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01/20/2004

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Heath

One comment: I never interpreted an attack on Clinton specifically. I know where this comes from, but the text actually indicates the opposite. There are very few differences between Dean's and Clinton's economic policies as they were presented in the campaign, which was an offshoot, to a certain extent, of Robert Reich's "The Wealth of Nations".

This is part of Dean's problem. Even though these policy speeches are vetted, there are always turns of a phrase that end up being interpreted in 2 opposite ways.

Crab Nebula

Superb analysis, Mark. The Dean people -- like the party inside/outside diviners -- are not like most regular folks, and easily lose sight of how regular folks think about politics.

But missing from your analysis is anything related to Dean's personality. The guy's negatives were very high, and it seems clear so far that he leaves the vast majority of Dem voters cold -- or worse. How a candidate with this level of appeal can or should win is a mystery.

Stuart

I agree that the cw on the insider/outsider issue is off base. Your point that late deciding voters are different than early deciding ones is also right on. The question is what does that mean for New Hampshire?

My guess is that Dean's current support won't erode much there and the late deciders will be split three ways (Kerry, Edwards due the bump from Iowa and Clark). This could leave Dean with an unspectacular but critical win and an equally critical race for second.

R  Wells

A pretty good assessment of what went wrong with Dean in Iowa. But the post leans on the kind of suggestive but often misleading quips--here the reference to "places like" to Evergreen State College (training ground for activists like Rachel Corrie, although I don't think the retired Catholic school teacher I know from Fairfield County, Ct, last seen handing out Dean lit at the Metro North Station, is an alum)--that have come all too easily to political prose stylists of mainstream press corps. Further, it was not so much a transcendence of "ordinary" politics that drew people into the Dean campaign, I don't think. It was the prospect of transcending politics as usual, and getting involved (and I'm sure a few Evergreen Students did, but from what I have heard, Dean was surely too moderate for that crowd) in the process to try to make it happen. It does seem that Dean and company depended too much on enthusiasm and committment and may have forgotten, or perhaps didn't figure out in time, that campaigning is an art that calls for delicacy at times. But that is a different thing than saying that it was this enthusiasm and committment, per se, that did them in Iowa. The distinction, in any event, seems easy to lose track of when messianically certain students from Evergreen come into the picture. Dean aside, don't we want to get those late deciders more engaged, more enthusiastic? Or do we want it always to come down to which candidate is packaged just right and tidy, for those who haven't given it all much thought?

Hank Essay

This was a very bright and lucid analysis. One thing I think last night showed that there are two sets of people most Americans generally tune out, not out of animosity or as a political statement, but because that is who they are, and they like it that way:

1) mainstream press hacks (though anti-Dem rhetoric does trickle down) whose analysis is pure unadulterated crap, and merely (with very few exceptions) recycled vomit from the Beltway CW swamp

2) Us! Most Americans could care less about blogs, internet etc. We love them. And will continue love them and use them. But we don't reflect squat and we don't reflect the political mentality of many voters. Hell, right now Kos and Atrios only get about 120,000 visits per day (and that includes overlaps). And most of these people won't become blog users. I have no doubt we will change the world of politics (and the Dean campaign is an example), but revolutions take time, and they always have and always will, despite rapid technological innovation and change.

It's a good thing to keep in mind...

V. J. Meagher

I don't know what happened in Iowa, but I live in New Hampshire and I've seen Dean in action here several times (going back to May 2003) and I just don't see the "angry man" that the media are always talking about. I did once see Dean pretend to be angry--and it was awfully phony. He's impassioned, but not at all off-putting to me.

I've been amazed at his equanimity, actually, because he's been run ragged by a tight schedule. I don't know how the guy keeps his cool.

I went to an event in New Hampshire last Wednesday when he was at his best. I saw one hokey piece in the media that said something like "Howard Dean got red in the face when he was talking about Wesley Clark." (I also saw the event written up correctly by James Ridgeway in the Village Voice. For video, see http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0403/nh5.php and scroll down to "Ex-Vermont Governor Shows Confidence, Defies Media's Harried Portrait.")

I can see how 18- to 25-year-olds would rather watch something crappy on TV than go to a caucus on a Monday night. And I can see how "normal" Iowans got tired of strangers descending on them and plaguing them to vote for Howard Dean.

There is a solid core to Howard Dean that could appeal to most Americans, I believe. We'll just have to see if it comes out.

