One of the contributions that weblogs can make is by drawing out the truly outrageous aspects of those comments, quotes or events that seem to pass benignly through the studied neutrality of the daily press. And no one does that more consistently, while never overdoing it, than Josh Marshall, whether it is calling Trent Lott out on his Dixiecrat nostalgia or catching the absurdity of the "flypaper" theory of Iraq. (Draw all the terrorists there and then we've got 'em!)
He brings exactly the right tone to Howard Dean's comments about what would happen if he is not the Democratic nominee:
From the New York Times story on Dean's demand to DNC chair Terry McAuliffe that he tell the other candidates to stop attacking him: Dean says his supporters "'are certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician.' Though Dr. Dean has repeatedly said he would back whichever Democrat wins the nomination, he said Sunday that support was 'not transferable anymore' and that endorsements, including his own, 'don't guarantee anything.'"
I don't care if Dean says he'll endorse whoever wins. He's playing the defection card. And that crosses the line....The price of admission to the Democratic primary race is a pledge of committed support to whomever wins the nomination, period. (The sense of entitlement to other Democrats' support comes after you win the nomination, not before.) If Dean can't sign on that dotted-line, he has no business asking for the party's nomination.
Absolutely correct. This attitude, as much as the electability question, is the basis of my wariness about Dean. And it is surprising, frankly. Dean of all people should know how dangerous the left-wing's tyranny of small differences can be: He almost lost his last race for Governor of Vermont because of it. In 2000, Anthony Pollina ran for governor on the Progressive Party, charging that Dean was just too close to being the kind of conventional politician he now disdains. Pollina won 10% of the vote, Dean just barely 50%. Up until the day of the election, there was a real worry that Pollina's vote would hold Dean under 50%, in which case, under Vermont law, the legislature would have decided the election, and there was also reason to think that the legislature might have gone Republican. In the event, Dean squeaked by with just over 50%, the Republican conceded gracefully, and the legislature remained narrowly Democratic. (Here's a CNN story on how this race looked just before the election.) But, having come through that scare, shouldn't Dean know just how dangerous this kind of threat can be?
It is certainly true that a prolonged battle for the nomination, loaded with bitterness and vicious attacks, that extends well into the spring will be hurtful to the eventual nominee. The Kennedy-Carter battle in 1980 is the classic example. There is a point at which the party establishment, such as it is, needs to say, enough, and perhaps tell a candidate who still has a mathematical possibility of winning the nomination that it's time to join the team. But that point is sometime in March or April. It is most certainly not in December of the year before the election, when not one vote has been cast and not one delegate has been chosen.
The way a party finds its strongest nominee is through campaigns, voting, and a vigorous contest of ideas. Such a contest need not be destructive, and often leaves the eventual candidate stronger. So far, everything that the other candidates have said about Dean, even Lieberman's charge that his economic policies would lead to "the Dean Depression" are entirely within the bounds of normal, healthy political back-and-forth. There has been nothing comparable to Gore's use in 1988 of Willie Horton, which did allow George H.W. Bush to use the same loaded imagery with impunity against Michael Dukakis.
We don't choose a party's nominee on the basis of money, standing in the polls, or Meet-up attendance. If we did, we would have all had to coalesce around John Kerry a year ago. If you believe in "people power," you have to let the people actually vote before you can act as if you've actually accomplished anything.