January 19, 2004
I temperamentally lean to Dean, and I’ve tended to think that the real fissure among the leading Democratic candidates runs between the guys who felt compelled to support the invasion of Iraq (Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Leiberman) and the two who, however tentatively, opposed it to some degree (Dean and Clark). For a lot of people, I don’t think it’s so much about Iraq as about what Iraq represents. Over the last several months, Dean and Clark have been the major candidates who regularly talk as if this coming election were something other than another humdrum exercise of donkeys versus elephants. They’ve been the guys who talk as if this Administration really is a threat to our future, not just as a piece of speechmaking boilerplate, but rather a threat to the basic quality of your life just a few years from now. While it’s seemed as if the other group, Gephardt and Leiberman and Edwards and Kerry, really believe at the end of the day that people like Cheney and Bush and DeLay are just regular politicians and colleagues who can be negotiated with. Making matters worse, for all of Kerry’s experience and intellect, and all of Edwards’ rhetorical skill, every time I saw either of them speak on TV, I was (in Teresa’s words) overwhelmed by waves of ennui.
Maybe they’re better now. Maybe they’ve figured out how to connect. Maybe nearly falling out of the bottom of the race has put “fire in their belly,” itch powder in their underwear, and steroids into their Wheaties. Maybe one of them will be the nominee and come roaring out of Boston to clean GWB’s clock. Or maybe Dean and Clark (obviously, tonight’s results represent a real threat to Clark in New Hampshire and beyond) will storm back at them, and one of those guys will get the nomination after all. Maybe George W. Bush will leave Laura for Dennis Kucinich. Maybe aliens will land.
I don’t know at this point. I just want a Democratic candidate who knows in his gut that the Bush Administration is a national crisis that has got to be stopped. If Kerry or Edwards turns out to be that guy, I’ll be happy to work for them. If Dean recovers from this, or if Clark manages to thread his way to the front of the pack, I’ll be on their side too.
I do think it’s a four-man race now. Gephardt is the cartoon character who’s just had the safe fall on him, and he’s out of money besides. Sharpton is running for something other than President; if any of the others do well against him with black voters in South Carolina, he’s probably done. Leiberman may actually pull an upset or two in some state that fell off everyone’s radar, but there is no plausible alternate future in which he gets the nomination. Wait, yes there is: all the other candidates die from eating spoiled ham sandwiches backstage at a debate, leaving Leiberman facing only Dennis Kucinich, vegan. I think that pretty much sums everybody up.
Now I’ll go read everyone’s spin. Prediction: many, many people will be discussing the Iowa caucuses’ poor record at picking the winner. Bush 1 beat Reagan in 1980, Dole beat Bush 1 in 1988, the other Democrats didn’t even try to fight Harkin in 1992, et cet. All true. Also, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln! Wait, wrong argument. [10:31 PM]