As Dean Slips, The Democrats’ Drama Rises

Washington Post news analysis: “Dean’s vaunted grass-roots movement, which fueled the former Vermont governor’s rise to the top of the Democratic field with money and energy in 2003, failed its first test at old-fashioned politics, falling far short of the bold claims of its architects.” Organized labor, the “backbone of the Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote machinery”, did not deliver for its chosen candidate, Richard Gephardt, either. Someone commented that Iowa did not ‘do its job’ either; instead of winnowing the field, there are now arguably four viable candidates going into New Hampshire. A protracted battle which fails to coalesce behind a clear frontrunner presents the obvious risk of giving Bush a long unbroken period to be Presidential and appear above the fray of his opponents’ petty squabbling, and destroying any possibility the Democrats might have of recovering from this obscenely drawn out primary season to mount an effective effort at toppling Bush (in an equally obscenely drawn out campaign season). Iowa is being read as showing that Dean’s opposition to the Iraq war was not enough to make him seem electable; if this is the case, is this going to be another election in which no clear delineation of positions on issues differentiates the Demublican from the Republicrat?

If it was being the frontrunner that was Dean’s downfall, he might actually do better without that big fat bullseye painted on his back, however. He still has considerable assets in organization, endorsements (are many senior Democratic statesmen left with egg on their faces now?) and funding to bring to the campaign. It is beginning to be the conventional wisdom, however, in the aftermath of Iowa that he is ‘self-destructing’ because of his temperament. A more charitable perspective sees these same temperamental variables as evidence of passion and candor in the service of ideals, but it is clear that there is little charity in this mean season. It may also be that this is a particularly bad time for an upstart who bases his campaign on differentiating himself from Washington ‘insiders.’ In this first Presidential election since 9-11, the public may not be willing to risk going with an outsider.