This ain't the first I've seen this dog and pony show.
A patently unqualified Republican candidate.
A fiery outsider who had opposed the Iraq war taking on a center/left insider who had voted for the Iraq war contending for the nomination of the Democratic party.
And third party candidate polling barely to the right of the decimal point playing a siren's song for disaffected Liberal unicorn hunters who cannot bear the thought of voting for anyone who is less that 100% pure.
Thing is, if you've been around for awhile, you'll have noticed that this ain't our first rodeo.
Mark Twain once marveled at all of the things he could remember that just weren't so, Because while memory is our great advantage -- our salvation -- memory is also sometimes a seducer and a braggart and a thief.
And so, rather than leaving it to fickle memory, as Al Smith used to say, let's take a look at the record. Specifically, the record of the late "Fighting Liberal" blogger, Steve Gilliard, who, back in December of 2003, was saying very nice things about the insurgent campaign of Howard Dean.
But the story's larger point is that the Dean campaign is mobilizing something very different than a traditional campaign. After reading that article, people are going to want to sign up to change their lives, action through politics. I don't get that personal connection to Dean or his campaign. I am decidedly not a Deanie, no matter how many kind words I say about him. If I was Karl Rove, I would not be happy after reading this. No one working for Bush is going claim he changed their lives. No one is moving to join his campaign. Whatever they're about, they aren't about that.
I'd call it transformative leadership. The kind of thing which makes people change their entire way of thinking. Orde Wingate was one. Wingate, founder of the Chindits in Burma, took ordinary soldiers and turned them into commandos. Not just the sneak and peek blowing up kind, but the mental change it takes to move from regular infantry to people who can act and move on their own initative without adequate supplies and orders.
Dean is using what has been called "leaderless resistance". His campaign comes up with themes, but the people out in the field work on their own. It doesn't cost the campaign money and the transformative leadership coming from Dean, with a healthy dose of empowerment. There is a campaign staff and then there are thousands of auxillaries working on their own. With the growth of 527's, doing this on a larger scale, the Bush campaign faces any number of threats from any number of directions. The people who are working for Dean are not just working for him, but something larger. Whether it's a new girlfriend or a new life, a lot of people flocking to the campaign are looking for change in their lives.
As a battle-scarred political veteran, Steve was appalled at the clunky, stumbling campaigns being run by John Kerry and the rest of the establishment guys, and impressed with the smart, battle-ready operation Howard Dean had put together:
How to be a loserIf it's December and you need to get a bunch of reporters to tell you how to run your campaign, it's over. John Kerry pissed away his chance to be President when he trusted Bushco not to lie to him. Now, I'll cut him some slack for that vote, because Cheney and his boys were playing this game like Nixon, lie to everyone and hope for the best. Even though at the time, their excuses were pitiful. Saddam and his drones, his secret nukes, all Boys' Life fantasies best suited for Marvel Comics than diplomacy.While it may seem like fun for Eric and Al and the boys to play campaign guru, a role Warren Beatty perfected when they were in high school, it's nothing that a professional should be engaged in. If you need amateur help now, just hang it up. Dean isn't sitting around with Mike Tomasky and Victor Navasky looking for help. He's running a campaign. Same with Clark. Kerry screwed up because, once again, he was playing the odds instead of doing the right thing. He wanted to triangulate his way into the presidency instead of fighting for it. Now, he's got a bunch of writers telling him what to say.Electablility isn't a personality contest. People hate politicians anyway. It's about organization and message and work. If Howard Dean is prickly, it won't matter much, nor will his church attendance. Bill Clinton went to church every Sunday and still squeezed in an adulterous affair. It's about leadership and competance and compassion, qualities Bush feined and does not have when it counts. He's never gotten past cheerleading as a substitute for real emotion.There is so much bleating and handwringing about Howard Dean being the nominee that I can't decide to laugh or vomit. Yet, Dean is the only one running a smart campaign...
