Friday, January 30, 2004

Dittoheads in Dixie
Leave it to me to be a week late. I was in Iowa this past Tuesday night and Wednesday for the results and aftermath of the New Hampshire primary. Here are a few quick impressions of the race at the moment.

Howard Dean has to win somewhere on Tuesday, period. That Dean is considered to be on the ropes is not fair, of course--he still leads the official delegate count even after New Hampshire--but that's the way the game is played. The problem for Dean is that he's blown through his $46 million dollar war chest and is off the air in the seven states up for grabs next week. Plus, he's still being victimized by negative PR masquerading as journalism. I nearly choked on my Cheerios yesterday reading a front-page story in USA Today about his replacement of campaign manager Joe Trippi with former Gore chief of staff Roy Neel. Reporter Jill Lawrence felt compelled to observe, "Neel epitomizes the type of Washington insider Dean rails against in every speech," a double-action slam painting Dean as dishonest and, by using the verb "rail," irrationally angry. That sentence simply doesn't belong in a news story, and would get red-penciled in any Journalism 101 course in the country. Kerry will receive his own share of cheap shots from reporters like Lawrence in due time, of course--but probably not soon enough to stop him from getting the nomination.

The rush to Kerry's bandwagon has been breathtaking, and I suspect it's not so much because of message or personality. On Daily Kos, Chris Bowers summarizes the impact of media attention on candidate polling--Dean rose when he was getting all the attention last summer; Clark rose when he got all the attention upon entering the race; Kerry has risen since Iowa. Bowers concludes, "Democrats are dittoheads." We want to win in November, and Democrats are rushing to the guy who they think is most likely to do it. But the polling on electability that I've seen so far--that Democrats think Kerry is the most electable of the candidates by a margin of about three to one--is just weird. The Bush gang doesn't seem too intimidated by him--they have already transferred some of the same rhetoric they were using against Dean to Kerry, and the Soundbite of Death is already out there: "Kerry's voting record is more liberal than Ted Kennedy's." And at the risk of belaboring a point, I say again--Kerry's war heroism will not make him immune to accusations of being soft on evil. Max Cleland lost three limbs in Vietnam, but was portrayed as a friend of Osama in his 2002 Senate reelection bid and was beaten by a chickenhawk who didn't serve.

And then there's geography, which has been a fact of electoral life (or, more precisely, death) for Democratic presidential candidates for over 40 years. Although John Edwards is touting his electability in South Carolina, the real news from SC will be how Kerry does. Kerry is vowing to fight for votes in the South, but take note--John Kerry is just as unelectable in the South as Howard Dean would be. The only thing that would be different for Kerry is that a few people would find him more palatable than Dean because of his military service--but not nearly enough to swing even one state. Kerry once suggested a Democrat could win without taking a single Southern state--Al Gore nearly did last time. Kerry's pledge to campaign there in the fall smacks of pandering to the primary voters. The Democrats should just write off the South and concentrate on regions they have a chance to win. If that's anti-Southern bigotry, well, it's no more bigoted than it is for Southerners to dismiss a candidate entirely because he's from north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

But give Kos the last word: "With all the stupid Kerry bashing [from people posting comments on his site], we need to remember the reason we're fighting. Trust me, I find Kerry as uninspiring as the rest, and look forward to a strong anti-Kerry emerging (be it Dean, Clark or Edwards), but Kerry would easily be a million times better than Bush. And it looks like many are losing sight of that."

Yes, but . . . .

Recommended listening: NPR commentator Ayun Hallyday on English as fractured in Korea. I can't fully explain the charm of this piece; you'll just have to listen to it.

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