After sizing up the Democratic candidates, I’ve come to the conclusion that, no matter which of the Democratic candidates wins the nomination, the result will be the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004.
Why? Well, we can start with the Democratic frontrunner du jour, Howard Dean. Liberals seem convinced they’ve found The One, but Dean will actually be the easiest of the top-tier candidates to defeat. That’s why Karl Rove wants him, and it’s also why the other campaigns, while surprised by his financial surge, are hardly suffering defections.
Dean is neither a McGovern nor a Dukakis. Rather, he is a cross between them both, having the ability to both fire up liberal partisans and trumpet his moderate gubernatorial record. He also carries their weaknesses: soft on defense, anti-tax cut (read: pro-taxes) and socially liberal.
(If Dean is both McGovern and Dukakis, then Bush is surely a combination of their opponents: Bush 41 and Richard Nixon. He is a son of privilege, out of touch with suffering working-class and low-income Americans, and he is secretive and deceitful, marred by a willingness to mislead the country for his party’s partisan ideological ends.)
The Bush campaign will borrow from the playbook of both campaigns. Dean, whose foreign policy vision is easily described as “I’m against everything Bush does,” will be tarred as an implicit pacifist, unwilling to use force when most Americans think it is necessary. Unlike fellow loser Graham, Dean’s opposition to the war has not been characterized by forceful rhetoric on finishing the war on terror, but rather, an unsettling hostility and indifference toward American military power. As Democrats should have learned from 1968, Middle America would rather have a president who is strong and wrong than someone they see as a panderer to reactionary, Blame-America-First liberals.
Get ready for campaign ads explaining how Dean boasted of spending months skiing in Colorado after receiving a medical deferment from service in Vietnam. The ads will also repeat a Dean quote from Meet the Press: “I do not have foreign policy experience.” So much for that Bush vulnerability. Voters will never trust Dean on national security, despite his claims that he’s qualified on the issue because he defended Vermont from terrorism.
Dean’s weaknesses don’t end with foreign policy. He wants to repeal all the Bush tax cuts, including those to middle- and lower-income families, effectively offering the kind of pro-tax increase platform that voters resoundingly rejected in 1984. He voiced support for raising the Social Security retirement age, but now says he’s against it. He’s also changed his position (read: waffled) on the death penalty, and has become a virtual spokesperson for gay civil unions (read: gay marriage).
Those who think Dean’s passion will carry him through need to look again. Unlike John McCain, Dean won’t be able to get fawning coverage from the press during the general election campaign. The least presidential of all the major candidates, his angry stump speeches, brusque manner with the press and big mouth will work against him, allowing the punditry to dismiss him as a gadfly (“Howard Dean is at it again…”).
Of all the major candidates, the case against Dean is the easiest one to make, because he is so easily encapsulated by a few key issues. He is the perfect anti-war, pro-gay marriage liberal, just the sort of Saddamite who makes Bush look like a moderate.
Though he likes to appeal to “southern white folk with confederate flags on the back of their trucks,” these people will take one look at Bush’s first negative ads and immediately sign up for auto-debit donations to the RNC.
Indeed, like Bush-Dukakis in 1988, the campaign will not focus on Bush’s shortcomings, but rather, how goddamn far-out-liberal that “moderate” Democrat guy is. Come November 2, 2004, Bush will win in a landslide, consolidating the South with little effort and pushing the Democrats back to blue beachheads in the Northeast and California.
Those who believe Dean will become the next president are as delusional in peace as they were during war. A vote for Howard Dean is a ticket to four more years in the political wilderness for the Democratic Party.