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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Howard Dean and the Progressives

On December 9, Ruy Teixeira posed an odd question: "Can Dean Move to the Center?" He cites polling data showing that Dean is most popular with the most left-leaning Democrats, and his popularity declines among centrists and conservatives in the party.

Teixeira seems to be anticipating the general election as many people are wondering if Dean is McGovern 1972 or Mondale 1984. For example, Matthew Yglesias links to a Washington Post article that notes Bush intends to paint someone too liberal to be president!

Pssst, everyone, isn't Dean basically a centrist? Certainly more a centrist than either Bush or the more left-leaning Democrats who vote in the primaries.

Yesterday, Lean Left posted a link to the 2004 presidential candidate selector. It's a short quiz that asks for simple responses to a number of important policy questions and then, after a click, the website produces a list of candidates who most closely approximate your selections.

I've taken their test many times over the past year and several of the top Democrats usually score around 80 to 85% for me. Several of my friends report similar results.

Over the year, as I have re-taken the test, Dean has gone up, Kerry has gone down, and Clark has emerged out of nowhere. Kucinich has usually been my top or sometimes second choice (after their "ideal theoretical candidate," who unsurprisingly scores 100% for everyone). Bush barely registers, which apparently means I'm not a Bush Republican.

Surprise, again!

Anyway, there are a lot of good reasons why Dean is more a centrist than someone "too liberal to be president." This is true even if he does have some progressive leanings: his re-regulation plan, anti-Iraq war, gay civil unions, etc.

One of Dean's major issues is balancing the budget. Do radical leftists worry about balancing the budget, or about the state absorbing too much of the economy's borrowing? For literally decades, Republicans bashed Democrats because they wanted to spend on social welfare. During the 1970s and 1980s, this meant deficits-be-damned.

In an odd twist, it's now the Bush people who seem to embrace deficits-be-damned.

Progressives have gone for Dean, I suspect, because he spoke out early and loudly against the Iraq war, organized actively on the internet by tapping into progressive venues, and appears ready for a bloody campaign against Bush.

In short, progressives want their candidate personally able to assume the "war room" tasks taken by James Carville and George Stephanopoulos in the '92 Clinton campaign. Those guys ran a media operation that directly challenged every distortion emerging from the '92 Bush I campaign.

They matched fax-for-fax.

From all this, I suspect progressives want to win really badly, and except for the tiny majority that register support for Dennis Kucinich in the polls, are willing to sacrifice on a few issues to assure the overall goal.

That's all good, and hopefully means even the Greens will draw the same conclusion.

I bought a Howard Dean political button at the Kentucky state fair back in August, but have not yet worn it. It's getting more tempting though.

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