Democrats & Liberals Archives

H(oward) Ross McDean

Fresh off his wins in the money primary and the publicity primary, Howard Dean showed off a new side of himself to Larry King and the Today Show.

Call it H. Ross McDean.

In both venues Dean emphasized this above all, to thine own budget be true. He repeatedly promised a “glide path” to a balanced budget, with “spending limits” to keep liberals at bay, pointing to his record as Vermont governor.

How could he morph so far to the right? Here’s a secret. He didn’t change a thing.

What everyone forgets about Howard Dean is that he's not really left, right, or center -- those are labels we place on people in order to pigeonhole them, and later dismiss them.

Dean is what he is. He is, at heart, a pragmatist, a problem solver. He is a Dean as in Dean Witter Reynolds (yep -- his family are those Deans) and he doesn't mind admitting it.

At the same time, he knows what wins elections, and he knows what liberal Democrats want. You win elections by exciting your base vote first, and what Democrats want is someone who will take the fight to the foe, who won't back down, who will stand up for their principles.

How can Howard Dean be both a liberal and a Perot-like McCainiac?

It's an artifact of just how far to what was once called the "Radical Right" this Administration has gone. A unilateral foreign policy overturning a 60-year tradition, an exploding federal deficit driven by tax cuts, a regressive social policy, and an attitude toward opponents that can most kindly be called autocratic. That's the second Bush era in a nutshell. That's the record. It's just that simple.

How Democrats could bow down to this, even with September 11, is beyond belief to many of them. So the base vote is easy to get.

And here, remarkably, 15 months before the election, Dean has been able to launch a general election campaign based on what were, until a very few years ago, very conservative principles.

It's still an uphill fight, given the money Bush has, the Conservative Media Conspiracy, and sheer incumbency. But the math now is inescapable. You combine the people who voted for Bill Cinton, who were 43% of the electorate in 1992, with the people who voted for Ross Perot, who were 19% of the electorate. Sprinkle in the McCain supporters who were 40% of the 2000 primary vote, and stir. That leaves the Bush family with 38%, same as they got last time.

"If it's liberal to be for balancing the budget, then call me a liberal," he said with a smile. In that one sentence, Howard Dean redeemed a generation of "tax-and-spend" rhetoric which has gotten into most voters' DNA, thanks to the efforts of Republicans. He grabbed the Perot supporters by the scruff of the neck and pulled them in close, just that simple.

The only way to win is by getting millions of people to write small checks. That's how you compete with a President who can get as many $2,000 checks as he wants, he said. The campaign itself is campaign finance reform, McCainiacs, campaign finance reform in action.

These are the right moves. This is how you win.

Karl Rove wants Dean? Fine. Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan wanted Reagan, too.

Posted by Danablankenhorn at August 5, 2003 9:11 AM