Letters

Readers respond to "The Trouble With Howard Dean," by John B. Judis.


Salon Staff
July 15, 2003 11:49PM (UTC)

[Read the article.]

Howard Dean is no George McGovern; although I am willing to concede that George W. Bush might be another Richard Nixon.

When I see the same story appearing in the New York Times, the Economist, and Salon, I start to think a concerted effort is being made to derail Gov. Dean's candidacy. Why? Not because he is unelectable. Howard Dean is to the left of the mainstream on only two issues: the war in Iraq and gay civil unions. Many who supported the war are now desperately backpedaling as the administration's willingness to exaggerate and distort the evidence regarding Iraq's possession of WMD becomes evident. And the broad support for the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Texas' sodomy law suggests that gay civil unions aren't much of a wedge issue, either.

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On other issues, Dean is as moderate as they come. He's a fiscal conservative who cut taxes in Vermont and consistently balanced that state budget for 11 years. We know that the average American is worried about the economy, the federal deficit, unemployment, healthcare, and the fiscal futures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are issues on which Gov. Dean is far more in tune with the electorate than the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The political pundits have gotten it wrong for the past three years. First, they predicted that Al Gore might win the electoral college but lose the popular vote. Then, they were blindsided by the Democrats' losses in 2002. What they don't get is that Americans want a candidate with recognizable convictions, not poll-driven positions.

Voters don't need to agree with Howard Dean on every issue. As Bill Clinton has pointed out, we would rather vote for a candidate who is wrong and strong than one who is right and weak. George McGovern was a very good man, but he was broadly perceived as weak. Howard Dean is strong, and he has a firm agenda. If he is the party's nominee, we can rest assured that we won't see a repeat of Al Gore's dismal performance in the 2000 presidential debates -- Dean will mop the floor with the hollow, faux-macho George W. Bush. Anyone who thinks Joe Lieberman, John Kerry or John Edwards can do that is living in a dream world.

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-- Joan Opyr

Salon shows poor editorial judgment by publishing John Judis' sniping opinion piece as front page news. Why not give us an in-depth look at Howard Dean and his campaign's strengths and weaknesses, rather than a weak supposition of what will unfold over the next 15 months? No one knows whether Howard Dean's campaign for president will look like McGovern's or anyone else's. Maybe it will resemble JFK's for being the first campaign to benefit from the harnessing of a new technology; or, more likely, Jimmy Carter's campaign for "a government as good and as competent and as compassionate as are the American people."

We are certainly in need of that government now more than ever. And as it becomes more apparent that Bush's rush to war in Iraq was founded on poor judgment and a blatant disregard for the known facts, more Americans will be longing for the moral leadership that Howard Dean would provide us as president.

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-- Eric Schubert

At a recent meeting of Howard Dean supporters in St. Paul an attendee brought with her a petition for the repeal of a recent Minnesota law permitting the carrying of concealed weapons in our state. Although we were all there to attend a Dean MeetUp and not to discuss the gun issue, people eagerly signed her petition. At one point a young woman said something like, "I don't know if Dean would sign that," and we all had a chuckle. As a governor whose moderate position on guns earned him the endorsement of the NRA, we were well aware that Dean's position on guns was more to the right than many of ours.

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I tell people that story when I hear this kind of silliness about Howard Dean being a "new McGovern." The premise of much recent commentary is that we Dean supporters have somehow been duped into thinking he is more liberal than he actually is. Here in Minnesota, we have been lectured by some that "Dean is no Paul Wellstone," as if we were too intellectually challenged by our grief at the loss of the late senator to discern between different politicians.

Most of us who are supporting Dean are fully aware of the issues on which we agree, and do not agree with him. I looked at the available candidates and loved Dr. Dean's candor, passion, and his principled decision to speak out about issues even as others around him disagreed with him. People suffering from Beltway blues such as John Judis are so blinded by Dean's antiwar position (and their own blind kowtowing to President Bush's disastrous foreign policy) that they fundamentally misunderstand why Dean has attracted such a strong, loyal following. Many of us have looked at his record, seen him as a centrist who is electable, and have become supporters.