These things were vitally important the Steve, because he knew damn well what was at stake, and how much technology and people power had changed the game:
...But everyone has a real, simple point: Bush MUST be defeated. He's just too incompetent to keep that job another four years.
I don't think Dean would flub a question about someone raping his wife or lie about her alcoholism.
But I think people are missing the point. This isn't 1988 or 1992. The big media and the big parties are not left alone on the field of battle these days. The web, 527's, meetups, all will change the dynamics of the campaign, in the way they have changed the war in Iraq. The GOP doesn't even realize this, because Bush doesn't really understand computers or care about the media. They want to refight the last war, but better, and that never works. Dean is not. For good or ill, he's fighting a new war with new methods and the ability to take the war to the enemy.
Too many Dems are worried about Rove and what he'll do. Who cares what they do? You don't win by playing defense. You make them play defense. You design a campaign which will drive them nuts and make them react to you. Not try to play their game better. There is a new dynamic which the campaign will have to deal with, one of which is the database of the internet. Random statements will no longer fly. Everyone has access to deep databases of information on any variety of topics. It's not just for the Lexis-Nexis crowd any more. So if you say Dean was a draft dodger, you can actually check what the rules were for the draft were in 1970. No more relying on reporters alone. Also, articles can be fact checked and responded to by anyone. Which is why the Dean Defense Force is such a clever idea. It makes reporters wary of extrapolating the way they did with Gore.
But in the end, Dean lost and the Democrats nominated Kerry. And how did "Fighting Liberal" Steve Gilliard react? Flounce off the stage, raging about the horrors of staining his ideological purity in the pig sty of politics and compromise?
Why John Kerry should be PresidentSlate is running a piece where their writers explain who they're voting for, including Mickey Kaus and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom are voting for Kerry.Their economics writer attacks Edwards as a xenophobe, Jack Shaffer always votes libertarian, proving some people never leave college, and one guy is voting for Bush because he thinks Arabs actually like Bush.Whatever.You know, I've never explained why I'm voting for Kerry. It's clear that I don't think much of Bush, but I've never really laid out my particular case for Kerry.It doesn't matter if Bush is worse than Harrison or Buchanan or Coolidge, because we live in the here and now. However, his very presence in the White House was gained by little more than political trickery. And it has felt like trickery from the first, riot filled day of his presidency. George Bush has ruled, not led, as if democracy was his servant, not his master. Bush has failed the American people in so many ways, so many fundamental ways that it is truly frightening.He has taken the worst of the GOP and made it national policy. His ideas of leadership come more from royalty than democracy. Wearing a uniform, invoking God, what did he strive to be, a 21st Century Prince Hal? Bush takes Nixon's imperial presidency and turns it into something even Nixon would have recoiled from.Dick Cheney sit at his right hand, a corrupt minister for war, taking his cut while killing the king's men for his goals. And the king sits there, smiling and nodding like an idiot. But Bush is not an idiot. Never has been. Weak, craven, cowardly, sure. But never an idiot.Bush is intelligent, above average actually. But his intellect is not his problem. It is his innate laziness and contempt for logic and contemplation which shines through. Toss on an alcohol addiction and a dysfunctional family where lying was standard operating procedure, and you have one sick puppy. Even if he never took a drink, his temperament and deep anger would shine through.John Kerry, as he so clearly proved in the first debate, is the kind of man we should have as president. George Bush is not and never has been a serious man. His anger at his father and his mother's explosive temper, along with a lack of any sort of self-criticism or examination preclude that. Kerry is not the guy to pat you on the back and leer at a pretty girl, that was our last Democratic president. Kerry is the serious guy who you can count on when things get tight. He's going to stand by you without checking. With Bill Clinton, he always had an eye out for himself, even when he was swearing undying loyalty to you. Kerry's word may not come easy, but when he gives it, he means it.Bush is a coward, who hides behind others when things fail.Clinton was at his best when things went well. He could make things go well by force of will. Kerry is best when things go bad. When all hell is breaking loose, he's the calm guy in the middle, making sense of things and solving them. When real trouble comes, John