The Dean Post
Well, it's still early, so I of course reserve the right to alter/modify/completely reverse any position I lay out in this post, but here are the ups and downs of it:
Guns - Dean's position on second amendment issues puts him in the strongest position a Democrat can hope to be in regarding this issue. While it would be naive to think that the NRA is going to endorse him and campaign for him, it is possible -- given Dean's stance and just a touch of luck -- that rural, single-issue gun voters won't be scared into a massive turnout on election day. The Governor is not coming for their guns, and so hopefully a good portion of them will sit this one out. While this obviously isn't going to turn Red states like Nebraska and Alabama Blue, it can help a lot in retaining big number Blues like Michigan and Illinois and gaining Reds like Ohio, all nominally industrial states with large rural populations that prevent Democratic dominance.
Gay Rights- After several months, Kevin Drum has won me over to his side in thinking that gay rights can be an effective stick with which to hit Bush. Civil Unions, which will, in this campaign at least, be strongly associated with Dean, are the perfect tool for both ensuring proper rights for ten percent of the population that has traditionally been neglected or actively oppressed, and for making the far Right look extremely bad.
Like Kevin, I say force Bush into a corner by making him either support Civil Unions, enraging his base, or oppose them and alienate the swing voters who, even if they aren't big fans of homosexuality, can at least appreciate the granting of equal rights to fellow citizens.
Like I said, framing is critical on this issue, but if it can be done right, it can be a winner.
Energy - Dean has it, and in much higher quantities than Kerry, Lieberman, and Gephardt. I'm willing to cut Kerry some slack here, as he is still recovering, to some degree, from major surgery. But, from what I've seen, even at full strength, he can't match Dean here.
In a time when Americans are looking for a strong (dare I say "bold"?) leader, perceived vitality will be key, and I just don't see anyone besides Dean and Edwards putting out enough wattage to beat Bush.
Straight Talk - The quality that made McCain the darling of the media in 2000, and one of the primary qualities that makes me favor Dean over Edwards. While Dean hasn't so far been quite as accessible to the media as McCain was, that can (and should) change. Also, this is where the conventional wisdom "Dean has chronic foot-in-mouth disease" comes in. While a lot of Democrats seem to view this as a weakness, I see it as a strength.
After all, he hasn't said anything offensive. At worst, he's been mildly insulting to his opponents, and this many months before the Primaries, nobody really cares that much. So there's really not much downside to it. On the other hand, this tendency of his is the perfect remedy to the single most harmful perception of the major Democrats: that they are phony.
A lot of reasons can be cited for Gore's loss in 2000, but I don't think there's much disagreement that the storyline of "Al Gore: Liar" was particularly devastating. As we've heard so many times before, that's why people liked Bush so much- he's a straight talkin' dude (a meticulously maintained perception).
What those of us who are paying attention now view as an inability to shut his mouth, a lot of people during the general election will view as Dean speaking his mind without artifice.
This is so critical, I cannot emphasize it enough. If the Democratic nominee is seen as fake and manufactured, he will lose. It's that simple. It's not fair, but the reality we have to face is that the Democratic nominee automatically is at a disadvantage in the "genuine" category, and Howard Dean seems to be the best equipped to deal with that.
Grass Roots - Of all the candidates, Howard Dean has so far been the most successful at developing a grassroots following, and has been most effective in using the web as a campaign tool. While this does not guarantee victory (remember that McGovern had a spectacular grassroots operation in '72), it certainly helps fill a gap that Gore had in 2000. "Gore Meetups" would have been a joke, and a very bad one at that.
The key is passion; Gore did not inspire it, Dean does. And far from being a liability, a legion of passionate Dean supporters can create a very good storyline in the media. I am firmly convinced that Dean's fortunes will increase dramatically once a critical mass of journalists see Dean pack house after house with fervent supporters. Once that becomes a storyline, it has the potential to snowball into something big.
Good Looks - This shouldn't be a factor, but because of the way the media works, it is, and Dean's only rival here is Edwards. The other contenders look old (Kerry, Lieberman, Graham) or plastic (Gephardt).
I'm not saying that the election will be decided on sex appeal, but being a good looking guy certainly can't hurt.
So, what about Dean's biggest perceived weakness, national security?
Again, this is a weakness that I think can be turned to his advantage, primarily by selecting Wesley Clark as his running mate (and Gary Hart for National Security Advisor, perhaps...). This way, he has the advantage of having a decorated General to fill in any perceived gaps in national security expertise, while at the same time avoiding the "opportunism" label that the GOP is already hurling at any Democrat who voted for, or otherwise supported, the Iraq war but is now demanding an accounting of the WMDs.
All of these issues are, of course, a lot more complex than I've indicated. Each one of them could, in fact, be the subject of its own post. There are also a few other reasons I like Dean that I want to look into a little more carefully before I write about them like I know what I'm talking about. For now, though, this will do.
The floor is now open for dissenting opinions.
Update: I should make clear that, of the six candidates who have even a microscopic chance of winning the nomination (Kerry, Dean, Lieberman, Edwards, Gephardt, Graham), the only ones I am actively against are Lieberman and Gephardt; Lieberman because he is too indebted to his corporate masters (whatever did end up happening with that silly little Enron investigation, eh Joe?), Gephardt because unless the sun rises at midnight and the lion lays down with the lamb, he will not beat George Bush.
Unless Graham does something really spectacular really soon -- something like making public concrete proof that Bush lied about Iraq -- he will remain the marginal candidate that he currently is, so I'm writing him off.
Also, contrary to what a previous post may have implied, I actually like John Kerry. I just don't think he can win. Right now, his public persona is way too reminiscent of Bob Dole, and unless he does something spectacular to change that, I think it's going to sink him; if not in the Primaries, than in the general election for sure.
So, for me, it's Dean or Edwards. As I've stated before, I think Edwards needs to establish some heftier credentials before he can make a serious run, so Dean it is. If Edwards has a fantastic summer, that may change.
But I guess we'll see, won't we?