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Can Dean Move to the Center?

Gore’s endorsement of Dean clearly adds to Dean’s already considerable momentum toward the nomination. At the same time, as Josh Marshall points out, it probably will accelerate the emergence of the anti-Dean candidate, whoever that may be. Trouble is, of course, that being the anti-Dean, with this announcement and Dean’s latest poll results, seems increasingly likely to mean a ticket to a glorious second place finish in the race.

But that means it’s more vital than ever to think through the question of whether and how Dean will be able to move to the center in the general election. And make no mistake about it: he will need to do so. In the Gallup poll linked to above, Dean does way better among liberal Democrats than any of the other candidates, receiving 40 percent of their support, compared to just 11 percent for Clark and 9 percent for Gephardt.

But when you look at moderate and conservative Democrats, it’s a different story. Dean receives only 17 percent of moderates’ support, running slightly behind Clark at 19 percent. And with conservatives, he does rather poorly, receiving 11 percent of their support, running behind Gephardt (25 percent), Clark (17 percent) and Lieberman (13 percent).

It’s a fair assumption that the pattern we find here among Democrats will replicate itself in the general election: liberals will take to Dean easily, while moderates and conservatives will take much more convincing to throw their support to the man from Vermont.

Findings from a recently-released Pew Research Center poll of likely Democratic primary/caucus participants underscore this problem. Just 5 percent of these Democratic voters choose Dean as a Democratic candidate who would do a “particularly good job” protecting the nation from terrorism (and respondents could select more than one candidate if they wished). Now, if Democrats have a hard time associating this issue with Dean, it’s a reasonable assumption general election voters will have an equally or more difficult time.

The Pew poll also finds that just 36 percent of these likely Democratic primary voters favor repealing all of the Bush tax cuts, as Dean does. This is actually less than the number (42 percent) who would prefer to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy, while keeping the rest of the cuts in place. And this is among Democrats. It’s a very fair assumption that Dean’s position will be an even harder sell among the general election electorate–particularly the moderates and conservatives mentioned above.

So: time to move to the center. Here’s a two point plan that could help him get there.

1. A “Sister Souljah” moment on the loony anti-war left. Dean, as Robert Kagan and others have pointed out is no George McGovern on foreign policy and fighting terror. Time to let the voters know that. There is certainly no dearth of nutty groups or far-out intellectuals who could be usefully denounced as failing to understand the need for America to fight terror with every means at its disposal. Iraq may have been an ill-conceived use of American power, but that does not mean the exertion of American power is always a bad idea. And so on.

2. Preserve the middle class tax cuts. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, eliminating all the Bush tax cuts is not economically necessary. And the polling data couldn’t be clearer about what a bad idea it is politically. Time to tell the American people the really serious problem with the Bush tax cuts is the huge tax breaks going to the folks who don’t need it. We’ll take those back, then move toward real tax reform that shifts the tax burden away from work and closes tax loopholes for the wealthy. And so on.

Together, these two moves would do much to reassure non-liberal voters who are uncomfortable with George Bush that it’s safe to vote Democratic. And that, in DR’s view, will be the key to the election.


Jesus, this drives me nuts.

Look at your own damn quoted poll. Don't you think the fact that the guy getting the greatest amount of support among conservatives is Gephardt MIGHT just indicate that MAYBE most people aren't paying enough attention yet to know what the hell any of these guys stands for?

I mean, can we please drop the whole "Dean is too liberal" lunacy? He quite clearly isn't, and the only reason people who aren't paying attention yet think so is because lazy pundits and reporters would rather report on each other than on the god damn truth.

God DAMN this is getting old.

cdmarine: grow up. face reality. An image problem isn't any less real because it is an image problem.

Did Al Gore lose the last election because the press was out to get him, or because he ran a poor campaign?

Is Dean really angry, or is it just that everyone besides the faithful is deluded? It really doesn't matter.

Dean has to face this issue. He has to confront the perception that he is far to the left (even though in reality he is further to the right than many progressive Democrats). That is exactly what a "Sister Souljah" moment does: it confronts the perception. That is a necessary thing.

The tax increase issue, though, isn't a perception. It is a fact that by calling for a repeal of the middle-income component of the tax cuts Dean is throwing the Republicans a soft ball and asking them to hit it out of the park. There's just no point, at least that I can see. If you want to restructure the tax system, go for it, but there's no reason to increase taxes on middle- and lower-income Americans.

To close: you won't get your candidate elected by huffing and puffing about being misunderstood. If he's misunderstood, it's his problem (and your problem). Deal with it. Explain yourself or change your positions.

I don't know about #1, but my suspicion on #2 is that he plans on changing the payroll tax. He's made some noises about this in the past and this, without a doubt, would be a way to reduce taxes on not only the middle class, but the poor and small businesses as well.

I think Dean really doesn't talk about how to fight terror very much at all--he simply critiques Bush for it.

There's plenty of policy material he could crib from CEIP, Brookings, CFR, etc. that would give him some good ideas.

All he has to do is talk about what he would do, and keep talking about it.

I have no problem with people pointing out that there are certain perceptions, be they true or false. But let's be clear about something here: part of the reason that perception exists is because so very many Democrats who should know better spread the myths themselves, not just the hand-wringing about the perception of the myths. Then, when called on it, they feign shock and claim it's not their fault that the perception exists... they're just dealing in reality!

Second, given the rather odd (to say the least) results of that poll, it's entirely valid to point out that it may not be entirely solid ground upon which to construct strategy! Bad data in = bad data out!

Does that mean that, in the end, this analysis is wrong necessarily? No, it doesn't. But it is dismaying to see people who should know a hell of a lot better being so incredibly careless about the fundamental assumptions going into their analysis.

You may disagree with my opinion on that, but that doesn't mean that I need to "grow up."

The liberal image is one I think Dean clearly promoted with his antiwar, civil union issues. He is the one who appealed to the liberal base with these issues in an effort to get his campaign off the ground.

But I agree with ya, he is not a liberal. In fact I think he is rather right of centrist, and theres a lot of smoke and mirrors here.

The tax cut repeal for the middle class is dumb politically and I fully expect dean and his campaign to reach the same conclusion and waffle it.

Dean has, at every opportunity, pointed out that he is not anti-war, that he supported GHWB's war, and the war in Afghanistan, and that he believes in a strong military and the willingness to use it. He has also, at every opportunity, pointed out that he is a conservative, balanced budget, fiscal hawk.

As for civil unions, he has not given civil unions a place of particular importance in his campaign (as in, pushed it out front of other issues). He has simply talked as openly about it as he has about any other issue, refusing to sweep it under the rug. He has also been repeatedly asked about it by others. Yes, the end result is that people perceive that as liberal, but you can't blame Dean for that.

Dean has never hidden his non-liberal self. He's not stupid enough to disavow his liberal supporters, mind you. But he's never pretended to be anything other than he is: a pragmatic guy with no particular use for ideologues on either side. As a result, he has positions that fall on either side of the line. His insistence that Democrats stand up and be Democrats again has a lot more to do with not continuously rolling over for the Republicans every time they pout, than it has to do with Left v. Right ideology. He wants the opposition party to be the opposition again.

What exactly is Dean's "image" problem? That he can't win over "conservative" Democrats?

Excuse me, I'm going to puke from laughing so hard.

Dean is KILLING the field in New Hampshire, and leading huge in Iowa and Virginia. Those are not pansy-waist Anti-War Loony states. Those are REAL NUMBERS. Dean is also leading among the Dem contenders in the polls against Bush, mano-a-mano.

Dean doesn't need to do anything more than he's doing now: tell the truth, get his message out. He's a centrist, and diehard liberals such as myself can "suck it up" that he wants things like a balanced budget, states rights on gun control, and a strong military.

You dead-enders can go vote for Lieberman for all I care.

Cdmarine, I don't understand your point. If you're right, and the voters aren't paying enough attention yet to know what these guys stand for, how does that detract from edm's point? He is talking about ways that Dean can get peoples' attention, and get positive attention.

The voters certainly know about Bush's tax cuts (if they don't understand the details, they have heard of them and have a point of view), and they don't support Dean's position. Simple. How is getting to know Dean better going to help Dean here?

On the war, it's true, it will be interesting to see whether voters will pick up on Dean's stated willingness to use force to defend the US, which distances him from the loony anti-war left. The problem he faces is that voters are not comatose, and they know he vaulted into the lead by appealing to the left wing of the party. Now, sure, they were right that we should not have gone to Iraq, but then they're going to oppose every war, so sometimes they'll be right; even a blind pig will find an acorn. Voters need to be reassured, however, in a way that gets their attention, that Dean is not the captive of this group.

