M. A. D.

Dean responded to my indictment of Kerry’s and Edwards’ debate performances. I’m re-posting it here because, frankly, my response was too long, but also because I think it goes to the heart of what’s happened in this election.

Aaron: spoken like a partisan, my man. The administration has answered every one of your charges more than once. Perhaps you just haven’t been listening? Heh.

It appears from where I stand that what you want most is red meat. You want Kerry and Edwards to be ferocious, tearing into their opponents right and left. It’s pretty clear to me that they’ve chosen a pretty negative attack already and probably realize that if they’re much more negative than they are now, they’ll delight the Bush haters but will alienate the middle. I suspect they are correct in that.

I frankly think they’re doing a pretty good job. On the record, Bush clearly deserves re-election in my view, both for his masterful handling of the econmy–he inherited a worse incoming economic situation than any president since Franklin Roosevelt–and for his excellent handling of foreign policy. And I say that not as a Republican (I’m not) or a conservative (I’m not), but merely because it’s my analysis.

The Bushies could do a better job of defending themselves. Bush himself certainly could. Cheney did a good job on defense, he really did. I wish Bush were that good at it.

I think it is important, when piously asserting the partisanship of someone else, to actually know one’s target. After all, independents like myself who supported John McCain in ’99 and drafted Wesley Clark in 2003 did so not because of some hunger for rancor and “red meat,” but rather, because they were the only candidates on either side capable of inspiring rather than dividing, and campaigning, as Clark put it, “not in destructive bickering or personal attacks but in the highest tradition of democratic dialogue.”

The problem today isn’t that folks like myself have tuned out. Quite the contrary, the reason people are disappointed with Kerry is because we are paying attention. And we see that the truth, or any semblance of it, is long gone from this campaign, bruised by the Republicans who impugned Democrats’ patriotism in ’02, bludgeoned by the Democrats’ lemming-like adoration of Howard Dean, with his kitchen-sink indictments of All Things Republican in ’03, and finally, swift-boated today by half-truths and outright lies by bi-partisan surrogates who cast candidates as latter-day Nazis and V.C. interlopers.

It’s notable, most importantly, for the hypocrisy of it all. Bush supporters, for example, laud Cheney’s “excellent” bludgeoning of the facts, and in the next breath caution the Democrats to play nice. They cheer the “red meat” from their own candidates while admonishing the opposing side for seeking the same. George W. Bush can pull two words out of a sentence to invert its meaning, and can all but equate the election of John Kerry with America’s surrender in the war on terror, and there’s nary a word. But John Edwards, of course, was already “a little shrill,” and to expect more toughness is to expect him to “be ferocious, tearing into [Bush and Cheney] left and right.”

I point out these things not because I’m a Democrat (I’m not) or a liberal (I’m not). It’s merely my own analysis. Those who give tacit approval to Bush-Cheney’s desparate and shrill attacks and pat Kerry-Edwards on the head for good behavior know better themselves which tactic works best today. So do we.

As a result, and with the primaries over, the choices constricted and the board set, those of us who crave true leadership from either party are left seeking something much more practical from those left standing: competence. No, not the competence of a Dukakis-like dignity in defeat, but rather, the toughness and willingness to fight fire with fire, to seek the high ground but defeat them, if they so choose, on the low road.

This is all a necessity nowadays, since our great referree, the fourth estate, is already bought and spoken for and seems to value storylines and stereotypes more than the truth. At this point, the most we can hope for is that the ultimate winner maintain some semblance of respectability. Something he can build on after the pandered-to go back to Survivor and Trading Spouses.

So while we shake our heads at the way both parties have sullied the democratic process, we also realize we need a candidate who will, if necessary, go down into that pit fighting.

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