speficially said that you needed to win one to become a good President.

Weird Trivia

1) Three direct descendants of former Presidents have become President themselves.

2) All three took office despite losing the popular vote.

3) The previous two lost their reelection tries to the men who'd won the popular vote the first time

More Also Rans

Of the prominent contenders for the nomination (I'm leaving out defeated Illinois Senators, Cleveland Mayors, and loudmouth New York gadflies from my calculations), there are some really good candidates. The only ones I had serious doubts about were Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt.

Despite his resemblance to the Keebler Elf. Lieberman strikes me as both too close to the big money skybox politics of such luminaries as Gray Davis and Tony Coehlo and too tied to his smarmy goody-two shoes image. I can't say enough bad things about someone who wants to get tough on Hollywood but not on Wall Street.

Plus, Lieberman would likely be a bad candidate. His policies would be the least distinct from Bush's on a host of issues (the environment aside), and this ain't the way to win. He showed the instincts of a streetfighter in winning his first Senatorial campaign, but in 2000 was obviously afraid to do anything that people might dislike. In a general election, he'd make Dukakis look tough.

Gephardt just gives me the willies, always has. No man with a complete lack of eyebrows will ever be voted President. Sorry, but it's true. He also has the same inside the Beltway persona that almost always loses the Big One.

Policywise, I doubt that Gephardt would've made a bad President. I just don't see anything that would make me think he'd make a particulary good one.

Well, never mind. They'll both be gone soon. Lieberman can't lay claim to consistent support anywhere, and Gephardt is a non-entity outside the Midwest.

Requiem for a Heavyweight

I went into this year thinking that John Kerry was the man. He could've been a contender, but it just ain't gonna happen. He's gonna get smoked in New Hampshire (which, ironically, would've gone for Gore and given him the Presidency if Kerry had been on the 2000 ticket), his own back yard , and he'll be gone shortly thereafter. Too bad.

I don't know if Kerry could've shaken off his Gore-like demeanor long enough to really engage the voters, but he would've gone down swinging. He's a fighter. No fucking way he'd be caught apologizing because some reporter misquoted him to make him look bad. No way he'd let lies about his record slide until they became conventional wisdom.

Kerry was gonna be the leftish (but not lefty) alternative to guys like Lieberman and Edwards, but one with solid military credentials. He would've been the logical focus of the Bradley supporters of 2000 (who didn't seem bothered that Bradley was never a true liberal himself).

Kerry is smart as hell, and stands on the right side of most issues. He wrote a book about international law enforcement before Bush had ever been outside North America. He has some great ideas about using energy conservation to enhance national defense. He's cautiously hawkish on foreign policy, but knew it was important to bring allies when we ventured abroad. I really think he'd make a great President, but it's not gonna happen. Got hit by the Deam steamroller, and his thunder is gone.