Tuesday, January 20, 2004

No Ioway to Pick a President

Some random notes on watching returns come in on CNN and the Des Moines Register web site last night.
  • The weird phraseology of Dick Gephardt saying he'd been in bigger fights, notably his son's "successful fight against terminal cancer". Gephardt at least had an unsuccessful fight for a terminal campaign.
  • A bizarre live debate between Bob Dole and General Wesley Clark. Dole, as a paid CNN commentator, had the temerity to dictate to Gen. Clark on what it takes to be a winner. As a three-time Presidential loser, I'm sure the advice was invaluable, particularly since Dole was a genuine war hero who lost to a draft dodger (Clark can take that experience into the general election against W.) Clark in turn did his best Howard Dean impersonation, and hotly argued with Dole about completely different issues. At the end, Dole seemed to actually give Clark an endorsement, and Clark in turn suddenly gave Dole the warm fuzzies! If Clark's trying to make me think he's actually a Democrat, the dual endorsements this week of might-as-well-be-a-socialist Michael Moore and Republican Bob Dole couldn't be any more confusing. Maybe if you average a Republican and a wannabe Socialist, you get a Democrat...?
  • Evidence that mud works: Dean's fall in Iowa. I don't buy that Gephardt took himself down with Dean -- he was down to begin with. But he did do Kerry and Edwards' work for them, and of course, George Bush's as well by smearing Dean. Ironically enough, it looks like most of Gephardt's support is going to go over to Dean now that Dick is out of the campaign.
  • Evidence the media is on pluto: the pronouncement of Dean's campaign being in trouble. Iowa's predictive value is virtually nil historically, and as was oft-discussed, the caucus process is neither entirely democratic (no secret ballots, etc.) nor representative even of Iowa's unrepresentative population, nor even an accurate poll of the proportion of voters supporting a given candidate (due to the "viability" threshold requirement.
  • Dennis Kucinich will have at least one delegate to the convetion, which assures him a prime-time speech, I think, according to tradition. Kucinich's campaign goals fulfilled. It now remains to be seen whether he or Al Sharpton will be the Alan Keyes of the 2004 Democratic race.
  • Idiots like Bill Schneider and Jeff Greenfield continuing to repeat lines fed to them by the Bush campaign, notably that Sadaam Hussein's capture has defused the anti-war anger. I don't buy that for a minute, and it's a serious mis-read to see acceptance of Kerry and Edwards by Iowans as being an about-face on the importance of the war as an issue. I will say that Dean certainly got a lot of attention because of his unambiguous stance on the war BEFORE the war started; but health care and the economy are the bread and butter issues for the Dean campaign, not foreign policy. Where the war comes in is not the next steps for Iraq, but the fundamental question of judgement -- or in the case of the President, his apparent lack thereof in weighing the evidence of a clear and present danger. On this point, Dean clearly has an upper hand with his track record.
  • Dean's fatal flaw still may be his greatest feature -- frankness and honesty. He recognized reality very early and conceded Iowa to Edwards and Kerry early, stated he's still delighted to finish third since he started out from 0% name recognition in Iowa, and had a tremendously enthusiastic rally with his supporters. The conservative media, of course, decided to report this as Dean being disconnected from reality, not in fact what it was, which was a realistic assessment of the big picture of the campaign and an energized, not disappointed, campaign of orange hats.
  • I really like John Edwards, but I simply can't believe "niceness" and a "positive" campaign is going to beat Bush in the fall. For one thing, the President IS A NICE GUY. I don't think Edwards can out-nice him to the general population, even if he can out-think him. By its nature, defeating an incumbent has to be a critical process. The trick is to remain likeable and gain the confidence of the electorate while going about valid criticism (or, as is the case with the last four Republican elections, engaging surrogates to sling the mud).
  • Clark is actually doing a great job at honing his political skills; his moment on Larry King last night, the Dole surreal pseudo-debate notwithstanding, showed his ability to get and stay on message. I still don't believe he's a Democrat, but in the John McCain school of republicanism, I'd be proud to vote for him if it comes to that.
  • Rather than being seen as an indictment of the Democratic party, if nothing else, Iowa has shown us there's a half dozen Democrats who'd make great Presidents; the selection process is going to be like picking from the dessert tray at a class restaurant, getting just the right confection for the mood of the electorate.
  • That said, I will be really chuffed if the Democratic candidates keep slinging mud at one another over relatively minor differences. Discuss the issues all you want. The problem with attacking Dean -- ANYBODY -- as "unelectable" is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kerry, for instance, inanely attacks Dean as having no experience in foreign policy -- like W. had ANY experience when he was elected President. And of course, Kerry's never governed a damn thing or been an executive of any sort, and neither has Edwards. And god bless him, General Clark, despite his great military record and diplomatic experience, has had only one job in his life, that of military officer, and I'm not sure that's the best experience for handling complex legislative and executive duties in government. The bottom line is everybody in this race has holes in their resume, and the candidates harping on one another's deficiencies will only help pave the way for the Republicans in the fall.

No comments: