Monday, December 22, 2003
I've been very much enjoying the Deanophobe blog on TNR's website. Having briefly lost their souls to the ill-starred Albert Gore Jr., TNR has returned to its proper and traditional stance of hating *everyone* in politics, finding no one they can support with a clear head and a confident heart.
Seriously, though, the Deanophobe has a problem: the "in-your-heart-you-know-he's-right" problem, and it may be crippling.
As Chait's critic-blog has delighted in pointing out, the Deanophobe tends to conclude that Dean was, actually *right* about whatever position or stance he took, but Chait worries that taking that position is politically inexpedient. This does not make for the strongest critique.
Take taxes. Dean favors repealing the Bush tax cut. The other Dems want to keep the lower-bracket cuts but raise rates on the higher-income brackets. Chait thinks the better policy is to repeal the whole thing, but he thinks keeping the lower-bracket cuts is more politically palatable, while Dean's position is suicide, because Bush can honestly attack Dean for wanting to raise taxes on the middle class.
But is the soak-the-rich position really such political gold? Republicans usually do a pretty good job of calling that "class-warfare" - not to mention pointing out that such tax cuts are "job-killing." There's a coherent, principled Republican position on tax cuts (and a politically opportunistic and less-principled version that actually gets proposed as law), just as there is for Democrats. Why does Chait think that "straight talk" on this matter is necessarily a loser? What does it say about his view of the electorate that he thinks no Democrat can get elected by saying what Democrats really believe about taxes?
Similarly with religion. Chait says he isn't religious. He probably doesn't think religion has a particularly positive effect on politics; indeed, he probably thinks that while it's impolite to mock people for their religious beliefs, he probably doesn't think much of those beliefs in the privacy of his own mind. At least, that's the impression he tries to give.
But Dean, who thinks and feels similarly, is attacked by Chait, basically for not being able to fake it. I say that because, presumably, Chait doesn't wish Dean had more in common with self-professedly religious people (who tend to vote more Republican, after all). He just wishes Dean could bring himself to *pretend* to be more like those people, and thereby get a few more of their votes.
I understand Chait's thinking here. But again, the problem he has is that he's saying that when Democrats are honest, when they reveal who they really are, they can't win elections. In his heart, he knows Dean is right. He just doesn't think the country's heart is where his is.
This is a real problem for the Democrats, and it's why they are planning to nominate Dean (among a number of other reasons). You can't beat something with nothing. Dean stands for something - even if that something is only a vague, cultural stance rather than a set of policy positions. The man whom I thought was going to win the nomination - Kerry - turns out to be nothing. And pretty much everyone else in the field turns out to be nothing - Clark especially. You can't beat Dean by saying, "you're being too honest about how we really feel" - and that's basically Chait's position.
The irony, of course, is that while Chait's main complaint is that Dean is too honest about how Democrats feel, his minor complaint is that Dean is too dishonest about himself. This whole "Dean's a liar" meme is intimately related to the blessedly revitalized TNR hatred for anyone successful in politics (they hate our current President, and never reconciled themselves to Clinton; meanwhile, they swooned like nobody's business over John McCain and they suddenly found nice things to say about the first President Bush of all people once he was safely consigned to the dustbin of history). But successful politicians lie - particularly about themselves, and particularly to themselves about themselves. No one who doesn't have a particularly grand notion of his place in history is going to run for President, and such people tend to edit their identities to fit the story line - Reagan did it, Clinton did it, Bush does it, and Dean, trounced in the general election though he will be, does it, too. Hating this aspect of him is just a sub-species of hating winners.
I can't stand Dean. I think he's a Jimmy Carter who's fooled a chunk of the primary electorate into thinking he's a George McGovern. But I'm a Republican; I should hate him. Does Chait think Dean would make a worse president than Jimmy Carter was? That he'll be a worse nominee than Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis? That if by some fluke he gets elected President he'd be a worse President than Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis would have been? I mean, come on!
You can't beat somebody with nobody. Who does Chait want to win the nomination? Are they running? A lot Dean-haters are pining for Hilary. Does anyone think Hilary isn't arrogant? Wouldn't be anathema to religious voters? Doesn't lie about herself? Wouldn't be a vehicle for inchoate Democrat rage that she greatly participates in? Wouldn't be portrayed as a card-carrying, down-the-line, out-of-the-mainstream liberal by GOP attack ads?
Chait and the other Democrats who are terrified of a Dean candidacy are really terrified of President Bush. They have no idea who could beat Bush - they're not sure anyone can - and Dean has filled the vacuum of that uncertainty and is hence the focus of their anxiety.