The Candidate We Want, and the Candidate We Need

Howard DeanPart of my recent diffidence towards design is the looming fear that George W. Bush is going to be re-elected in next year’s presidential contest, and that sitting here at my desk and designing Web sites is probably not a sufficiently effective way of doing all I can to prevent that from happening. That’s why I have been spending a lot of time trying to parse the recent media buzz that’s dramatically increased the attention paid to former Governor of Vermont Dr. Howard Dean, once an awkward long-shot and now a kind of lightning rod for the Democrats’s hopes and fears for 2004.

Below: Everywhere he goes, Governor Dean inspires crowds to reach frenzied levels of political passion, as in this scene from a stage production of “The Breakfast Club” put on by the Elks Club.

Secret Origins

Others can and have done a much more thorough job than I could in presenting an overview of Governor Dean’s qualifications, platform and campaign performance. All the same, here is my brief take-away from the articles I’ve read lately in Time, Newsweek and The New York Times: Dean was a fiscal conservative and, more or less, a Clinton-style moderate during his time at the helm in Vermont during the nineties. His recent, fiery liberal messages represent a new and improved Howard Dean, so to speak, and have been fine-tuned on the campaign trail for optimum liberal crowd-pleasing. He opposed the war against Iraq (with varying degrees of fervor), is against gun control, and intends to provide universal health care to children with money recouped from rolling back Bush’s ill-advised tax cuts. All of which garnered him a staggering US$7.6 million in donations in the last quarter.

Howard Dean Speaks

The most common characterization of Howard Dean in the August 2003 media is one of a candidate that defies labels, or at least one of a liberal that defies liberalism. In the popular press, he is a reformed moderate riding a wave of liberal furor, mutedly yet consistently maintaining that he is closer to the center than his leftist constituency. It’s a convenient if dicey way of stirring the passions of frustrated Democrats while not fully embracing their more divisive issues. Given the Democratic party’s tendency over the past two decades to offer to the voting public candidates that are ‘not what we want, but less bad than the other guy,’ Dean can be said to be ‘still not what we want, but far closer to it than the other guy.’ In a way, it seems revolutionary.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The basic question facing the Democratic party is whether we dare to vote for the candidate we really want. Conventional (or popular) wisdom contends that when Democrats act like Democrats, they doom themselves to landslide losses. It’s a lesson not to be taken lightly, and yet… and yet if we heed it, we basically resign ourselves to compromise — debilitating, soul-sucking compromise — for the rest of American political history.

This is what I’m grappling with. Dean is sexy as hell, politically speaking, in the way that things you can never have become unbearably enticing when you come within reach of them. His speeches and his writings leave me energized and ready for more, and they give me real hope that the damage done by the Bush administration can be reversed — I feel passionate about the Dean campaign, and I desperately want it to succeed. At the same time, I am scared as hell of playing into Karl Rove’s hands — the man is practically praying for a Dean to succeed, believing that such a nomination will reward the Bush administration with a second term in the White House. I can’t get this caveat out of my mind, and at the same time, I’m not sure if I can go quietly into 2004 with compromise in my heart. I’ll know more after I go to tomorrow evening’s Dean in 2004 Meetup.


One Comment

  1. Dean, huh? I’ll admit I’m kinda fascinated by this guy. His apparent views on states’ rights/local control (almost heresy in the Democratic party and completely lost on Republicans) are downright forward thinking, especially with a near useless Supreme Court. He seems to have almost single-handedly gotten health care for all (if not, unfortunately, a single payer system) back on the Democrat’s agenda. And his fundraising methods are really encouraging, relying mostly on small donations…if he can keep it up….

    I may have to rethink my previous vow never to support a political party that doesn’t have serious voter/campaign reform as one of it’s tennants. He kinda, almost, just maybe, makes me think that some real, meaningful change is possible. I guess I’ve got some time to really suss out this guy….

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