Third Party & Independents Archives

Sizing up the Survivors (Or, Dean and Nothingness)

There’s an old Jewish joke about a rabbi who concludes a fiery sermon by going down on his knees and declaring, “Oh Lord, before you I am nothing!” Following suit, a wealthy patron of the temple comes up to the altar and goes on his knees next to the rabbi, also stating that he is “nothing”. Finally, a humble old man comes to the front and makes the same declaration. Regarding this, the wealthy donor turns to the rabbi and whispers, “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”

Several candidates are now competing to be “nothing,” the humble servant who is swept in front of the Democratic convention by the power of the people. The rest will be revealed as mere pretenders to nothingness. Let’s see how the surviving candidates measure up now:

Howard Dean is frustrating to watch. At first I thought he was unelectable because of his antiwar stance. Then I realized that he’s smart and ballsy, and not really that antiwar. Now I’ve decided that he’s smart, ballsy, and not that antiwar, but has no filter between his mouth and his brain. Come on, we all want Osama to get a fair trial if he’s captured alive, but shouldn’t a presidential candidate have 99 higher priorities on his mind? Then there was his wacky concession speech. Dean reminded me of Bob Dornan up there. (If you see an angry red-bearded Irishman on a political show, that’s Dornan. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but it’s also a real person.) Dean has gotten more grief over this than he deserves, but hey, life ain’t fair.

Temperament aside, Dean made a strategic mistake by emphasizing his early opposition to the war for too long. I have a suspicion that he is surrounded by a lot of youthful volunteers who joined because of his war stance, and now are incapable of seeing his faults. (“You go, Howard!”) He needs to shun the sycophants.

Wesley Clark looks great on paper, but his campaign has been a big disappointment to this fellow Arkansan. His inept answers to the most obvious questions, such as his stance on late-term abortion, make clear that most political issues don’t turn him on. If he wants to continue as a viable candidate, then he needs to get better at faking it.

There is a school of thought that Clark has the same oral disease that Howard Dean does. This overlooks an important distinction: Dean’s gaffes make him sound like an effete liberal; Clark’s gaffes make him sound confused and disconnected. I’ll say no more.

Joe Lieberman
is, in his heart and soul, a moderate Republican. Whenever he talks about how angry he is at the Bush administration, I just don’t believe him. He comes across like a nice geeky kid trying to hang out with a rough crowd. Howie invites Joey to go smash mailboxes, but he declines because he has “friggin’ calculus homework to do.” Vague impressions aside, trying to get elected as a less crazy version of Bush isn’t a viable strategy, even in the general election. If people think that Bush is doing even a fair job, they’ll stick with the devil they know.

What can you say about John Kerry? In 1954, psychologist Paul Meehl wrote a book called Clinical vs Actuarial Prediction, which presented strong evidence that the best way for a psychiatrist to evaluate a patient is with simple, mechanical criteria. Surprisingly, any attempt to use one’s intuition to pry into a patient’s soul is actually going to worsen one’s diagnostic ability. John Kerry seems to illustrate the same idea for political pundits. Anyone who stuck with the idea that the Democrats will choose a politically-seasoned military veteran with strong foreign policy credentials would look brilliant now. (I started out big on Kerry myself, but thought that Dean was slapping him around in the debates.) Kerry is also unusually tall, scoring high on a seemingly silly criterion that is nevertheless a good predictor of presidential races.

John Edwards always drove me crazy during the debates by speaking in platitudes. Clearly, he knows something about politics that I don’t. I suspect that that thing he knows is that most voters are too busy and distracted to notice that you are speaking in platitudes. And to be fair, he has been beefing up his debate answers. My actuarial prediction: His youthful looks (which belie his fifty years) and lack of political experience will be an insurmountable barrier to a presidential nomination. He would be a great running mate for Kerry, however.

Posted by Woody Mena at January 26, 2004 9:53 AM