Wednesday, March 03, 2004

BYE-BYE, JOHNNY: Actually, let's not say goodbye to John Edwards, but rather so long, because I think it might be real fine to see him on the dais in Boston being introduced as Kerry's running mate.

Back to politics. Okay, I didn’t have much to say the day after Iowa, when I felt pretty dumb for having been enthusiastic for Howard Dean. So I’ll post today, when I feel pretty smart for having expressed doubts about John Edwards.

More unenlightening armchair quarterbacking from Slate magazine. John Edwards was never a serious candidate, says Chris Suellentrop. Look at his delegate totals; the man did no better than Howard Dean at actually winning votes, and think what a joke Howard Dean is by now.

I hate to credit the conventional wisdom about the Howard Dean campaign, but apart from the smug tone it usually carries, the argument makes sense. The Dean campaign was not a failure; it served its purpose as a protest candidacy. Dean changed the terms of the debate. He proved that it was not fatal to attack Bush. Dean’s message was useful; it was Dean himself that was found wanting.

To me, it follows from the above, that the primary season has been a process of self-definition, or re-definition, for the party: defining the message, the messenger, and that ineffable something-or-other we call Electability. John Edwards represented an important stage in the process, so for Suellentrop to harp on raw vote counts seems to miss the point somewhat.

Suellentrop begins by asserting how highly touted Edwards was by the media when he entered the presidential race. Then he ends by reciting the list of Edwards’s weaknesses (too young, weak on national defense, etc.), which is the same list one could have recited three years ago. I suppose Edwards was highly regarded, according to the somewhat condescending standard the press has for Democratic presidential hopefuls: that good looks and a Southern drawl are a great starting point, and we’ll fill in the policy positions later. But Suellentrop faults Edwards for not living up to his advance build-up. Not a moment’s reflection about who the press builds up, or why.

It’s not easy for me to admit as a spitball-throwing populist, but Kerry’s emergence as the nominee looks like a victory for insiderdom. Kerry has good people working for him, he has a well-organized and reasonably well-funded operation, and his years of experience on Capitol Hill and as a campaigner have served him pretty well.

And I got no problem with that. 2004 is not about having a perfect simon-pure party of the left, it’s about getting rid of Bush. He’s the worst US president in my lifetime, possibly in history, and I don’t say that lightly; Richard Nixon set the limbo bar mighty low.

Here’s my eulogy for Howard Dean: My support for him was pragmatically based. I saw a Democratic Party cowed by the Bush war presidency, demoralized by the 2002 midterm elections, and reliant on a PAC-based finance system that was obsolete and feeble in comparison to the GOP’s. Howard Dean showed us a way out. Kerry and Gephardt and Lieberman were appeasing Bush; Dean drew a line and issued a battle call, and empowered regular people to enlist in the fight. Lots of them.

Dean got a bum steer from the media; he’s a better person and a much more moderate politician than he was portrayed as. But you know, he had a buttload of money, he had his face on the covers of Time and Newsweek – he got his shot. That’s what I wanted from the beginning, a competitive primary season in which the outcome was not foreordained, but decided by voters.

The primary season was a big success. The spotlight and momentum are with the Democrats. Now is the time for true patriots to pull together and come to the aid of the John Kerry campaign for President.

No comments: