September 29, 2004

Another call for a do-over

A while back I made a half-assed blog style argument that Howard Dean should have been the Democratic nominee. Now Peter Beinart makes the carefully written, full-assed version of the case.

Were Dean the nominee, the Bush campaign would probably be going after him not as a flip-flopper but as a lefty. Lefty isn't exactly a term of endearment. But at least it evokes issues rather than character. Character debates sank Al Gore and threaten to sink John Kerry now. A debate about issues, on the other hand — especially the biggest issue of all, Iraq — is something Democrats could win.

Via Tapped, where Yglesias pulls at the flip-flop thread in an effective but not completely persuasive way, and Eschaton, where Atrios wryly notes that Beinart wasn't exactly backing Dean's position on Iraq when he had the chance.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


To defeat Bush the Democrats should have agreed with him on the war, and fought him on all the other issues. I just don't see any way for a Bush defeat as long as the Democratic nominee, reflecting only a segment of the nation's Democrats, comes off as a pacifist. A hawkish candidate could have challenged Bush on every other front and would have likely won.

Instead Kerry will gift wrap the re-election as a landslide win and give Bush a chimerical mandate.

Otherwise known as John Kerry's Plan A. The flaw in your argument, and the reason Kerry switched to Plan B, is that the majority of Americans now realize that the war was either a mistake to begin with or badly botched in its execution, which is why an antiwar candidate has a better chance.

Also, the idea that any candidate who opposed the war and/or challenged Bush's handling of it would come off as a pacifist is nonsense, though I'm sure the GOP would have pushed that line hard.

You shouldn't be so confident that the majority of Americans think the war was a mistake or badly botched. Judging from the poll numbers it's pretty clear the majority disagree with Kerry.Why? because the majority of Americans see the war in Iraq as part of the mis-named War on Terror and not as a separate Bush folly. Making Iraq a distinct issue will be one of the big mistakes that Kerry made. Will the election even be close?

A few problems with the Dean argument. First of all, if you look at ALL the questions in the polls, Americans are far more ambivalent over Iraq then he suggests (and as you point out, Beinart should know). Most Americans believe it was a good thing to depose Saddam. And most Americans, even if they think the war was wrong or they believe Bush botched the job, believe America has a responsibility to see the thing through.

The Iraq issue in this election is not whether or not you supported the war two years ago, but what are you going to do going forward, The debate wouldn't be "issues" it would be "which man do you trust to be Commander-in-Chief" a huge problem for Dean.

In any case, Beinart's scenario would mean that current Bush supporters in a Bush-Kerry race would switch to Dean in a Bush-Dean election. I just don't find that plausible. Far more likely is significant numbers of moderate Kerry supporters migrating to Bush. In a Bush-Dean showdown, Bush could be up by 15 or 20 points at this point.

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