It's the backbone, stupid.

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-- Javier Morillo-Alicea

At the risk of hyperbole, I believe that Judis' "analysis" of Howard Dean's candidacy was the most pathetic political discussion I've read in some time.

Judis' recipe for the Democrats can be boiled down to this:

1. Hope that the U.S. becomes hopelessly mired in Iraq.

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2. Pray that the economy "continues to falter."

3. Pander to the prejudices of conservative swing voters.

4. Trot out another scared, reactive, sheepishly apologetic candidate who will either lose trying to outflank Bush, or, if he wins, further postpone the inevitable restructuring and soul-searching that the Democratic Party must undergo if it is to be an actual force for change in this country.

The "straight talk" that Judis derides is exactly what's needed to beat George W. Bush. At certain times in the history of American politics there is a redrawing of the political lines that divide voters into groups. We are in such a time right now. Howard Dean is the only viable Democrat to say "Enough is enough" in regard to the Republicans' outright deceit (the war in Iraq), corruption (Enron, Halliburton, et al.) and fear mongering (the PATRIOT Act; virtually every speech by Bush, Ridge and Ashcroft). It's time to go through the looking glass, and career equivocaters like Joe Lieberman lack the energy and conviction to get us there.

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Judis has it backward, trotting out the infamous '72 McGovern campaign; the hysteria created by the Nixon landslide is what led the Democrats to run into the hole they've been hiding in ever since. The fact that Clinton was able to transcend this dilemma speaks to Clinton's unique political gifts, just as Ronald Reagan stunned the political establishment twice through his magnificent rhetorical pirouettes.

Well-educated professionals are a minority in the economy, albeit a significant one at 15 percent. But what percentage of the population would Judis estimate is shiftless, old-money, multimillionaire sons of former presidents? Nonetheless, George W. Bush speaks to a majority of working-class and service-economy voters because he uses rhetoric that appeals to them. Howard Dean is similarly capable of literally speaking to the masses. It doesn't matter what his core constituency or his own background may be. And as far as the curse of the Eastern establishment goes, do the initials JFK and FDR ring a bell?

It may sound naive to the would-be political experts at the New Republic, but sometimes politics is all about guts and seizing the moment.

-- Anthony Lacques

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John Judis, a very astute political writer, makes some valid points in his article about former Gov. Dean. But in the end, it strikes me that if Judis is right that the Democrats can only win by going after Bush's monumental failures, then it seems to me that Dean is better positioned than the "blander" candidates. Certainly Kerry suffers from the same regional and cultural liabilities that Dean would face in the South. Add to that the regular trashing of Kerry in the press (particularly the Boston Globe), Kerry's image as an aloof and, worse still, ambitious politician, and this seem like a recipe for disaster.

Moreover, running a "bland" candidate is hardly going to inspire anyone to change horses. Judis is right that the Democrats have to identify Bush's failures and explain the alternatives: regarding, clearly, the economy, a disastrous foreign policy, the failure to heed warnings before 9/11, and the failure to make us, in any real way, safer since 9/11. The Democrats must make that case, and their messenger must be convincing and credible. The likes of Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry and Lieberman, who have supported Bush's foreign and security policies, will be branded as hypocrites and incompetents for not recognizing these failures as they've unfolded.

-- Kelly Cameron

Bush is going to stomp whoever gets the nomination, so why not let Dean have a go?

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What we Democrats fail to realize is that at some fundamental level the triumph of popular conservatism in our politics represents the interaction of basic human nature with the changed reality of life in our advanced society. Ultimately, the Republicans win -- and continue to win -- because the rhetoric of "serve yourself" beats "let's work together" in all but truly dire times. Let's face it: Community is hassle. You have to deal with disagreeable neighbors and you can't always do what you want. And the Republicans understand this. Their rhetoric is always based on the idea that you shouldn't have to be bothered by anything unpleasant: Taxes are annoying, so get rid of them. Zoning ordinances, environmental laws, nagging labor unions, affirmative action to rectify past injustices -- all are a drag.

