The Facts Machine

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

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


"Well look... who... comes... crawling back!"

Well, hehe, that's not quite what he said.

There's a lot of interesting stuff in his speech, but I'm going to highlight a snippet from near the end, in which the good doctor encounters an evangelical supporter while on the campaign trail:
A little while back, at a fundraiser, a woman came up to me. She identified herself as an evangelical Christian from Texas. I asked her what you are all wondering -- why was she supporting me. She said there were two reasons. The first was that she had a child who had poly-cystic kidney disease, and what that illness made it impossible for their family to get health care.

The second thing she said was, "The other reason we're with you is because evangelical Christians are people of deep conviction, and you're a person of deep conviction. I may not agree with you on everything, but what we want more than anything else from our government is that when something happens to our family or something happens to our country -- it's that the people in office have deep conviction."
I don't think this is a shot at the Kerry campaign (though certainly one that should reverberate among the Reed-From set), but what it is, however, is an importnant comment about perception. I believe that John Kerry is a man of very deep convictions. However, his opponents and their allies launched a comprehensive effort to foster widespread perceptions to the contrary, and for a long time the Kerry campaign did nothing to counter this (they went completely dark in August, at the height of the Swift Boat Liars and their thoroughly-debunked bunk).

Kerry and the Democrats chose not to attack Bush to the extent they could have. The two biggest blunders of Bush's first term, the ones that did the most to hyperpolarize America's take on Dubya, were almost completely off the table in the 2004 campaign: The security failures that led to 9/11, and the lies, exaggerations and stovepiping on WMD intel that led to the Iraq invasion.

At too many points in the campaign, the Democrats let the administration define the terms of public debate. They were able to get Abu Ghraib off the table by using the Enron "bad apple" strategy, and by metamorphosizing criticism of the scandal into criticism of the troops, when their own damn policies bore the roots of the scandal. If the Al Qaqaa story had broken earlier and the Bin Laden tape hadn't come along, they would have launched a similar strategy: Heck, Giuliani's troop-blaming comments were setting up the groundwork for such a strategy just as Osama's tape showed up.

The biggest problem: The Democrats let them do this, and we shouldn't have.

Another broad brush observation that combines Dean's point and the 2004 race: Two of the main issues of the 2004 election -- Iraq and the GWOT -- were "golden straitjacket" issues, to use Tom Friedman's terms. At least for the short run, no President is going to pull a 180 on either of those issues; during Bush's first term, America put the straitjacket on for both of those issues, and all we can argue about, for the time being, are accessories, additional buckles, embroideries, and so on. On Iraq and terror, Kerry ran a campaign of "the devil is in the details", and while he was certainly correct on a lot of his points, I don't know if it was ever gonna fly with the evangelical, deep-conviction crowd.

That's why Bush's invocations of his religious faith are so politically useful to him. Referring to himself as "a lowly sinner", citing Jesus as his favorite political philosopher, filling his speeches with rhetoric about idealistic valleys, it all plays into one idea: "Hey, I may have fucked up a lot of stuff, but I'm a good guy with deep convictions".

Instead of running a campaign with the theme "you fucked up, I'm a strong leader with deep convictions", Kerry ran a campaign with the theme "you fucked up, while I, on the other hand, am really really competent". And we saw what happened.

That's where Dean's point comes in. Earlier in the speech, he says:
There is a Party of fiscal responsibility... economic responsibility.... social responsibility... civic responsibility... personal responsibility... and moral responsibility.

It's the Democratic Party.

We need to be able to say strongly, firmly, and proudly what we believe.

Because we are what we believe.
Dean argues that the best angle we have against the Republicans is on their divorcing themselves from reasonable claims to the responsibilities listed above, and I'm inclined to say that's a good way to start. Read the rest of his speech for more on that. Anyway, back to finals...

PS: For more Democratic-rebarnding fun, there's always Olver Willis' new "Brand Democrat" concept merch.


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