Which does, admittedly, present him with the problem of possibly crossing his base. It will be interesting to see how he does it, and whether he can pull it off. But if the key to Dean's attractiveness is that he's willing to say what needs to be said, and if he really believes he needs to fight terrorism, he will do something like this. Maybe by laying out a strong anti-terror policy of his own, and then, if anybody attacks him from the left, laying into them.

Ruy is exactly right, and the Dean folks better take his comments very seriously. I've had several of my fellow Dean supporters comment recently on the so-called "Teflon Dean" phenomena, and it scares the bejesus out of me; I can virtually guarantee you that this phenomena--if that's indeed what it is--will last only so long as he's running against opponents who fold like a house of cards, which is one of the main indicators that the news media uses to make their judgments. In other words, as long as Dean is engaging in his increasingly worrisome habit to say whatever thought that pops into his head at that actual moment (and, mind you, I support the guy) AND Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman, Gephardt are still losing ground against him--then folks will come to the incorrect conclusion that he's a teflon-coated candidate. That's all going to change, folks, when he is the presumptive nominee (soon), and he faces an incumbent president with shrewd advisors and jillions of dollars.

He has GOT to move to the center, find some discipline in his public statements, and ignore all this crap that says "don't fix it if it ain't broken." If he doesn't make those two changes (and Ruy's suggestions are excellent, although I could easily add others) it WILL be broken, mark my words, and Dean's "teflon" will flake off and leave him being seared on George Bush's griddle.

The key to Dean winning the General Election is to enlarge the pie of voters. Current polls are too linear and cater to old-line labels like "liberal" and "conservative." Dean and his team understand this. His eclectic approach on both domestic and international issues is both genuine and geared toward attracting new or disaffected voters. This is the only way a bankrupt Dem party can re-emerge. Now even Gore gets it!

Great post, Ruy. Thanks. Both of your concrete suggestions are wise. The only problem I see in #2 is that he will be accused of a big ol' flip-flop. And the Republicans can then say: he's lying, he's just saying that to get your vote, he'll raise taxes on you anyway. This was a huge strategic blunder by Dean early in the process.

It is also simply the downside of one of Dean's greatest strengths -- clearly, when he came out with his total-tax-repeal decision, he was not doing it with political calculation in mind. But there are definitely times when I wish Dean had a little more Slick Willy in him.

I do want to address something Praktike wrote down-thread. Dean has talked about what he would do to fight terror: basically, focus on al Qaeda, get serious about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, reduce our dependence on foreign oil so we can get tougher on Saudi Arabia, buy up former Soviet nuclear material, and do a lot more about domestic security (container ports, first responders, etc.).

What, exactly, about this is not a positive agenda?

Jefe La Gran: Gore ran a poor campaign, but the media did a number on him too and pretty much let Bush slide. I don't think they were "out to get him" but they focused on silly things (father of the Internet, Tipper and I were "Love Story") and didn't dig much on Bush's drunk driving and going AWOL from the TANG, which were real "character issues." Read Al Franken's book for a good take on this. But I don't disagree with your conclusions...

"The liberal image is one I think Dean clearly promoted with his antiwar, civil union issues. He is the one who appealed to the liberal base with these issues in an effort to get his campaign off the ground."

Properly played (and, I think, substantively played), being anti-Iraq war shouldn't be liberal as such. There are many ways in which Dean can run to the right of Bush on the substantive war on terror, ie, AQ. In truth, Bush is doing a lousy job on it. Burying the Saudi connection, poorly using financial tools, for starters. Dean starts this process by chosing Clark as running mate, as he is surely going to do.

' ... civil unions ...'
Sure, I know politicians pull strings and all that, but it appears that the reality is that the CU thing got pushed into his lap, rather than being some kind of strategic plan to secretly court a vote sector. I haven't seen evidence of him milking it all that much.

Dean is a centrist. CBS news reported last night that he is actually to the right of Clinton in many areas.

Thus it is not Dean who needs to move, but the Dem establishment, if he gets the nomination.

The dems must support whomever the nominee is with all enthusiasm. Not only because it is good for the party, but also for the country, because the US simply cannot afford another 4 years of Bushism.

The circular firing squad of Democratic presidential contenders is becoming sooooo tiresome. The most effective, coherent message that ought to be coming out of these debates in the weeks before the primaries is:
In a Dean (Kerry, Clark, Edwards, etc) administration,
-John Ashcroft will not be the Attorney General,
-international treaties and international law will be respected,
-clean air and water regulations will be reinstated AND enforced,
-focus on improving the economy here at home will not be directed towards more rewards to the corporate elite.

I could go on, but the real message needs to be that Bush and his policies are the enemy here. None of these guys who continues to attack the other candidates is doing himself any favors when the net effect is allow the SCLM to paint them as a bunch of irrelevant whiners. I'm not 100% on board the Dean express yet, but at least he is talking about ideas.

>But when you look at moderate and conservative Democrats, it’s a different story. Dean receives only 17 percent of moderates’ support, running slightly behind Clark at 19 percent.Findings from a recently-released Pew Research Center poll of likely Democratic primary/caucus participants underscore this problem. Just 5 percent of these Democratic voters choose Dean as a Democratic candidate who would do a “particularly good job” protecting the nation from terrorism (and respondents could select more than one candidate if they wished). Now, if Democrats have a hard time associating this issue with Dean, it’s a reasonable assumption general election voters will have an equally or more difficult time.<

But looking at the poll it shows that only 6% of these Democratic voters choose Lieberman, and Kerry is also at that 6% level. In fact the only Democrat that I would say has a good rating is Clark at 14%. Instead of pointing out Dean as particularly weak on the issue of terrorism or as the only candidate that will have a problem in reaching out to moderates, why not admit that as a whole the Democratic Party, not just Dean, has a problem?

I think Dean has some other changes due as well, ie, personality, and it's kind of late in the game for any quick turn around there. He's a hot shot! He's like the typical short guy overcompensating, angry, saying what comes to mind no matter what, always right, fast talking salesman, egomaniac and I could go on. He's about as liberal as Bush. Can't imagine him in charge of our national/international security with zero experience. I don't think we need another president who refers all those decisions to his tight inner circle.

Gephardt leading among conservative democrats made me raise my eyebrow too.

#1 will be easy. And as for #2, I agree with Jefe, he won't back down from repealing Bush tax cuts, but will offer his own alternative like a payroll tax cut. This would be a great idea as he needs to keep pounding the "I'm the candidate for small business"-thing. If he does this my republican father-in-law in Michigan will certainly vote for him.

while there is likely a need for Dean to move toward the center in the event he wins the nomination, the use of the Gallup data to support this contention is bogus -- as Ruy should know. Yes Dean lags among conservative Democrats, but the Gallup poll emphasizes that they are just a handful of voters. Dean does as well as anyone else among moderate Democrats, and it is hard to imagine that any of these would vote Bush against any Democrat.

Did Krugman say that rolling back taxes isn't necessary? I've been able to find this prescription (http://www.calpundit.com/archives/002152.html):

"A phased elimination of all the Bush tax cuts, plus some additional taxes. I'd probably look first at some way to make the corporate profits tax actually effective again — the nominal rate is 35% but the effective rate is only 15% or so. Look at some cuts, maybe you start to talk about retirement age, and possibly some means testing of Medicare, and that's enough to bring the budget under control."

Elsewhere (http://www.pkarchive.org/column/101703.html), he says that for political expediency maybe "we should propose a selective rollback as the first step, with broader reform to follow", but also gives two objections to partial rollback:

"The first is that an incomplete rollback of the Bush tax cuts won't be enough to restore long-run solvency. In fact, even a full rollback wouldn't be enough. According to my rough calculations, keeping the child credits and the cutout while rolling back the rest would close only about half the fiscal gap. But it would be a lot better than current policy.

"The other objection is that the tricks used to sell the Bush tax cuts have made an already messy tax system, full of special breaks for particular classes of taxpayers, even messier. Shouldn't we favor a reform that cleans it up?"

In fact, Krugman's argument seems to be that eliminating all the Bush tax cuts IS economically necessary, just not politically feasible.

So Ruy, what you're saying is that, with a stupid tax policy, unsettling temperament, and no experience with the perspectives of people who don't live in Burlington or Aspen, Howard Dean has absolutely NO shot at beating Bush! If Dean gets the nomination, it'll be that breakthrough day when KKK Rove has succeeded at giving himself a blowjob. Let's all pat old KKK on the back when that day comes.