Mark Schmitt

You're hitting me a little hard these days, R Wells! True, the Evergreen State College thing is a rhetorical excess, and doesn't have anything to do with Rachel Corrie -- I should have just said, out of state. Garance Franke-Ruta of the American Prospect, an actual journalist, captured some of the dynamic I was merely speculating
about, on www.prospect.org/weblog:

Many of the Perfect Stormers seemed out of place in Iowa, and the neighbor-to-neighbor strategies employed to get out the vote for Edwards and Kerry seemed to work better than the flood of outsiders brought in by Dean and Gephardt. The Deanies I ran into at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outside Newton had attitudes that suggested they might not have been the best advertisement for their candidate. "I feel like I'm in a foreign country," said one Perfect Stomer wearing a lilac windbreaker. "I'm off the net."

I'll also quote this, from an e-mail from a recent college graduate who went to Iowa for Dean, and remains a very strong supporter:

One lady from cedar
Rapids...told me she used to be for Howard Dean. But when she heard Edwards speak and was so swayed by his slick personality and aquafresh charm, she was swayed into his camp. She told me she was turned off by the amount of money Dean had spent in Iowa and showed me some ostentatious and loud mailings she had received from his campaign. An envelope designed to look and open like an L.L. Bean backpack? Say what? I convinced her that I had come to Iowa out of my own volition, walking around in the damp, freezing weather because I believed so strongly in the urgency of Dean’s candidacy, his doctor's sensitivity to the inter-connectedness of what ails America, and the gusto he's brought back to politics.

Dean began to lose in the polls because Iowans grew tired of being roused by that gusto. They started to question the validity of having their emotions stirred by such a forceful presence. They began to doubt whether the government was as bogged down with special interests as he said it was. Those tirades which got the media's attention and propelled him to the front of the race for a good period of time backfired.

That supports the view that Kerry and Edwards were better packaged for the late-deciders. But I think that's a little unfair. Edwards may be a little more telegenic than Dean, but not much, and he's really worked hard to have the most substantive approach to the issues in the entire field. When I say that he's more appealing to late-deciders, I don't mean that he's totally superficial. And anyone who participated in the Iowa caucuses made a pretty deep commitment, not just pulling a lever on the way to work, but spending a few hours in a very substantive exercise in public deliberation. That's already a lot to ask.

Jeff L.

I suspect you're right about much of this. But I have a couple of disagreements. I suspect you are right that bringing in all those outsiders backfired for the Dean campaign in Iowa -- it was a turn-off for late voters. But then you talk about how you have been turned off by the Dean campaign's self-absorption. There seems to be a non-sequitur here. If late voters are less attentive voters, would they even be so aware of the self-reflexive nature of the campaign, and of Trippi's pronouncements about the candidate, and of the idea that the Dean campaign was too big of a commitment? Is that what turned them off? In fact, you suggest (or at least I think) that the late voter is more likely to be a more personality-oriented voter, and if that is the case, you shouldn't underplay the fact that Dean allowed himself to be defined personally in very negative terms by some of his competitors and a press willing to play along for some news -- Dean is angry, Dean is gaffe-prone, Dean is unelectable. Dean seems to have had very high unfavorable ratings in Iowa, and I seriously doubt that had anything to do with the nature of his campaign. The character of his campaign is just more insider stuff to which most people do not pay much attention. Two other points on that insider stuff: as someone who cares about it, I think you do a disservice to Dean by mischaracterizing his campaign as aiming to transcend ordinary politics, rather than trying to change the way ordinary politics is done. It has not been nearly as mystical as you make it sound. And I think it is undeniable that even if Dean ends up losing, he has significantly transformed the way Democrats are doing politics, making them stand up for themselves in a way that they have failed to do for the last couple of years. Lastly, there is a difference between telling voters what you will do as president and participating in the lamentable super-personalized politics that most candidates participate in, talking more about their biography and who they are as people than about what they would do or what they care about politically.

R  Wells

Decembrist: I didn't need to bring R. Corrie in to make my point; that was an excess. I detected a whiff of what bothered me most about the news coverage of Dean, which was a cynicism about and stereotyping of those deemed to be his core supporters, and I pounced. Your clarifications help, especially since now the argument seems to relate to Iowa, specifically. On Edwards, do we know that it was his substance that got people going his way??

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