Kerry and John Edwards are people you want by your side. They don't run from long odds.George Bush has tried to project his weaknesses on Kerry like a man who has always lived in fear. He has always been afraid. He can push it back for a while, but that fear is always with him. It is with him now. It is his constant friend. We saw that in his first debate, which embarrassed me as an American. That he was our president. He couldn't answer a simple question on his feet and was angered that anyone dare ask him one. It was as if we were his subjects and owed him deference.When Kerry, who had been baiting him all year, finally got him face to face, the stature gap was tremendous. Bush looked like the grasping challenger and Kerry looked like the president. He wasn't any of Bush's lies, not weak, not unsure. Kerry, very simply, looked like a leader. It is a sign of how bad our press has become that no one told John O'Neill's Vietnam story, one where he was shunted off to less dangerous duty because of his John Wayne attitude. John Wayne is an insult in the military, denoting a man who takes mindless risks for personal glory. Yet no one ever bothered to ask about O'Neill's less than stellar military record.What was surprising is that dirty trick blew up on Bush and may have been his single worst tactical mistake, and in a year where Zell Miller delivered his Beer Hall Putsch speech before the convention and then went wiggy afterwards, that's a pretty tight contest. What happened was simple: it told people exactly how brave Kerry was and how many enemies he was willing to make to do what was right. But even more importantly, it allowed the media to define Bush as what he was, a liar.How bad was their game plan?In the last week of the campaign, they realized that they needed to reach out beyond their base. My God, Kerry ran around Red counties all summer long. He reached out to Republicans for months. Even in the debates, he was reaching past his base right into the GOP. And Bush didn't see it. He was too busy sending coded messages to his base.The simple fact is that when Bush ran, he promised to be compassionate and thoughtful. Instead he has been cruel and reckless. He has visited untold misery upon the innocent and unjust cruelty upon the guilty.John Kerry is a liberal, but one with common sense. He doesn't imagine an American empire or a Middle East conquered for Likud. He talks like an adult to adults, whereas Bush is quoted as saying he thinks the American people are children. Kerry sees social injustice and doesn't try to wash it away with cheap words. He believes in the promise of America, one where people are treated fairly and humanely.He is not a captive to the worst forms of ideology, shaping policy for his own personal beliefs and aims.George Bush does not believe in democracy in the small scale. He lives sheltered and isolated from the world. He cannot even tolerate dissenters at his rallies, a fundamental American right. The mother of a serviceman killed in Iraq was arrested at a Laura Bush rally. The shame of that still stings. It was so wrong, and so evil that words should fail us.Sacrifice to Bush is what other people do, it is what John Kerry lives with every day.It's not just a matter of politics or policy. It is a matter of character. Prince Hal became King Henry V in his 20's. Bush is still Prince Hal in his 50's. He's not the drunken wastrel he was until he was 40, but he never left the arrogance behind. He has never paid for anything he's ever done. In any way, shape or form. When it came to ante up, daddy jumped in and saved the day. Not just once, which we are all entitled to, but from Andover to Florida. At every turn, someone saved Bush.In contrast, Kerry sought out difficult things. He sought combat in the Navy, he sought out the anti-war movement, he became a prosecutor. When things got tough, the best came out in John Kerry. Even in that Senate career Bush liked to deride, despite being a drunken bum from the age of 18-40. When BCCI was at the height of their influence peddling, it was Kerry who took on old ward heeler Clark Clifford and exposed their links to terrorists and drug dealers. While the Bush family was cashing in, Kerry was asking questions.We are in serious times. Our exit from Iraq will be painful and our sacrifice in Afghanistan is far from over. John Kerry lives, with us, in the real world. He has no grand ideology about the New American Empire. Just a desire for a safe, secure America. Something George Bush cannot provide us. John Kerry has the personal courage and moral clarity to serve this country and George Bush clearly does not.We can no longer have a moral cipher as President. A man who countenances torture and lies. Who can admit no error and punish no one. A man who sends his National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense to campaign for him while we are at war. This is not how a president should act. It is not the president we should have.John Kerry is a good man and decent politician. It is my hope that he will be a good president. Because we will need one.