Dan says:

"I do want to address something Praktike wrote down-thread. Dean has talked about what he would do to fight terror: basically, focus on al Qaeda, get serious about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, reduce our dependence on foreign oil so we can get tougher on Saudi Arabia, buy up former Soviet nuclear material, and do a lot more about domestic security (container ports, first responders, etc.)."

"What, exactly, about this is not a positive agenda?"

I respond:

Every candidate has, at some point, talked about these things. Most of them have detailed plans posted to their websites.

The problem is one of emphasis. The United States was attacked on Sept. 11. If you were to view that event solely through the prism of the Democratic debates, you would think it was only a backdrop for George Bush screwing up our country.

The candidates approach the issue primarily as a way of bashing Bush, and only, in a seeming afterthought, in terms of the serious issue of tracking down terrorists and protecting our country. That's a problem.

It's the same problem the Democrats faced for 40 years during the Cold War. Your opponents can call you weak on national defense if you don't present a forceful plan and do it often and with conviction.

You lead with your plan, and criticize Bush by way of contrast with your plan.

The other way of doing it is reactionary and makes you look so much smaller than your opponent.

Dean has differentiated himself on terror/Iraq and did so again last night. Kucinich represents what you disrespectfully call "the loony left" (don't you want them to vote Democratic?) but Dean does not. He has and will continue to articulate positions that are actually to the right of Bush on effectively fighting terror and take account of the practicalities, whatever they are at a given moment, in Iraq. That will be constantly changing, so his policy has to adapt to that. But he most certainly is not saying we should withdraw now and never use force, and it is a mischaracterization to suggest that.

On taxes, I agree that there needs to be tax reform that shifts the burden back to those who can pay and off of working people. Dean first said that the Bush tax cuts should be repealed because that is an easy message to grasp. He has not ruled out other forms of tax reform that would give more money to the working classes. I emphatically agree he should keep the 10% bracket, but he may well suggest different kinds of changes. A problem with reducing the rate on payroll (Social Security) taxes but raising the salary cap is that it might have the effect of increasing benefits at the top levels and reducing them at the bottoom, unless the mechanism for calculating benefits is changed. But I have no doubt that once he has the nomination Dean will come up with a comprehensive tax reform package. He is a fiscal conservative, and recognizes that there is a real limit to the degree to which an economy can grow its way out of deficits, particularly when incomes are dropping.

"In fact, Krugman's argument seems to be that eliminating all the Bush tax cuts IS economically necessary, just not politically feasible."

Right, Chris in Boston. I agree with Dan P. that this has been a major mistake on Dean's part. Thanks to the Iraq issue and his tremendously well-run grassroots campaign, he's been able to position himself as a positive non-establishment figure, and I definitely think he could have done this even without taking much of a different stance from the others on the tax cuts.

Also, socio-economically speaking, one can say that while it'll probably be necessary to roll them all back in the long-term, it made sense to go for short-term stimulative cuts in an economic downturn. Dean made a good case for the long-term thinking with the "we can't have everything" line, but I've been really upset that he characterizes anyone who supported ANY part of the Bush tax cuts as Bush-lite, or whatever. That's really not fair, and he didn't even need to go there to get the support that he's got today.

People who spend a lot of time with poll numbers don't get this point: voters like candidates and office-holders who don't read polls. You see this especially at the level of local office, where city and county officials who say outrageous things and cast votes like they absolutely don't care what anybody else thinks of them get re-elected consistently. Dean will die on the vine if he starts adapting to the poll numbers on things like tax cuts. Why? Because to leave the so-called middle income tax cuts in place is not consistent with the gravamen of his messsage: restore community and civic committment in America. One way you "take America back" is to pay your way, moderate self-indulgent consumption and reduce the nation's credit card debt.

I don't know whther the Dean tide will crest before victory in November but let's not encourage Dean to stop doing the things that have worked and shift to stategies that have failed.

1. Dean was was against this war, this time in Iraq. He has already attacked Bush for his deceit in the run-up and incompetence in the aftermath. Attacking Bush for his failure in the war against AQ and for his failure in homeland security is like shooting fish in a barrel. No doubt he will do a lot of that. But no "Sister Souljah" moment is required, because none of the so-called loony anti-war left thinks Dean is anti-war.

2. Dean has pointed out that the so-called middle-class tax cut was actually a tax increase due to the effect of rises in state and local taxes as well as user fees. Calling for a restoration of the tax system that gave us those years of prosperity under Clinton ought not to be a hard sell. The tax system wasn't broken and Bush sure didn't fix it. What's more, we are at war and a lot of people could be convinced that sending the bill to our grandchildren is not the way to go and that everyone must make sacrifices. Still, it may be better to try to close corporate loopholes like the ones that let companies incorporate in Bermuda. Finally, the idea of rolling back only the tax cuts for the rich would be a move to the left, not the center.

There seem to be quite a few posts from obvious (to me, at least) Dean
supporters who disagree with the idea that he must make a swing to the
center to win the general election. I am a Yellow Dog Democrat and
would not even consider a vote for Dean unless the only other option is

I consider myself a moderate Democrat: socially very liberal but
fiscally conservative. I am a full supporter of Wesley Clark and,
indeed, his candidacy announcement inspired me to make my first ever
political campaign donation. The central issue for me is this: General
Clark has spent his entire career making difficult decisions that affect
thousands of human lives, some of which would have no winners either way
and many of which had to be made on short timelines with limited data,
and bearing the full brunt of accountability for the consequences of
those decisions. I fully understand the controversy surrounding his
actions in Kosovo. I also respect him for not backing down from his
positions in that situation. Please keep in mind the serious setbacks
the U.S. has suffered in Afghanistan and Iraq every time the current
administration has waffled a previous policy or decision.

None of the other candidates meet this criterium. Dean also has the
disadvantage (to this voter) of having no foreign policy or diplomatic
experience and foreign relations will be an absolutely critical pursuit
of any administration that replaces Bush's.

My academic background is the Classics, ancient Greece and Rome, and
when I hear Dean I hear the voice of a demagogue. This is not a
criticism; I would love to see him raise merry hell in the U.S. senate.
He is the kind of gadfly necessary to ensure that any democracy
functions to its full potential. But a demagogue who runs for president
must represent an entire nation of diverse peoples, not just the
constituency that his activism seeks to empower. Julius Caesar was the
closest thing to a demagogue to ever serve Rome and the elite classes
killed him for it, thus ending the glorious Republic and opening the
gates to emperors who quickly morphed into tyrants.

This is why Dean must make a (carefully stage-managed) move to the
center to prevail with Democrats in the general election. "Anybody But
Bush" is a good bumper sticker but not a campaign strategy and certainly
not a plan for leading our nation. Dean should not count on it so
heavily to lead him to victory.

I think Dean and Trippi are doing better at strategy than you are Ray, but thanks for the advice, oh wise one.

I must agree with cdmarine: buying into the "too liberal" line that the press (and thus the GOP media machine) is trying to peddle is obtuseness of the highest degree. What is true is this: Dean needs to make it plain who exactly he is without alienating his first constituency. He isn't anywhere as liberal as the Great Megaphone is trying to paint him, certainly not as liberal as I'd like, and in this he's just like Clinton. But he sure is clear when he wants to be, and he sure can fight. Yeah, it would be a good idea for him to center up a little; but look at everybody who claims to represent the "center" against Mr. Ultraliberal Dean: all that sail trimming and mushmouthing has gotten us less than nothing in Congress, and now all the "centrists" are busy trying to overcome the onus of all the bad decisions they've made over the last 6 years.

Yes, this is getting old, and that's one of the damn good reasons why Dean is making the mileage he is.

The problem with Dean tacking to the center is that it will just reinforce the negative perception people already have of him: that he flip-flops like crazy to accommodate his current political circumstances. It's hard to style yourself a "straight-shooter" when every week brings another major "revelation" on an important policy matter -- always of course bringing one to the most politically expedient side. His true believers of course have no problem with this, but just about everyone else will.

Both good points.

I think #1 shouldn't be impossible, especially if Dean picks a VP that seems competent on security issues. He has to be careful, though - overcompensating by getting too hawkish and presenting himself as willing to attack everybody EXCEPT Iraq will just disconcert his antiwar supporters, while making him seem like an unreliable weirdo to everyone else. An effective critique has to come across as reasonable and measured, and revolve around 1. Using military force only as a last resort, 2. Focusing more closely on real terror threats, and 3. Making more of an effort to bring along allies. That last one is an area in which the general public opposed Bush's approach even at the height of his popularity, so it MUST be at the heart of the critique. Obviously, Clark is much better situated to make this critique than Dean, but I think Dean can be passable in this regard if he's smart.

