The Democrats’ Rage

The Weekly Standard has an interesting piece on the rise of Howard Dean and the psychnology of the Democratic Party. Dean has captured the base of the Democratic Party where none of the other candidates has. Dean has essentially tapped into a long-simmering attitude with the Democrats.

The Democrats hate George W. Bush. It’s not that they just disagree with him and his policies. It’s that they despise him personally. You’d get more kind words from the left about Adolph Hitler from the left than you would for George W. Bush.

Part of it stems from the increasing radicalism of the left coming from the American political realignment towards the GOP. Another part stems from the 2000 election in which the Democrats felt that Bush "stole" the election. As Caldwell states:

Those Democrats who dismiss Dean as unelectable are making an assessment of what non-Democratic voters think, and this is a subject on which Democrats have been driven into a frenzy of illogic by their dislike of George W. Bush. The current self-serving self-delusion–one reads it in "Doonesbury" and hears it from Nancy Pelosi and a variety of marginal commentators and celebrity know-nothings–is that Republicans have succeeded because their message is stupid and simple and dishonest; and Democrats have failed because they’re so subtle and principled. Under this logic, Democrats will do best by nominating a malevolent sleazeball and getting him to shout at the top of his lungs. Suffice it to say that this logic is identical to that upon which Republicans built a string of defeats in the Clinton years.

Indeed, if one reads Atrios or Hesiod one would think that the GOP is actively trying to send the poor, the elderly, and minorities into prison camp. For anyone who isn’t a hard-core Democrat, such an attitude is not only off-putting, it’s downright scary. These people aren’t out to persuade anyone, they’re out to fight a secular holy war.

However, Caldwell argues that despite all this, it’s not prudent to write off Dean quite yet:

But there is no concrete political reason why Dean should be less electable than any of his rivals. People forget that "electability" used to be a synonym for "large advertising budget." Dean has the latter; therefore he has the former. Those who wonder whether his issue appeal is broad enough forget how far John McCain got attacking on a far narrower front.

At the same time, Dean’s budget isn’t near to the GOP funding juggernaut, despite his pioneering use of Internet fundraising. Furthermore, a big war chest isn’t the sole factor in an election. If your candidate just doesn’t click with the electorate, money is only cosmetic, and you’re going to be spending far more on defense than on message.

At the end of the day, Dean is going to have to come up with the answer to this question: "Why should you be President". The answer "Because George W. Bush is evil, a tyrant, etc…" won’t work. Even with Bush’s ratings slide, half the electorate is going to think you’re a nut for making the argument, and that does nothing to answer the question. Unfortunately, for Dean to start making himself palatable to the general electorate, he simply can’t do nothing but bash Bush at every turn. He’s going to have to define himself. However, one he does that he looses the biggest reason why the Democratic base loves him. In essence, Dean is stuck in a political Catch-22 – he can either keep his current stategy and play to the base and lose the general election, or he can embrace his more moderate roots and lose the base and possibly a lot of the steam that’s powering his rise. For any political candidate, that’s a difficult path, and especially for a Democrat that has to deal with a fractured minority party.

However, Caldwell is exactly on the mark with this prediction for 2004:

As for the general election, Republicans seem unaware of how riled up Democratic activists remain, even three years after the 2000 elections. A substantial segment of the party’s base has been radicalized to the point where it does not recognize the legitimacy of the Bush presidency. This is a very different thing than mere dislike of a president. It means that Democrats are prepared to fight this election as if they were struggling to overthrow a tyrant. One fears that 2004 could wind up–in its rhetoric and its electoral ethics–as the dirtiest general election campaign in living memory. It is not a condemnation of Dean to say that his rise provides another piece of evidence that this fear is well founded.

Indeed, despite the Democrat’s cries that they are the saintly and noble of the two parties, this election is going to be dirtier than any one in modern American political history.

10 thoughts on “The Democrats’ Rage

  1. The more that Bush’s house of cards starts to tumble down on him, the stronger the GOP rhetoric is gonna come flying about how their Democratic opponents are left-wing boogeymen and George McGovern incarnates. With the nutty electorate in this country, it could work….but things are gonna have to pull together pretty substantially for Bush on a variety of fronts to effectively make the opposition out to be “the pot-smoking hippie left”. Right now, Bush appears to be studying from the Gray Davis school of “vote for me….I’m the least evil person on the ballot”…and look how far that’s gotten Davis!

  2. He doesn’t have to even bother with the opposition. If all he does is stay above the fray, he’s got a very good chance of winning. The Democrats will do a good enough job of making themselves look like a bunch of "pot-smoking hippies" without anyone needing to point it out.

  3. It strikes me that another guy named George Bush followed that strategy at this point in 1991. I wonder how that worked out for him?

  4. 1992 is nothing like today. George H. Bush was running against a Democrat running as a centrist "new Democrat" in a three-way race against a well-financed third party candidate without an ongoing war on terrorism to make foriegn affairs a key issue.

    2004 has Bush running against in increasingly partisan field of Democrats, without any viable third party challenger, and terrorism is a key issue for the election cycle.

    Anything could change between now and November 2004, but the chances of it happening are slim to none. There’s no third-party candidate with the pull of Perot, the Democrats are not running to the center, and Bush is not neglecting domestic politics as his father did.

    The comparison isn’t even remotely apt, at least not now.

  5. An expensive war in Iraq that was unsuccessful in taking out Saddam Hussein, a sagging economy that shows little if any signs of life, and record budget deficits as far as they eye can see. I guess you’re right. Things are WAY different than they were in 1991 when the last Bush got clobbered into the political netherworld.

  6. An expensive war in Iraq that was unsuccessful in taking out Saddam Hussein…

    Huh? We did take him out. We took him out of power. As for taking him out of this world – coming soon.

  7. Well, lions and cats are both cats, but that doesn’t mean that you want to keep lions as pets.

    2004 has some similar properties with 1992, but the political situation is remarkably different for the reasons I stated.

  8. I don’t think Demos hate Bush anymore than Republicans hate Clinton, probably a lot less. After all, Republicans make much bertter haters than Demos.

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