The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Friday, December 26, 2003

THE GATHERING STORM

The Eye of Sauron campaign smear machine of Dubya is beginning to turn towards Howard Dean, as the Bushies appear to be tipping their hand a bit, via this Adam Nagourney piece in friday's NYT.
President Bush's campaign has settled on a plan to run against Howard Dean that would portray him as reckless, angry and pessimistic, while framing the 2004 election as a referendum on the direction of the nation more than on the president himself, Mr. Bush's aides say.

Some advisers to Mr. Bush, increasingly convinced that Dr. Dean will become their opponent next fall, are pushing to begin a drive to undercut him even before a Democratic nominee becomes clear. But others said the more likely plan would be to hold back until after the Democratic contest had effectively ended, probably no later than March.

As a Bush strategist put it, Dr. Dean's rivals are "doing a great job for us" with their increasingly tough attacks on him.

"Voters don't normally vote for an angry, pessimistic person to be president of the country," Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush adviser, said as he pressed the anti-Dean theme this week in an interview at Mr. Bush's re-election campaign headquarters. "They want somebody, even if times are not great, to be forward looking and optimistic."

As the second part of a two-part strategy, Mr. Bush's aides said, the president will set out upbeat themes and policy ideas, starting with the State of the Union address on Jan. 20. That would be part of a drive to buttress what polls show is a growing feeling among voters that the country is on the right track. The goal, Mr. Bush's advisers said, is to make the election more about the nation's success in confronting great challenges than about Mr. Bush personally.

By depersonalizing the election — at least when it comes to Mr. Bush — the White House is seeking to counter Democratic efforts to play to sharp anti-Bush sentiment among Democrats. Dr. Dean, a former governor of Vermont, has repeatedly said that the key to victory next year is heavy turnout among Democrats alienated by Mr. Bush.
I can't quite put my finger on it, but having read this, I'm less worried about Howard Dean's chances in the general election. Sure, I am a strong supporter of his, but I still worry about the Bush wurlitzer and what Dean will be hit with.

My reason is this: Howard Dean and his team are much, much smarter than they are given credit for. Dean has shown great versatility as a candidate, in assuming the roles of insurgent, frontrunner, barnstormer and (to Bush's dismay) optimist. TeamDean has also shown a great ability to fend off attacks from all sides, the man really is teflon at this point. The Gore-ing of Dean has begun, with nitpicky attacks and faux outrage on little things like Dean's "insulting the military" by talking about his deceased brother. But nothing seems to stick, and there are even shades of the rapid-response tactics of Bill Clinton circa 1992.

So what he faces is a 2-pronged Bush strategy: define and depolarize. This is all they've got? Regarding the first aspect, this is misunderestimation of the highest order. Dean is not Gore, for whom there was a long, pre-existing book already written, figuratively speaking. When talking about Howard Dean the angry-pinko-liberal (as Bush wants to paint him) one should keep in mind that every bit of Dean's current persona is his doing. He was a centrist, gun-friendly, deficit-hawk governor in Vermont who often enraged the far left in his state, yet he has energized the Democratic base more than anyone in recent memory. Now THAT screams of versatility, a prerequisite for running a successful candidacy against the Bush regime.

Assuming he's the nominee, Dean will have unprecedented amounts of money for a Dem, with which to define and redefine himself in the general election campaign. If George W Bush was able to go to Bob Jones University and refer to the Confederate flag as a symbol of "heritage", and still portray himself as a moderate in the general election, then Howard Dean will have no problem appealing to the American center come next summer and autumn.

Regarding the second aspect, if Bush thinks he can depolarize the 2004 election, he's simply dreaming. He's trying to hold back a glacier if that's his intent. What did he expect with his top-heavy tax cuts and his wars of choice, after winning the 2000 election by negative five hundred thousand votes?

Naturally, it would help immensely if the American media adhered advice given in Krugman's latest. (click on the link and read the whole darn thing) But with the Kurtz's, Noonan's and Brooks' of the world hell-bent on flogging inconsequential bullshit in this campaign, I have my doubts. I am, however, optimistic that Dean can weather the Bush shitstorm.

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