If demonstrations at the GOP convention get out of hand and turn off the public (seems possible), that might be a likely time for Dean to publically break with the far left.

I expect the tax issue will be a tougher nut to crack. Dean has pledged to, quote, "repeal every dime" of Bush's tax cuts. Not a lot of wiggle room there, and Bush will have $200 million to make sure that Dean's tax increase pledge is much better known than any of his other promises. It's very hard to set yourself up as the defender of the little guy by promising to raise the little guy's taxes. Proposing another tax cut in exchange(payroll tax, for example) will help, but it'll be an uphill climb.

This was a pretty stupid move by Dean - it's totally unnecessary and unhelpful for him in the primaries, and it could end up being a serious, self-inflicted wound in the general. His campaign had better be putting a lot of effort into figuring out how to fix it.

I'm sorry but both of these pieces of advice are terrible.

1. Pulling a "Sista Souljah" moment means essentially doing a Clintonian triangulation. But what Ruy doesn't seem to understand is that triangulation is one of the primary strategies that have gotten the Democrats into so much of a mess in recent years. Not only does triangulation piss off the base because they (rightly) feel they are being stepped on in order to make a point. But it also turns off the middle who eventually see it as the politically calculated move that it is (especially when commentator's like Ruy talk about it so openly).

2. Back-tracking on his promise to repeal ALL of the Bush tax cut would be a monumental mistake because it would essentially paint Dean as just another political opportunist who really has no principles and doesn't care about anything except what it takes to get elected. Dean's pledge is a difficult sell. But backing out of it now would be even worse.

Dean needs to essentially do exactly what he has been doing all along: continue to stand by his positions IN SPITE of the criticism and WIN the middle over to his point of view. The Undecideds are undecided because they don't know what they want. You can't appeal to their interests because they don't have any. What you have to do is SELL them YOUR interests and convince them that they are the same.

This is what the Republicans have done so successfully over the last few years. They have managed to convince the muddled-middle that they have the same interests. The Democratic nominee has to do the same thing and, so far, Dean is the ONLY one who has demonstrated an ability to do it.

Does Dean need to address the perception that he is too far left and weak on security issues? Of course! Will he? Of course!

The point is that Dean's record in Vermont and his stands on the issues will make a move to the center look natural and graceful rather than phoney and stage managed. Dean is in my opinion far and away the strongest candidate for the Dems:

1) He is energizing the base in ways not seen since Clean Gene and Bobby Kennedy, actually in ways that have never been seen, and that hold potential for remaking the party and the political process in this country;
2) He is the only Dem who has a chance to significantly enlarge the pie and pull in some of the 50% who don't vote;
3) His positive populist message of "take back your government" and stand up to the "special interest boys" is just the right message to appeal to the disaffected, the young, and the working class, and he does it without directly playing the class warfare card which would turn off the more affluent swing voters;
4) His background as a doctor and his record as a social liberal (except for guns) and fiscal conservative make him the perfect candidate to appeal to the professional and technical workers that the EDM book said were the most important and growing group of swing voters.
5) Although I am a strong advocate of gun control, I think his state's rights position on this issue will go a long way towards removing this wedge issue from Karl Rove's quiver, and will certainly help to make Dean more competitive with rural, border state, and working class voters.

I think most of the hand ringing by party professionals and insiders is based on superficial analysis. As the press and the public get to know more about Dean, his standing with moderates and swing voters will only improve.

I do think Dean needs to be careful about the gaffes, but he is a very smart, articulate guy and I think his reputation for saying what is on his mind is one of his greatest assets.

Beyond the issues, voters care about character. There is a profound hunger in this country for political leadership that has real integrity. That is why the Slick Willy side of Clinton was so despised, and why the right was so successful at portraying Gore as a compulsive prevaricator. Rove will have a hard time doing the same to Dean.

I find it particularly curious that Teixeira and Judis seem so uncomfortable with Dean. I have read and re-read their book, and I think a careful analysis suggests that Dean is the perfect guy to build a new Democratic majority.

What do you think?

I think Ruy is completely correct. Many Dean supporters who disagree don't seem to understand how issues like taxes (and issues in general) play out with the broader electorate.

"1. Pulling a "Sista Souljah" moment means essentially doing a Clintonian triangulation. But what Ruy doesn't seem to understand is that triangulation is one of the primary strategies that have gotten the Democrats into so much of a mess in recent years. Not only does triangulation piss off the base because they (rightly) feel they are being stepped on in order to make a point. But it also turns off the middle who eventually see it as the politically calculated move that it is (especially when commentator's like Ruy talk about it so openly)."

But who would Dean be pulling this off against? DR is quite clear in referring to "nutty groups [and] far-out intellectuals." As many Dean supporters rightfully point out whenever right-wingers try to put all of them into the same basket with the Bush-is-Hitler/America-is-a-terrorist-state crew, opposing the Iraq war was not the same thing as opposing all wars. Very few people opposed Afghanistan, since we had been directly attacked, and Dean supported that war, along with (undoubtedly) the large majority of his supporters. So why shouldn't he go after some seriously screwy protestor types? Many of those people aren't even Democrats, much as the GOP would like everyone to believe otherwise. DR is not suggesting that Dean should go after his own base. He's just pointing out that it would be a good idea for Dean to make a high-profile move distinguishing himself from the wackiest among the anti-war crowd. We all know that Dean isn't consulting with Noam Chomsky on foreign policy, but your average voter could be misled by the inevitable GOP propaganda on this.

I consider myself a liberal Democrat and support Wes Clark for president. That Clark got where he is by way of Nixonism and Reaganism indicates to me that Clark is growing and improving as he ages, which is a prerequisite of what I see as liberalism (as opposed to extremism).

My take on Howard Dean is that he has a beautiful strategy for getting the Democratic nomination, and that I'm not falling for it. That Dean's call for a complete repeal of the tax cuts is bad for the general election seems to me axiomatic -- if he "wins" despite this stance, it will be due to Republican self-implosion.

There is a reason the Republicans have started attacking Dean badly: they found that if they attack Dean then his popularity among Democrats goes up, and they _want_ to run against him. I see "complete repeal of the Bush tax cuts" as similar: it enhances Dean's popularity by repudiating "anything Bush did". We can't afford to act that way.

Given that Dean neither had to cast a vote, like Kucinich, nor give expert commentary, like Clark, I cannot distinguish Dean's "anti-war"-ism from a shrewd political calculation. Dean may be sincere, but I can't tell the difference.

Clark's being a general who clearly enjoyed military work immensely is a turn-off for "anti-war" people, but I see that as being due in part to a confusion. Clark isn't even remotely "anti-war". As he keeps repeating, he is against _this_ war, which he calls _the wrong_ war. That's an expert opinion, because Clark's specialty is war. We need people like that for our own survival, even we Democrats; we should welcome them.

Perhaps if there is a Dean-Clark ticket (which I consider likely) then Dean can get on the same message as Clark with respect to wars, and use the same rhetoric. The point that must be driven home is not that we should avoid fighting, but that we are fighting on the wrong front for wrong reasons.

With regard to the tax thing, though, I'm afraid that something has to give. Fritz Mondale might have learned the hard way that simple honesty is not a convincing argument (though I'm afraid he didn't learn this, considering his approach to the Coleman-Mondale debate in 2002).

1 Dean has already said it is impossible to just walk away now.

2. The Dean move to the center on taxes could be "I will repeal all of the Bush tax cuts. Let us be clear about that. But after they are repealed I will introduce a new tax reform plan that eliminates corporate loopholds and provides real not fake middle-class and family relief."


A lot of Deaniacs on this site (and elsewhere) seem to be assuming that Dean is at least halfway there, as far winning the presidency goes. And that his admitted success in surging into the lead in the primaries constitutes evidence that he can do the same in November. Let's be clear, he may be able to beat Bush, but he hasn't started doing that yet. Not one bit. The characteristics, actions, and strategies that will win the general are TOTALLY different than winning the primaries, let alone winning in New Hampshire and Iowa. It's like they're completely different campaigns. If or when Dean is declared the winner of the nomination, the campaign starts over from zero.

The reason I say this is that probably 95% of Dem primary voters (more than that, likely, in Iowa and New Hampshire) were always going to vote next Fall, and vote for the Democrat. In strategic terms, they're all irrelevant. What matters -- the only thing that matters -- is what marginal Dems and swing voters do. And they haven't been asked and don't know Howard Dean from Adam. The question Deaniacs and prospective Dean supporters need to ask is: Once the general election starts, can he recreate this kind of movement among those swings and marginal Dems? He's never done it before in his political life. In fact, he's likely never even been around the kind of midwestern, southern swing voters he's going to have to win. And his TV persona is not going to help, believe me. It's going to be a tough, tough slog. And meanwhile, we have this other candidate (Clark) who is a natural for that campaign. You couldn't design one better in the lab. That's what so frustrating.

Brea Plum Gomez: I'm not sure what turns you off about Dean. You call yourself a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Look at Dean's record and you'll see that's exactly what he is, strong on both counts. I respect your support for Clark; he's a good man and would make a great president, if only he could figure out how to run a political campaign. Yes, Dean has no foreign policy experience, but Clark has no domestic experience. Whatever happens, I hope you'll vote for Anybody But Bush.

Haggai: You're upset that Dean paints all Dems who supported any tax cuts as "Bush-lite." I have to assume that this is part of his fiery rhetoric to stand out in the crowd and to attack his opponents. At some point, he's got to start hitting the "big tent" theme and explicitly welcome all Dems who voted for tax cuts and for the war. From all we've witnessed, he's a damn smart politician, so I'm assuming he'll start doing that when he needs to.

But I want to expand this question a little. The problem that Dean identifies is that the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to define taxes as always burdensome and bad. The Dems were utterly incompetent even at arguing for progressivity in the tax code, even on the estate tax! That's why the very phrase "tax relief," which Lieberman uses, is so evil: linguistically, it concedes the argument before you've even made it.

This is one of the fundamental problems with Clinton (who was really fantastic in many ways, and I'd be ecstatic to have him back): despite basically centrist/progressive policies, he didn't use the bully pulpit to make the case for liberal values. Taxes are not bad; they pay for things we all want. Government is not bad; it does wonderful things that only it can do.

That said, I still agree that Dean messed up on his tax proposal. In the heat of a campaign is not the time to be telling voters that they need to take their medicine if they want to get better, especially if your opponent has basically been carrying around a "free lunch" sign for the past three years.

AS writes: "If or when Dean is declared the winner of the nomination, the campaign starts over from zero." I agree.

In 1994, I believe it was, here in Minnesota, the Republican caucuses endorsed Alan Quist for governor. This popularity in the caucuses didn't make the least bit of difference. Quist was demolished by Arne Carlson, the incumbent, in the Republican primary. Carlson went on to demolish the Democrat, John Marty -- who probably would have demolished Quist if not for the Republican primary.

Easter Lemming writes: "The Dean move to the center on taxes could be 'I will repeal all of the Bush tax cuts. Let us be clear about that. But after they are repealed I will introduce a new tax reform plan that eliminates corporate loopholds and provides real not fake middle-class and family relief.'"

Disastrous. Consider what happens if you substitute, say, "Social Security" for "tax cuts". You get: "I will repeal all of Social Security. Let us be clear about that. But after it is repealed I will introduce a new Social Security plan that eliminates [fill in the blank]."

I hope anyone can see that the fact of repeal outweighs the mere hope of a superior replacement. My guess is that Dr. Dean can see this but is pandering for the nomination. Otherwise, if he can't see it, in a way that's worse because we could end up with a lookalike to the 1984 presidential election, where Walter Mondale, in the belief that simple honesty might prevail over subterfuge, promised to raise taxes.

The notion that Clark is better suited to winning over swing voters seems simplistic to me. The questions we need to ask in order to have an intelligent discussion of thes issues are:
1) why do people vote for a particular candidate?;
2) which group of swing voters are you talking about?; and
3) is the universe of swing voters fixed or are there ways to effect turn-out and get new voters to the polls in November?

Briefly my thoughts on each of these:

1) Voting decision are based primarily on two things a) which candidate best shares my values and b) which candidates character makes me feel the most comfortable.

2) I believe there are two main groups of swing voters: a) white working class voters who tend to dislike republicans as the party of the rich fat cats but who are more socially conservative than many liberals; and b) suburban professional and technical workers who tend to by fiscally conservative but socially uncomfortable with southern, evangelical base of the Republican party.

3) Conventional wisdom is that turn-out changes are fairly small, but a in a close election with an electorate that is fairly polarized even a turn-out change of a few percentage points could have a huge effect.

As I indicated in my post below, I think Dean can change turn-out. His background makes him perfectly situated to appeal to suburban professionals and swing voters. I agree that Clark may have an easier time with southern and mid-wetern working class swing voters, on the other hand I think Dean's straight-forwardness and his positive populist rhetoric is the perfect pitch to bring these voters back to the Dem side.

Dean is going to win the nomination. Debate at this point about whether he is the best candidate to beat Bush are a waste of time and energy that could be spent in figuring out how to beat W. He is clearly not the worst candidate; he may or may not be the best candidate. I don't know and I wil never know.

I think he could go a long way towards victory by starting his general election campaign with Clark as his running mate. That would be a good start. My gut feeling is that Clark wants to be veep.

I just hope the other Dems get on board once they wake up to the fact that they don't have a prayer of beating Dean. I would say the same thing if any one of several other candidates had it in the bag by now. I would have loved to see Kerry get it together. He didn't and won't. Nothing really wrong with Gep either. But that's all history.

Dan Perreten asks what it is that turns some people off of Dean, and then goes on to offer an impressive defense of Dean's stance on issues. Speaking just for myself, I'd say, that's nice, but that and a buck fifty would buy you a latte. It's not Dean's ideology (which I think is sort of mushy centrist) or his positions on issues (most of which, except for taxes, I agree with). The problem is, and the problem with liberals -- of which I am a proud one -- always has been that they assume voters vote based on the issues. Some voters do, of course, but they long ago decided which party they were for, and are unpersuadable. The voters who actually decide presidential elections, though, don't. They couldn't care less what a candidate's position is on any issue you care to mention, and really don't lose much sleep over who's president, either. They make their voting decisions based on fleeting perceptions on TV of the major candidates, and what those snap judgments tell them about the candidate's character. To me, Dean on TV comes across as charmless, humorless, aggressive, intense, arrogant, and yes -- even if he really isn't -- angry. Not to mention short and no-necked and with a vaguely evil-looking smile, like a cat that just swallowed a mouse, which shouldn't matter but unfortunately does. The primary upside is that he comes across as smart, but actually that's kind of a negative for many voters. I worry immensely that disinterested, moderate, too-busy middle-of-the country voters are going to get a sour taste quickly from him, and once they do it's over. Those shortcomings play right into Bush's hands: Remember, most than half the electorate LIKES the man personally, finds him amiable, charming, and friendly. And the country as a whole is NOT mad at him. They're disturbed about where we're going, maybe, but don't pay enough attention to be mad. The average adult thinks about politics and public policy about 5 minutes a week.

Anyway, just some thoughts. It's not the issues. It's not the energy and the strategy, which are both fabulous for our party. It's the man.

Holy shit. I just realized that the comments are in REVERSE ORDER from the comments at other sites!

In response to tstreet's comment:
>Dean is going to win the nomination. Debate at this point about whether he is the best candidate to beat Bush are a waste of time and energy that could be spent in figuring out how to beat W.
I disagree strongly. We have not had time to have an adequate debate. Everybody on this site has probably spent a lot of time thinking about the candidates, while most voters have not. Even the primary voters, typically more politically involved, are just now beginning to to look. To cut the process short, based on who has collected the most money and big name endorsements is a big mistake. The Dean campaign is now furiously promoting this inevibility line in the hopes of demoraling the other candidates and their supporters. We will end up with a candidate that many Democrats don't feel comfortable with and in many cases don't even know. Listening to the NPR story about Gore's endorsement of Dean the other night, I was struck that the people interviewed on the street had never even heard of Dean (I suspect the same would be true for most of the other candidates). Does anyone else find it ironic that the man who has been running to 'empower' the voters is now being crowned as the winner before anyone has actually voted. It is obvious that this is not the way to either find the strongest candidate or to cultivate support for whoever the candidate ultimately is.

1. "Liberal Dean" is the creation of Rush Limbaugh, Clear Channel, and Karl Rove. These and other bushie supporters have spent the last eight months attempting to tell the democrats who their best candidate would be. At the same time they have tried to find away to get Dean out of the race. If you know anything about Karl Rove you know that he handicapped the race months ago and from the beginning has feared Dean .

2. General public opinion of Dean is based on mainstream press reports and clear channel. After the nomination is secured and Dean is campaigning for the presidency the public will get to form their own opinion. Image will be no problem because he'll have plenty money to get his message out.

