In today’s Washington Post opinion pages, Harold Meyerson makes the case that Howard Dean is similar to John Wayne.
You get the Democrats’ John Wayne, on a mission to hunt down George W. Bush in no small measure by becoming, or being, the Democratic candidate most like Bush. Dean has the Duke’s contempt for all those citified fellers — the Washington Democrats — who took forever to realize that Bush was gunning for them and never quite figured out how to fight back.
Alone among the Democratic candidates, Dean understood that the law hadn’t come yet to Dodge, that the party needed a tough guy who could unleash its long-suppressed animal instincts. And so Dean has pursued the same strategy that Bush has followed, but that his fellow Democrats have shunned: Cultivate the base. He gave the core Democrats, and the unaffiliated young, a meaningful vehicle to oppose the war and Bush’s shredding of the social contract at home and international alliances abroad.
While the Republicans under Bush have consistently catered to the right, Dean is the first Democratic presidential candidate in years to have reached out so clearly to his party’s liberal base.
I guess it’s true to say that Dean is reaching out to the ‘liberal base’ of the Democratic Party – you can’t get too much farther to the left (and who else could have caused Gore to rush to such a quick endorsement to get closer to them?) But Dean as John Wayne?
Even though Meyerson quickly states that Dean is not George McGovern, I can not imagine how one can miss that connection. Dean’s ‘tough guy’ approach has been to attack every single item that Bush does (and a few that he doesn’t) as wrong. Not that he has any better proposal, but that there is some etherial ‘better’ way to do it.
It’s also clear that there are some people who are against the war in Iraq. Giving them an ‘vehicle’ to feel good is nice, but hardly the most important thing to do. Is it truely in the hearts of the majority of people who consider themselves Democrats to be against the actions to take down Saddam and the Taliban? Really? Or are we suddenly hearing people, now confident that it’s going to be a battle won that want to be able to take both sides – happy that the battle is won, but now able to pander to those seeking a ‘vehicle’ to express their anti-war rage. Of course this rage was equally expressed when Clinton sent troops to the Balkans and shot cruise missiles at Africa and Iraq… or were they busy that day? Maybe the silent ‘support’ from our international alliances winked their tacit approval. Dean’s anti-war stance is the element that makes him different from the the other candidates (since everyone wants to raise taxes, socialize medicine, etc., etc.). Although others can suddenly try to change their stripes, it rings hollow with Congressional votes and past statements trapping them in their (at least one time) support (when were they lying, then or now?). So Dean can talk about Bush knowing about the 9/11 attack, not rushing to judge bin Laden’s guilt (perhaps he is not mentally competent enough to admit his confession), only tepidly interested in Saddam’s capture – where does this leave him to go? Again, is this what the ‘core’ members of the Democratic Party really believe and want to reach out to? I don’t think that America is really this far gone. It may be the stuff that is necessary to get the nomination on his part, but if so, isn’t that sad?
No, Dean is not John Wayne. Being contradictory is not the same as talking tough. Making outlandish statements and letting others take the heat for you is not the same as standing up in adversity. Anyone has a chance to win the election if they get the nomination. But what on earth would Dean actually do as President… once he didn’t have George Bush to complain about? Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.