Thursday, January 8, 2004

Howard Dean / Bobby Kennedy

I just heard a piece on NPR that compared the Dean campaign to that of Eugene McCarthy’s in 1968. But other than energizing outsiders, there are more parallels to another Democratic candidate in 1968: Bobby Kennedy. Arianna Huffington writes in on Dean’s electability and the danger of the Democrats buying into the Dukakis/McGovern mindset that Karl Rove has been subliminally leaking into the weak minds of the beltway punditocracy.

I swear, if I hear one more Democratic honcho say that Howard Dean is not electable, I’m going to do something crazy (maybe that’s what happened to Britney in Vegas this weekend).

The contention is nothing short of idiotic.

Consider the source: the folks besmirching the Good Doctor’s Election Day viability are the very people who have driven the Democratic Party into irrelevance. Who spearheaded the party’s resounding 2002 midterm defeats. Who kinda, sorta, but not really disagreed with President Bush as he led us down the path of preemptive war with Iraq, irresponsible tax cuts, and an unprecedented deficit.

Dean is electable precisely because he’s making a decisive break with the spinelessness and pussyfooting that have become the hallmark of the Democratic Party.

So, please, no more hand-wringing about Dean being “another Dukakis.” And no more weepy flashbacks about having had your heart broken by George McGovern, whose 1972 annihilation haunts the 2004 Democratic primaries like a political Jacob Marley, shaking his chains and warning about the ghosts of landslides past.

There is a historical parallel to Dean’s candidacy. But it’s not McGovern in 1972, as the DLC paranoiacs would like us to believe — it’s Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

Like Kennedy’s, Dean’s campaign was initially fueled by his antiwar outrage. Like Kennedy, Dean has found himself fighting not just to represent the Democratic Party but to remake it. Like Kennedy, Dean is offering an alternative moral vision for America, not just an alternative political platform.

And like Kennedy, Dean has come under withering attack from his critics for the very attributes that his supporters find most attractive.

“He could be intemperate and impulsive … the image of wrath — his forefinger pointing, his fist pounding his palm, his eyes ablaze.” Sean Hannity on Howard Dean? No, Theodore White on Bobby Kennedy in “The Making of the President 1968.”

It’s the same ludicrous charge of being “too angry” that’s being constantly leveled at Dean. Have his Democratic opponents — and the notoriously decorous Washington press corps — suddenly morphed into Miss Manners? Personally, I could never trust a man who does not occasionally get hot under the collar.

Of course Dean is angry. Take a look at what’s happening in Iraq, with another 236 American soldiers killed or wounded since Saddam was dragged out of his spider hole. And take a look closer to home, where we have 12 million children living in poverty, six out of seven working poor families unable to afford quality child care, record levels of personal debt, and more and more U.S. jobs being “outsourced” overseas. If you still have a pulse — are you listening, Joe Lieberman? — you should be royally pissed.

“I have traveled and I have listened to the young people of our nation,” Kennedy said during his announcement speech, “and felt their anger about the war that they are sent to fight and about the world they are about to inherit.”

And young people have been the spark that has lighted the fuse of the Dean campaign. As he pointed out this weekend in Iowa: “One-quarter of all the people who gave us money between June and September were under 30 years old.” So while the Democratic establishment is once again dusting off its tried-and-untrue swing voter strategy, Dean is running, as he put it, “a campaign based on addition, not subtraction. We want to add new people to the Democratic Party so that we can beat George Bush. It’s the only way we can beat him.”

Kennedy was drawn into the ’68 race by his indignation over the direction of America’s foreign policy. “This nation,” he said, “must adopt a foreign policy which says, clearly and distinctly, ‘no more Vietnams’.” Dean has been saying, clearly and distinctly, no more Iraqs, even when 70 percent of the public said they approved of Bush’s policy. That’s leadership — and the kind of boldness the Democratic Party has been sorely lacking.

Far from Dean not being able to “compete” with Bush on foreign policy, he’s the one viable Democrat who isn’t trying to compete on the playing field that Bush and Karl Rove have laid out. No Democrat can win by playing “Whose swagger is swaggier?” or “Whose flight suit is tighter?” Instead Dean unambiguously asserts that “we are in danger of losing the war on terror because we are fighting it with the strategies of the past … The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.”

In the same way that Kennedy was able to take his outrage over Vietnam and expand it to include the outrages perpetrated at home, Dean has gone from railing against the war to offering a “New Social Contract for America’s Working Families” that harks back to the core message of FDR: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

It’s a message that Bobby Kennedy made central to his campaign but which the Democratic Party has since abandoned.

Howard Dean has resurrected it and made it his own because, as he says, 2004 “is not just about electing a president — it’s about changing America.”

That is a big vision. But anything smaller guarantees the reelection of George Bush.

Had it not been for Der Gropenfuhrer, Arianna Huffington would have probably made a good run for governor of California.