3. Joe Lieberman represents everything that is wrong with the DLC DNC and the weak democratic leadership. But now he may serve a purpose by trying to make this a clinton referendum. As voters have scrutinized the bush administration they have learned how much Clinton contributed to the current situation. And he has always been hard to defend on any type of moral ground. If Lieberman gets manic on the clinton issue it could serve a dual purpose of shedding the party from this weight along with a dismal party leadership appartus represented by the DLC DNC and the likes of Tom Daschle. If Clinton wants to keep making those big speaking checks he will put a muzzle on Lieberman.

4. Long shot candidate is John Edwards. He has been saving his money to start his campaign in SC. It could be the closest primary race of all of them. Edwards will be in full assault and the demographics and polls fit the Dean message well.

A resounding yes to point #1, but Dean will have to do better than simply out-hawk Bush. He'll have to get some big ideas about the rest of the world and fast. Let's remember that Bush's support for this war is one part deception, one part fear mongering, and one part pretending to be the second coming of Woodrow Wilson. I think the last piece is very appealing to moderates of the sort who understood Clinton's foreign policy, and since Bush can't talk for too long about WMD without incriminating himself, the humanitarian line is the one he is pushing now, and will be pushing through the campaign. Witness the London speech, the fake-out global AIDS funding, the endless toppling of the Saddam statue. It makes him look like a statesman, it tugs at the heart strings, and it has a lot of 'big vision' cred. If Bush gets to brand Dean as a small minded isolationist, he won't escape. And it will be really, really unpleasant to watch Bush plagiarize FDR and get away with it. REALLY unpleasant.

Ralph Nader: the new Sister Souljah?

Dean's Sister Souljah moment must be aimed at someone who oppose a U.S. policy of using force defend to against terrorist groups -- or terrorist supporting states -- that threaten the United States.

To make it clear that he still opposes the Bush policy of unprovoked war against groups or states that pose no threat to the U.S., Dean should keep his fire concentrated on those who opposed the war in Afghanistan -- which virtually all Americans supported.

Two words: Ralph Nader.

Nader is visible enough for Dean's comment to get attention. Also, Nader supported using only special forces to attack Al Qaida training camps, not the Afghan government.

Dean should attack Nader's naive views that would have left the blatantly terrorist supporting Taliban government in place. Dean could even attack Bush for having, himself, cut and run in Afghanistan.

Ralph Nader: the new Sister Souljah?

Dean's Sister Souljah moment must be aimed at someone who opposes a U.S. policy of using force to defend against terrorist groups -- or terrorist supporting states -- that threaten the United States.

To make it clear that he still opposes the Bush policy of unprovoked war against groups or states that pose no threat to the U.S., Dean should keep his fire concentrated on those who opposed the war in Afghanistan -- which virtually all Americans supported.

Two words: Ralph Nader.

Nader is visible enough for Dean's comment to get attention. Also, Nader supported using only special forces to attack Al Qaida training camps, not the Afghan government.

Dean should attack Nader's naive views that would have left the blatantly terrorist supporting Taliban government in place. Dean could even repeat his attack against Bush for having, himself, cut and run in Afghanistan.

"Haggai: You're upset that Dean paints all Dems who supported any tax cuts as "Bush-lite." I have to assume that this is part of his fiery rhetoric to stand out in the crowd and to attack his opponents. At some point, he's got to start hitting the "big tent" theme and explicitly welcome all Dems who voted for tax cuts and for the war. From all we've witnessed, he's a damn smart politician, so I'm assuming he'll start doing that when he needs to."

Dan P., I think you're right on all counts here, but I still don't like it. He simply didn't need to do this to stand out from the others, as Iraq has clearly been the thing that's done it for him issues-wise, and his very strong campaign infrastructure (the other big stand-out thing for him) operates independent of any one specific issue. It really rubs me the wrong way to see people who have an honest disagreement about taxes being tarred with the brush of some of the most dishonest and reprehensible fiscal policy in American history.

Your other thoughts about taxes make sense as well, so why didn't Dean just stick to those kinds of arguments, instead of calling for the repeal of the one specific aspect of domestic legislation in Bush's record that actually still has popular support? This is possibly the main thing that makes me nervous about his ability to beat Bush, although nobody here has mentioned Amy Sullivan's arguments about religion over at politicalaims.com, which I also find quite convincing. Her basic point about the "guns, God, and gays" line is similar to my own feelings about his stance on the tax cuts: he's needlessly pissing people off without gaining any appreciable amount of new support than he would otherwise.

One thing I find kind of amusing is how liberal supporters of Dean protest way too much about how Dean isn't at all a liberal, but a centrist.

OK, question is, if this is true, how do they explain their fanatical support for him? Isn't it possible that, say, his liberal anti-war position, and his liberal social views, etc. may have everything to do with why they are supporting him? Why should these views matter so much to them, but somehow NOT matter to the general public? What makes these supporters believe that Bush and Co will fail to make the point effectively that these issues are indeed important, and that on those issues, Dean is as far left as it gets?

Frankly0: As someone who has gotten increasingly involved in the Dean campaign over the past couple of months, I agree there is something of a "secular evangelist" tone to many Dean supporters. However, I disagree that the reason for this passion is based primarily on Dean's liberal positions on social issues or even on his opposition to the war.

What drives the Dean campaign, and what makes it unique in my experience, is the fact that Dean and the campaign have empowered a huge number of people.

It starts with the fact that Dean is willing to "take on" Bush, on the war, on tax cuts, on environmental policy. He isn't mealy mouthed. He doesn't parse every sentence. He doesn't triangulate. He has given voice to the frustration and dismay of millions with the far-right, idealogically driven, economic greed-fest that is the current Republican party.

Second, the rhetoric of the campaign is profoundly empowering. The "take back your government" theme infuses every aspect of the campaign. Go to the Dean website and read Dean's pamphlet, "Common Sense for a New Century." It puts into beautifully crafted words what I have been thinking and feeling throughout three decades of community organizing and political action.

Third, the campaign doesn't just "talk the populist talk," it "walks the populist walk." Anyone can get involved in the campaign, at any level. Sitting in Oregon, I have exchanged e-mail with some of the top staffers in national HQ and seen my suggestions show up in the national campaign. The campaign is phenominally accessible.

Finally, the campaign has succeeded in transforming fundraising from an evil-but- necessary chore into a joyous, empowering, community activity. In Oregon, there will be over 100 house parties held for the campaign on December 30th. Do you have any idea how amazing that is? In a fairly small state, with no paid campaign staff, more than 2,000 people will gather to write checks totally more than $50,000 in a single night. As a former professional community organizer, the idea that volunteers could find that many sites, turn-out those kinds of numbers, and raise that much money is incredible. How is it possible? Because every time someone writes a check, they feel that our collective efforts are counterbalancing the $1,000 a plate dinners of Bush/Cheney and their fat cat friends. We are literally buying back our government through collective action.

It isn't about the issues, although the issues are important. It is about the process. A lot of party insiders don't get it, almost none of the press gets it, but the people inside the campaign get it. I don't know if Dean can beat W, but I think he will win the nomination, and in the process I think he has a chance to transform the party and the political process.

upper left is exactly right, but for one thing left out, IMO.

The empowerment is what is driving the fervor. It's also what brings some percentage of people to the table in the first place. But, given the initial accusation about liberals loving Dean's liberal side, I want to make sure that issues are still on that table, too.

It used to crack me up to have Kucinich supporters wander by (either virtually, on the blog, or physically, at events), with this look on their faces and tone to their voice that was somewhere between earnest and smug, and "inform" us Dean supporters that he wasn't really anti-war (or that he wasn't anti-gun, or that he had to cut this or that service in Vermont, etc.). They would always splutter with shock and rage when they discovered we already knew.

Apparently that silly "understanding" of Dean supporters remains. It's so inconceivable for some people that they have to posit that Dean supporters must be deluded in some way. They've been hypnotized by some guru figure. They're dumb lefties who've been duped into thinking he's a lefty. They're pot-smoking, leftover hippies whose abused brains can no longer grasp that Dean isn't one of them. And on and on and on.

Free clue to everyone who doesn't get it: We KNOW he's not a far-left liberal. What's more... we LIKE THAT, for the most part. A large percentage of us (and the rest of the SWING VOTE electorate, by the way) hold the same sort of pragmatic, anti-ideological, Left-here-and-Right-there set of beliefs that Dean holds. And even where we don't share his beliefs, we recognize in him, a guy who makes decisions based on what seems to work, rather than on ideology. All-out anti-war people aren't supporting him because they've been fooled into thinking he's a peacenik. They're supporting him because they trust him to make informed decisions based on what normal people who AREN'T running for office make them on: an assessment of the situation and of what will do the most good based on that assessment.