This rhetoric proves even more appealing when the circumstances that necessitate living in a community recede into the past. Most of the people who bother to vote today grew up in middle-class suburbs and segued fairly smoothly into their careers, homes and money. In fact, most of those likely to vote have never known really hard times. Americans once lived their entire lives with the knowledge that they were only a drought away from starvation. For them, accommodating the demands of annoying neighbors wasn't just a lofty idea; it was a survival strategy.

But today -- as the Republicans recognize -- those most likely to vote have reached a level of affluence that evokes the illusion they can buy their way out of the inconvenience of community altogether. That leaves the Democrats to make the rather joyless argument that "we're all in it together," which, unfortunately, will necessitate paying some taxes and doing the hard work of learning to live with one another.

In the end, the Republicans will keep winning because they champion what we secretly desire: a world where we can have all the goodies with none of the larger responsibilities. Their policies are an adolescent's wet dream, and, sadly, we are a politically immature nation.

-- Steve Snyder

So, the Weekly Standard insists that Howard Dean most resembles Clinton, and John Judis counters that Dean is the next McGovern. I guess that's what news analysts do -- take a cursory glance, then thumb through the history books for an easy analogy.

Everyone with a news column is trying to pigeonhole Dean: He's the anti-Iraqi war candidate, he's the Internet candidate, or he's the doctor turned governor. While the analysts cluck their tongues that Dean doesn't have a chance, close to 200,000 people have signed up as supporters for the Dean campaign six months before the primary. In my community, I've met hundreds of people who are excited about democracy again because of Howard Dean.

Judis' suggestion for "bland" Democratic candidates is laughable. The election of 2002 showed us that it wasn't enough for the Bush administration and Republicans to return to ruinous fiscal and foreign policies for Democrats to win. The Democratic Party had to show real leadership and stand up for our common principles. Howard Dean has stepped forward to provide that leadership. Ultimately that's the source of the excitement around his campaign.

-- Sudeep Gupta

With John Judis' McGoverning of Howard Dean, Salon gets an early start on telling us who we're allowed to vote for, and who we must pass up because they "can't win." Is it conceivable that if all the pundits who say Dean "can't win" said instead that he "will win," then he just might?

When election day rolls around and we vote for Nader because we'd rather stick our heads in a shit bucket than vote for a worm like Lieberman -- whose only deeply held principle appears to be censorship -- you'll have only yourselves to blame. Not that I would expect that to stop you from tut-tutting about Nader "costing the election."

I have real reservations about Howard Dean. He's made statements that strike me as suicidally apolitical -- fiery for fiery's sake. But John Judis' article is an empty, speculative hack job. The North-South logic that says Dean can't win also says Kerry can't, yet somehow Kerry avoids the "can't win" stamp. I smell a rat.

-- Matt Segur

John Judis paints a grim picture of Howard Dean's presidential chances by suggesting that the former Vermont governor would be trounced in the South in a general election. However, Judis ignores the very issue that ultimately cost Al Gore many Southern states -- including his own -- during the 2000 election: gun control. To be sure, Dean's position on the issue -- that it's up to the states to decide whether stricter gun regulations are needed -- will undoubtedly win strong support from both gun owners and states rightists, two groups that are heavily represented in the South.

Dean's road to victory is clearly a challenging one, but I believe that by being honest and unafraid to challenge the current president (unlike his Democratic opponents), and by showing some political shrewdness, he will succeed in showing American voters that he is indeed the best choice for our country.

-- Hemant Joshi

Judis ignores the paradigm shift going on in politics these days -- that opposition to Bush is coalescing around a forceful, plain-spoken, charismatic leader that has an admirable record of implementing progressive ideas. Literally thousands of people, nationwide, are volunteering for Dean already, and many of them are independents and people who haven't voted in the past few elections.

Judis proposes that the Democrats might do better with a "blander, more faceless, less exciting" candidate. I'm laughing out loud here -- sure, that would get Democratic voters out to the polls!

Dean was and is right about Iraq, and is not afraid (or too beholden to the DLC) to tell the real truth. Every time people hear him speak, they get energized to take action. He's going to make a great president, and I'm looking forward to it.

-- Will Easton


Salon Staff

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