Joe Conason's Journal

Whatever the reasoning behind Gore's endorsement of Dean, it's unlikely that petty animosity toward the Clintons or personal ambitions were important factors.

By Salon Staff
Published December 9, 2003 7:42PM (EST)

Gore's endorsement and Dean's movement
In the overheated atmosphere of primary politics, comments about any candidate are likely to be misinterpreted. Some people read yesterday's journal entry on Gore and Dean as an endorsement of the latter, which it certainly wasn't.

The point was simply to try to understand why Gore made this choice -- and to analyze its broader meaning. Many politicians remain static throughout their careers, regardless of the changing world around them and even of their own experiences. Gore isn't one of them. He has always been more thoughtful, more observant, more intellectually open and simply more curious than the average pol. (In that respect he resembles Bill Clinton, now his supposed nemesis.) He is aware of the need for change in his own party, for instance, as his remarks this morning in Harlem showed. That's why he spoke of the Vermonter's "promise" to rebuild the Democratic Party from the grass roots. (An apt epigram I've seen on pro-Dean blogs: "Dean is the messenger. We are the message.")

Whatever the reasoning behind Gore's endorsement, I doubt that petty animosity toward the Clintons or personal ambitions were important factors. It's interesting, though, that so many political reporters gravitate automatically toward such explanations, in the absence of any evidence. Might that reflect on their own unresolved feelings about the former president and the junior senator from New York?

Those who complain that Gore's endorsement undermined the democratic process might glance at today's blog by my friend Kos. He's an open Dean supporter, so discount for his bias. But he correctly points out that the Dean campaign has opened the primary process to broader participation through innovation:

"To begin with, the presidential primaries are never a truly democratic process. The people of Iowa, NH, and the rest of the February states have had a disproportionate level of influence. Illinois' legions of good Democrats have zero say in the election of our nominee. Neither do those in Minnesota. Or Massachussets.

"Or do they?

"In the past, they wouldn't have had a say. They didn't in 2000 (did anyone?). But technology has changed all that ... A mere four years ago, an Alabama Democrat would've had no say whatsoever in our party's nominee. But today, Democrats in Alabama have helped spread the word about Dean, donated to his campaign, attended meetups, wrote letters to Iowans, Granite staters, and Al Gore.

"So it's true, no votes have been cast. But that doesn't mean we haven't seen democracy in action the past year. 2003 was a clinic in how technology could be used to build a movement, how bytes on a screen could be transformed into off-line activities in pursuit of a cause ...

"I reject the notion that democracy isn't being served. At the end of the day, we'll still have elections to select delegates. Each candidate still has to get his (or her) supporters to the polls. Dean's nomination isn't a done deal. But he sure is in the best position to receive it."

Dean certainly isn't a done deal, at least not yet. (And there are still several reasons to wonder whether he should be; see my New York Observer column tomorrow.) Moreover, events that cannot be predicted may yet influence outcomes in the early primaries. But Dean and his supporters have earned their position in this race -- and the politicians flocking around, including Gore, reflect their hard work.
[11:30 a.m. PST, Dec. 9, 2003]

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