Howard Dean is not running a Left vs. Right campaign. He is running a Pragmatic vs. Ideological campaign, with a heaping dose of Decentralized vs. Centralized control thrown in. People who don't understand that will continue to be baffled by the "Dean phenomenon." Those people will continue to engage in hand-wringing over turning off Independent and Republican cross-over voters while those same Independent and Republican cross-overs go to Dean Meet-ups and set up banners and sound equipment for Dean rallies.

And, frankly, I don't mind if the Bush administration and its shills don't understand that. I hope they don't get it until it's too late. But I do wish that more Democrats would make an attempt to understand it.

OK, cdmarine and upper left corner, if its really not Dean's views on anything in particular that drive people to Dean, and he's really nothing more than the most central of centrists, why is it that his core supporters so strongly lean to the liberal side? Shouldn't Democrats of all stripes -- e.g., Democrats in the South -- be embracing him in equal numbers? Why hasn't that happened?

AS: Yes, you're right that Dean's persona turns some people off. In many forums, he's nervous on TV still, and it comes out as defensive and uptight and all the other adjectives you mention.

I've been saying since June that one of his primary obstacles will be his television skills, and I was hoping that he could improve in this area. After all, Bush has improved immeasurably, though he still sometimes looks into the camera like a deer in the headlights. Dean has improved over the last six months, but not by nearly enough. Let's just hope he does some serious work on it.

Haggai: Thanks for your thoughts. We're definitely in agreement that Dean's total repeal is a bad idea, politics-wise. I think it's fine policy-wise, but as you say: it's legitimate to disagree on this. As for Dean's rhetoric going overboard in his attacks on fellows Dems, I just don't have a problem with that, and it's not because I'm on his team and therefore justify everything he does. Some exaggeration, both of a candidate's own accomplishments and of an opponent's weaknesses, is to be expected in politics.

To take a great example from someone who has attacked Dean: Dick Gephardt has twisted and exaggerated Dean's positions on Medicare (Dean's record on healthcare is simply stellar). This attack is classic Democratic demagoguery, an attempt to scare the seniors. Clinton did this to, I think, Tsongas, in 1992.

I find this kind of attack unsavory but relatively legitimate in the rough-and-tumble world of politics: it focuses on issues, it's based at least on a grain of truth, etc. Politics isn't a high-toned debating society, all its participants wearing morning coats and white gloves. It involves some dirty pool. Where is the line that shouldn't be crossed? Totally lying your butt off, wildly attacking your opponent's character, questioning your opponent's patriotism, etc.

Needless to say, the GOP crosses that line all the time.

"It starts with the fact that Dean is willing to "take on" Bush, on the war, on tax cuts, on environmental policy. He isn't mealy mouthed. He doesn't parse every sentence. He doesn't triangulate. He has given voice to the frustration and dismay of millions with the far-right, idealogically driven, economic greed-fest that is the current Republican party."

I dislike even the implication that the other candidates are not taking Bush on regarding the tax cuts, or that they're mealy-mouthed about it, etc. It's completely false, as it is about environmental policy as well. I'm a Clark supporter, but I haven't heard any economic message from anyone that's tougher on Bush than this Edwards speech from June:


I don't like the parts where Edwards says that "some in my party" want to try to "spend our way out of every problem," since I don't think that's really true either, but find me any speech/statement by any of the candidates that's as tough on Bushonomics as this one. Dean was obviously the only who opposed Bush on the war from the very beginning, but let's not pretend that he's the only one who's been consistently opposing Bush on other major issues as well.

cd marine: I couldn't agree more. I like Dean's mix of liberal and centerist positions, not because I agree with him on every point, but because I think it makes it hard for his opponents to pigeonhole him. It has been interesting to hear the comments about Dean's teflon.

IMO the reason attacks don't stick is because they are coming from all sides. The Republicans (see the national GOP website) are trying to paint him as an ultra-liberal, but his record of fiscal conservatism and his gun position make it difficult to make this accusation stick with anyone who is bothering to actually find out Dean's record (the "ditto heads" believe the "ultra-liberal" stuff, but that is OK, they won't vote for a Dem anyway, and they are being lead to misunderstand and underestimate Dean, which is good).

The politically correct, idealogical crowd is and some of the candidates are busy jumping up and down saying "Dean isn't liberal enough." I think the net effect is that the criticisms actually seem to cancel each other out.

I agree there is an element of pragmatism vs. idealogy, but I think this can be overstated, Dean does have a core idealogy, "the government should belong to the citizens, rather than to the corporate elite." This isn't to say that Dean is against business, but rather that he seems to recognize that unfettered, unregulated capitalism and a political process that equates money with free speech distorts democracy.

"if its really not Dean's views on anything in particular that drive people to Dean, and he's really nothing more than the most central of centrists"

First of all, that's not what I said, but I'm not surprised that you read it that way. You're one of the people who hasn't quite grokked what's going on inside this campaign.

Two thoughts on the question, though.

1. The people farther on the left were the ones who were already inclined to be quite active, and the ones most immediately responsive to the decentralized activist message. Additionally, other than Kucinich and Graham, Dean was the only one in the race not saddled with the baggage of having originally supported a war that the people on the far left vehemently opposed. (Of course, since you read my earlier message as saying that no positions mattered, I'm sure you'll now tell me that I've contradicted myself. Woo!)

2. I reject the premise of the question, frankly. It's not my experience, and it's not my experience to such a large degree that I have to question the data. I meet and talk to a LOT of conservative Dems, and a lot of Indie and Repubs. And I mean, a LOT. They come up to ME when they see my Dean button or bumper sticker. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I'm a Republican from way back, but..." Dean does appeal to liberal Dems, yes. But, in my experience, he appeals to conservative Dems, Indies, moderate Repubs, and Repubs of all degrees who value fiscal conservatism over social conservatism. One of the ways he does that is by staking out pragmatic positions that make sense, regardless of what side of the Left/Right line they might fall. It's not simply about being in the Center on every position. That's my point, and that's what seems to confuse people who don't get it.

Haggia: It wasn't my intention to imply that the other candidates are all Bush-Lite. The Dems all have much more in common with each other than they do with Bush and company.

My point was to try to explain why, IMO, Dean's message has resonated so well with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally. Yes, Dean's primary stength AT THE MOMENT is with liberals.

My point, which I have been trying to make for the last two days, is that Dean's record will allow him to build increasing support among moderates and even some conservatives, as the voters get to know him better, without him having to change many of his positions and sacrifice his reputation for straightforwardness.

I do agree that his position on taxes, while good policy from a fiscal responsibility point of view, is dangerous politically. I would be surprised if he didn't have some sort of clarification or fall back position in mind. Whether you like him or not, he is not stupid, and his campaign thus far has been characterized by very thoughful planning.

I believe you, upper left, since we're all in this together, and we'll all have to circle the wagons around whomever the nominee ends up being. I'll have no problem doing that if it's Dean, and I think the vocal few among Dean supporters who sometimes say that they won't support anyone else are an insignificant minority. But Dean himself used the "Bush-lite" line in one of the more recent debates, and it really bothers me, especially when it comes to taxes.

cdmarine, OK, so you do grant the obvious, that Dean's position on Iraq was and is pivotal in the left's embrace of Dean. And I think that, just as this is an absolutely key issue driving liberals to Dean, it is an absolutely key issue for most voters. Voters are not going to care so much about "fiscal conservatism" as about this signature issue. (It's worth remembering that Dukakis also mouthed the "I'm a fiscal conservative" line endlessly, to no avail in his attempt to deflect the "liberal" tag.)

Now here's your problem. As you point out, virtually all politicians, EVEN DEMOCRATIC POLITICIANS, supported the Iraq war resolution. Now you have to turn around and say that that position can not be portrayed by Bush and friends as extreme. Now I think it's going to be a little hard to convince most voters that a position to the left of the vast majority of DEMOCRATIC politicians is in fact not an extreme position, particularly when such a well funded media machine on the right will be trying to convince them that it is.

If Dean had anything in his background that suggested strength on issues of national security, it might counterbalance the impression of weakness. But he has taken only one real widely public stand: he's been against the Iraq war. He can talk until he's blue in the face about how he would defend the US, but who is going to believe him? Again, Dukakis uttered the same kind of brave words, even hopped into a tank, but no one believed him. Apart from the fact that Dean is supposed to have some magical rhetorical powers (which though never seem to affect me) how is he going to PROVE to people he is NOT weak on matters of national security? Increasingly brave speeches? Ever more fiery language?

Frankly0: You're right that most Democratic politicians supported the Iraq war. But that's precisely why so many Democratic voters are so pissed: by and large, Democratic voters did not support the war. We felt betrayed and unrepresented by our elected politicians.