And in case you don't remember, Steve also had some brutally pointed words for the third party candidate who wanted to lead the charge out of the party because there's not a dimes worth of difference between the something something corrupt duopoly:
Every vote for Nader condemns an American soldier to deathRalph Nader and Howard Dean battled over the soul of the progressive movement, Friday"We're taking apart the Bush Administration in ways that the Democratic party is afraid to," Nader said, emphasizing his campaign's antiwar stance and his take-no-prisoners assault on the influence of corporate contributors and lobbyists."This is not going to help the progressive movement in America," moaned Dean, who tried his best to suggest that Kerry is a legitimate standard bearer for that movement and added, "I wish you were on our team, Ralph, because we need you."Anyone who imagined that Dean and Nader might have found some common ground with regards to the fall race came away from the debate sorely disappointed. But the truth is that no one who has spent much time watching Nader's campaign this year expected him to back off at the behest of Dean. While Nader has admitted to having been impressed with many aspects of Dean's insurgent campaign, these guys were never ideological soul mates. Nader was, and is, far closer to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who continues to challenge Kerry for the nomination--albeit without much notice from the party or the media.The Nader-Dean debate was less a serious dialogue about the possibility of forging a united front against Bush's reelection than a reminder that, while Nader and many Democrats share policy stances on issues ranging from opposition to the war to support for fair trade, single-payer health care and public financing of campaigns, they have not reached any kind of consensus with regard to the necessity of cooperation in the immediate political moment....Nader was unconvinced. At several points, the independent candidate read down a list of sharp shots at Kerry--"corporate clone," "lesser of two evils." And then he reminded the Vermonter that those were Dean's own words from the primary season.Nader allowed as how he preferred "Howard Dean the First," who took on the party establishment last year, as opposed to "Howard Dean the Second," who he accused of carrying the establishment's water this year.Predictably, the conversation grew heated....The problem is that it isn't alleged. The groups now openly announce their desire to help Nader get on the ballot.Now, while away, I saw much of the Dean-Nader debate, and Nader came off second best. The thing is that Dean, having actually won elective office, was more able to deliver hammer blows against Nader's musty idealism.But to me, this debate has gotten painfully simple: if you want to save Americans in Iraq, vote for Kerry. Not because he has some great anti-war stand, but because he isn't tied to Iraq the way Bush is.Every vote for Nader is a vote to kill American soldiers in Iraq.Why?Because he isn't going to win and the man who could win will not have those votes.So, there are two ways to keep the war state going. One, vote for Bush. Two, vote for Nader.Now, some of you might say: but Nader is against the war.My reply is: so fucking what? He isn't going to win and every vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. Nader is great with talk, but sabotages any action he can't control. So if you want to see more American dead, vote Nader. If you like crippled teen soldiers, vote Nader. If you like widowed 20 year olds, vote Nader.Ralph Nader's selfishness and short sightedness works against his professed goals and towards not only the continuation of the war, but the expansion of it.Talk is cheap. It will not save one American life. Maybe Kerry won't end the war, maybe he will. But maybe is better than the Bush/Cheney/Nader/Canejo ticket. Nader runs blocking for Bush. For years, Nader has been allowed to do what he wants electorally. Now, with lives in the balance, Nader continues a campaign who's consequence will be to undue his life's work and extend Bush's term...
For the record, down in the belly of the internet there also still exists -- as fragrant as the day they were laid down -- a rich history of various dark and terrible conspiracies to steal the nomination for the forces of evil. One example involves John Kerry, Howard Dean and various other agents of the New World Order using electronic election fraud to subvert the candidacy of the only honest man in America, Lyndon LaRouche (wake up sheeple!). Which was, in turn, merely the culmination of a concatenation of catastrophic (and strangely alliterative), criminal conspiracies which only the BRAVEST of FREEDOM loving Americans dared to speak about openly.
Some of us have been to this rodeo before.
Many many times.