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Hullabaloo


Friday, January 30, 2004

 
As The Election Turns

The next time anybody starts reaching for their smelling salts because of negative campaigning, they should recognize that one of the main reasons politicians resort to it is because the flaccid political press corps will not cover anything that falls outside of their settled narrative unless it's a deliciously vicious stab in the back. (And for reasons unknown they will cover Joe Lieberman as if he were a serious contender with endless droning televised interviews and serious examination of his performance in debates.) Other than that, it would appear that only a full-on, feral attack by rivals will shake their attention from the story they decide is the story that must be told.

The story of the Democratic campaign for the presidential nomination in 2003/2004 is "The Howard Dean Story."
Whether he's winning or losing, the plucky governor from Vermont and his erstwhile campaign manager are the only story they wish to tell. Even John Kerry, the man who looks as if he is going to sail through the nominating process without Democrats ever taking a real look at him, only exists as a sub-plot to the ever exciting "Dean Phenomenon." (I realize that Kerry got skewered early last year, but the only people paying attention at the time were 3 bloggers and Ed Gillespie.)

The Dean rise and fizzle is an interesting story. But, the continuing obsessive attention it is getting is not only destroying Dean's chances of coming back, it has ruined everyone else's chances of getting any oxygen whatsoever. Kerry wins the nomination because he beat Dean in Iowa, period. The press framed the election in those terms and those terms seem to be propelling the voters to assume that this is the contest. Nobody else exists, except as they relate to Howard Dean.

(The big story of the debate last night, for instance, wasn't the debate at all. It was the fact that Joe Trippi was going to speak out on Deborah Norville's show following the debate. And, he delivered a soap opera worthy performance. And there is no greater sign that the tabloid artists are taking over the story then the appearance of Lisa "Gary Condit did it!" Depaulo. There she was, showing all of her noted objectivity practically delivering a big juicy lewinsky to Trippi, right there on TV. )

There is no oxygen left after that kind of thing. My favorite candidate, Wesley Clark, has apparently vaporized, for instance. Despite the fact that as of yesterday he held the lead in 3 of the 7 February 3rd primaries, was well in the mix in 2 others and had plenty of money to continue, the NY Times and Washington Post did not even acknowledge that he was at the debate last night in their first editions, although they quoted Lieberman and Kucinich at length. (I wrote to both papers and was informed that they would add something about him in later editions. They did; it was pathetic.)

I don't think there is any malice or political bias, it's just that Wesley Clark existed in their minds only as the Anti-Dean and, as such, is irrelevant in the current plotline of Dean the soap-opera and Kerry the juggernaut. They are obsessing on Dean's demise from frontrunner to such an extent that they apparently see no necessity to examine Kerry's questionable statements, gaffes and inconsistencies. (I think we can all say with some assurance that the Republicans will have no trouble making up for lost time on that count.)

Dean fucks up. Kerry wins. Let's move on to the general election.

So, what should a candidate like John Edwards or Wesley Clark do in this situation? They both have good reasons to challenge John Kerry's unexamined claim to electability. He represents, in many ways, a return to the 80's for the Democrats and another round of liberal bashing on a scale we haven't seen since Dukakis was derisively accused of being "a card carrying member of the ACLU." (Most importantly, his appeal as a veteran is going to be shredded by the RNC in ways that already make me sick to my stomach.) Clark and Edwards are new faces who don't have the tired familiarity and old fashioned bombastic rhetoric of a liberal Senator from Massachusetts (ohjayzuz) who has a record of voting, a personal life and a public statements so long that Rove can spoon out a psuedo scandal a day into the yawning maw of the political media until Kerry has been morphed into a bizarre combination of Hanoi Jane Donald Trump, Al Gore and Foghorn Leghorn.

Nonetheless, it looks like Kerry is poised to win, Dean is poised to be the goat and everybody else is poised to disappear because nobody can get their message out over the rank silliness of the media narrative --- at the very time when people are actually paying attention and need the information.

So, the other candidates will go negative. It's the only way to make the mediawhores look up from their soap opera scripts and sniff the air for something nasty and enticing. Once they do, of course, they will tut-tut about how sad and desperate it all is. But, they have no choice but to try to change the narrative and refocus the little lemmings in another direction. It's not pretty, but I can't see what other options exist.

Normally, I would not encourage the Democrats to go negative on each other. However, I think if they are going to do it, the time is now. If Kerry sweeps on Tuesday, the game is over before he has been properly tested. And, then we're stuck. I like Kerry, and I voted for him in 1984. I'm a liberal, after all. But, he has got some general election weaknesses you can drive a semi through. The voters need to know this and he needs to show how he's going to deal with them before we make this decision.

The Dean story has so overshadowed everything else, for good and ill, that the other candidates have not gotten a proper airing. If Kerry can take the kind of heat that Dean underwent, then he deserves to win. But, to let him win as a default is a grave mistake.





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