It's why Kerry and Edwards and Lieberman have sunk in the polls. Nobody save Robert Byrd, for God's sake, had the cojones to oppose what was a singularly unjustifiable war. Certainly unjustifiable on the grounds Bushco were offering.

As for the populace as a whole, this war was never all that popular. To my knowledge, the polls never showed sustainable, high numbers in support for unilateral intervention. Which is another reason Democratic voters were so pissed at Dem politicians: there didn't seem to be all that much risk in staking out a position that at least half the country held.

As for being painted as a peacenik, do you remember Max Cleland? Lost three limbs in Vietnam, voted for the war, got painted as a Saddam-loving traitor, and lost to a draft-dodger. So I guess us Dean supporters just aren't buying the formula that you are putting forward.

Is Dean's background and anti-war stance tricky? Does it make it easier for the GOP to do its demagoguery? Of course! But I'm just not buying that nominating Kerry or Clark is any guarantee of inoculation on this point.

It seems to me that the traditional way to deal with characteristics that your candidate lacks is through the pick of a veep. This carries not only the geographical area but helps to balance out the qualifications of any single candidate.

So I throw out the possibility- Who would make the best ticket? Even if we assume that Dean is going to be the nominee the point is that it is not just Dean who will be running, but both Dean and his veep candidate. I would think that the veep would need to have a strong military background (but still be acceptable to the anti-war folks) and some good moral character statements/ability to send out religious statements (esp to worry the Reps in the South). One of the problems in the South is that most candidates are timid about talking religously, allowing the opponents to label them as "godless liberals". While I think that military experience is more important, if someone could combine them it would be very nice indeed.

So with each of the frontrunners, who would make the ticket balanced and strong?

Also, if I may be so bold, it seems to me that the real reason that Bush stays in the White House is that the Senate is Repub. If it were Dem would not the Judiciary comittee etc be using the supena powers to get info and at least curb some of his excesses, if not have back to back impeachments?

This is my first time posting here. I run the Independents for Dean blog where we have been doing our utmost over the last 5 months (what marginal influence we have) to change the widespread perception that Howard Dean is a lefty's lefty. I am one of the longest Dean supporters from outside of an early primary state, back when he was an asterisk; so Dean supporters who are here, please view what I'm going to say with some perspective.

Lately I've become very frustrated with Dean and his campaign staff's apparent unwillingness to stress Dean's centrist and conservative views. Their strategy appears to be veer left and stay left, banking on the other 5 major candidates remaining in the race right up through Super Tuesday so that Dean will win pluralities among liberal Democrats and glide to the nomination. I believe their strategy rests entirely on this shaky assumption.

The campaign is totally ill-prepared to go head-to-head between Feb. 3 and Mar. 2 against someone who, correctly or not (most likely not), is viewed as a more moderate or conservative candidate. In such a fight, Dean will not even win the nomination let alone the general election. Yet the campaign and Dean himself barely ever talk in depth about foreign policy or other conservative issues. "I got an A from the NRA" doesn't sound like a heartfelt defense of an important issue as much as a short shrift pander. Explain your conservative fiscal philsophy. You've demonstrated your commitment to these principles in the past, display them for all Democrats and Independents to see, Dr. Dean, or else you'll continue to be called the man for the lefty liberal. He can shift quickly. Why doesn't he?

I say all of this because I know how incredibly hard so many have worked to get to this point. I still believe Howard Dean's going to make the best President, Republican or Democrat, we've seen in decades. Right now it appears he's letting us down by not having a durable winning strategy for the next 3-4 months, and the long-term be damned.

upper left, you made a comment about swing voters that was off base - you seemed to discount a huge segment of swingers: people who are not professional class, most not even college educated, who live in Midwestern, Southern and Western states and while they are not comfortable with the religious right, they are also at least somewhat anti-intellectual and possibly suspicious of coastal elites and appreciate a palpable dose of patriotism, optimism with some populism. Dean can sound some of these tones, but not all as effectively as Clark.

The tone of anger that intellectual coast-ers appreciate is alienating to them. These folks don't have much time for politics. These voters are Clark targets - I agree that Clark is straight out of central casting for this job.

You don't see Clark's appeal because you don't see these voters. They are the majority of swing voters. Teixera has talked about them many times.

Heh. Dean will have no problem finding some loony terrorist-hugger to renounce (there's got to be one somewhere, right?). His attitude on the really nutty left-wingers is not exactly a secret, even among his far left supporters.

For better or for worse, though, Dean is undoubtably serious about the tax cut rollback, and not likely to waffle it. He's a cast-iron deficit hawk, and he'll do whatever it takes to balance the federal budget (I'm not kidding; he raised taxes and cut social services during his unelected first term as Governor). He'll talk a lot about how federal tax cuts have made property tax rates explode; dunno if he can sell it.

Dean's response about raising taxes should be the following:

"We are at war.

"The Homeland Security bill is federally unfunded. Iraq and Afghanistan required massive appropriations to ensure we succeed in stabilizing those two countries. Afghanistan will likely need many more reinforcements as the Taliban is coming back strong.

"We as Americans must sacrifice more for the protection of our nation. I have cut taxes in the past, and will be certain to do so when our costs at the federal level can be met."

Scott has it right - connect the taxes to the horrible job Bush, Inc is doing on homeland security.

This past week, it was announced the TSA is -cutting- 6,000 screeners as a cost cutting measure. So - the Feds take over secuirity, then cut 6,000 jobs to save money? And even with the 6,000, anybody who flies knows what a joke security is - the college student who planted the box cutters and bleach on SouthWest planes a month or so ago is a clear example. And on and on.

There are a lot of examples of how lax Bush, Inc is on this stuff. Dean - or whoever the candidate is - needs to dispel the myth that this admistration is somehow strong on this stuff.

This is ridiculous. It sounds like a bunch of Deaniacs trying to turn Dean into Clark and Kerry. Why not just go with the real deal so we don't have to transform anyone? Clark and Kerry already appeal to the conservative voters and if it were not for the Far left Dean people stealing this away from the moderate end of the Democratic party we wouldn’t have to try to FIX Dean to make him electable on a National level. Give me a break.

Well, gee whiz, Steve, polls seem to indicate that you're wrong about which candidates are most popular among moderate Dems. National polls, which are based on name recognition, are unreliable indicators. Polls in states that are paying attention show that Dean is just as popular in the middle as any other candidate. And remind me again, how's Kerry doing these days? Right.

"Why not just go with the real deal so we don't have to transform anyone?"

There are two things going for Dean which Clark and Kerry most definitely do not:

1) The loony left could vote third party if a Green or someone runs and Dean is not the nominee. Their anti-war stridency could make them vote their consciences yet again.

2) No one else in the Dem race has demonstrated any amount of fiscal conservatism and certainly not to Dean's level. George Bush is enormously weak on the budget and federal spending. No one else can make this case but Howard Dean, a tax and spending cutter in the past. In fact, Wesley Clark and John Kerry would need to *move themselves* to the center to gain any traction with the budget hawks--moderate Republicans, Independents and conservative Democrats.

Dean can move to the center, and he can pick Clark as his running mate too!

I think Dean's call to roll back the middle class tax cuts is a mistake. Not because it is bad policy. But because it will never pass congress -- even one controlled by Democrats.

For the life of me, this seems like something that should be relevant. Why should Dean fight and bleed over this issue when he is never going to have his way with it?

I love the Good Doctor, but that is a reason why I switched from Dean to Clark.

Dean *IS* in the center. We just have to keep informing people of that.

* Fiscal responsibility. The only such candidate.
* Supports wars which make sense (Afghanistan) while opposing wars which have nothing to do with protecting the US (Iraq).
* Supports full funding for first responders (as part of REAL homeland security). Again, very centrist, unlike Bush, who actually opposes this.
* Supports telling the truth. Unlike Bush, whose baldfaced lies are extraordinarily common and well-documented. Supposedly conservatives care about character -- Dean has it, Bush doesn't.
* Supports locality-based gun regulation, rather than national regulation.
* Supports health care for all Americans -- but at the lowest cost (according to independent analysts) of all proposed programs. This is a *deeply* popular issue.
* Supports basic environmental protection and pollution controls according to the best current science (not going beyond it, but not ignoring it like Bush). This is supported by the vast majority of Americans, whether conservative or liberal.
* Opposes the "Bush tax" (http://www.bushtax.com/) : under which any federal tax cuts for the middle class are being more than made up for by unfunded federal mandates resulting in increased state taxes.

We need to emphasize all of these points over and over and over again, until people get it!