Readers defend a wobbly Howard Dean and wonder if John Kerry -- like a previous Massachusetts Dem -- will steer the party down "a very dark alley."

By Salon Staff
January 23, 2004 1:41AM (UTC)
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[Read columnist Joe Conason on Dean and Kerry beyond Iowa.]

As an Iowa democrat -- and a former Howard Dean supporter who knows exactly why he did so poorly here Monday night -- I am incredibly frustrated with the kid-glove treatment John Kerry has received here in Iowa and just about everywhere else. Where are those poison pens that did such a number on Dean? (And I know from calling my fleeing neighbors to caucus that Dean did almost as much to chase away his supporters as the good folks at the Washington Post.) Is it because Kerry is a veteran -- which none of us can forget since he seems to base most of his campaign appeals and half of his speeches on what he did nearly 40 years ago -- that no one is bothering to ask him what he has accomplished in the last decade or two besides waffling on most major issues and promoting himself?


It's great that he's a war hero and everything, but the fact is John Kerry has repeatedly shown himself to be not only an uninspired speaker, but a politician without vision, warmth or passion. As Joe Conason pointed out, John Edwards is his exact opposite in nearly all of those qualities, and I hope Iowa earns Edwards some recognition.

Am I the only person in the country feeling a little déjà vu at the prospect of another Massachusetts Democrat leading the ticket down a very dark alley? Surely Republican strategists would just love for John Kerry to stay on top of the pile. It would save them the work of writing a new battle strategy; they'll just use the one that was so effective against Michael Dukakis and Teddy Kennedy. That's what will happen unless somebody somewhere stops swallowing whole this nonsense about Kerry's vaunted "electability." It doesn't take much to see through that claim -- all you have to do is take a good look at him.

-- Natalie Pearson


Conason cites the Dean campaign's feeling that fellow Democrats and the national media have sought to torpedo Dean's run. Then he goes on to imply that this is an excuse not befitting a presidential candidate: "those ... explanations dovetail neatly. If it is true that Dean succumbed to the recent Gephardt assaults -- far milder than whatever barrage Karl Rove plans to launch next fall -- then perhaps he is too vulnerable to win a vicious general election."

This analysis fails to recognize one important fact: The national media, and by extension corporate local media, treat Dean with contempt because Democrats themselves treat his campaign that way. Deciding voters are less likely to vote for someone that their own party appears to hate and distrust.

Here is what I feel the ongoing contempt for Dean is all about: Dean does not play by the Democratic Party's rules (rules that have lost Dems the last three elections); Dean refuses to take the hint from the media's kingmakers that he is not "the one" they want; and most importantly, the Dean campaign is a grassroots campaign at heart. Established Democrats do not want a grassroots campaign for any national office. Sitting on all fours, looking longingly up at the dinner table where they feel Republicans are feasting on corporate money, Democratic Party players feel that a grassroots campaign will stop the gluttony that they so desperately want a taste of -- even if it is table scraps.


Perhaps a Democrat can't win in 2004. I firmly believe that Kerry can't win. He is a "have your cake and eat it too" candidate for the Dems, and thus, he will not get traction with the growing numbers of the disenchanted like me. I would rather vote for a candidate who shares Democratic values, and by his very demeanor shows integrity and bravery in conveying that when your democracy is turning into a monarchical plutocracy, sometimes it is appropriate to get mad as hell and decide you're not going to take it anymore.

-- S.L. McNatt


It's OK for the current right-wing Republican president to appear smug, angry or overly hormoned -- the right-wing Republican voters seem to like that sort of nastiness in their candidates. But the Democrats, on the other hand, and the media especially, say that Howard Dean is not presidential when he speaks his mind, is passionate about changing the party and the Washington status quo, and makes no excuses for wanting to take our country back from the special interests. Dean has a vision of democracy that is the antithesis of Dubya's and he isn't afraid to say it. That bothers the Dems and the media, I guess.

It doesn't bother me in the least. Those qualities make for a fall '04 debate the likes of which we've not seen in our lifetime. If Kerry is presidential, and if that's a good thing for the Dems and the media, I won't argue with them. To me he appears to be Bush Lite, though, and that worries me a lot.

-- Julie Stroeve


Maybe my take on Howard Dean's finish in Iowa is too simplistic, but perhaps the Iowans felt, given retired Gen. Wesley Clark's absence from their ballot, that John Kerry's foreign policy and military experience make him the best candidate?

The "exposé" in which Dean dissed the Iowa caucus system (on Canadian TV over three years ago), and the heckler incident surely played a role in making him other than their first choice. (Remember, in Iowa, candidates are ranked in order of preference.)

As for the aftermath, in the national media, Dean's pep-rally yelp has been bandied about as yet another example of his being unfit for the office or unsuitable to run against Bush. Pat Buchanan suggested on "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann (on MSNBC) that South Carolinians might have appreciated the yelp, but not mild-mannered Iowans. Still, I am sure a Hawkeye fan recognizes a pep rally when he or she sees one.


-- David McGeorge

Let's not chalk Dean up as a has-been just yet. Remember, neither Reagan, nor Clinton, nor papa Bush won in Iowa.

But the thing to consider is, what caused that heavy swing to Kerry in the final week? I suggest you go to his Web page and look at the commercial "A Good American." Never underestimate the power of just the right ad at just the right time. That ad shows him as a soldier in 'Nam. It has an old vet from his company talking reverently about him; on the ad the first thing Kerry himself talks about is "healthcare for all Americans."

Every voter in Iowa saw that ad at least a half dozen times in the week leading up to the caucus. Exit polls show 57 percent of people who voted for him made their choice in the final days before the caucus. They voted for the image of a good soldier, which Kerry most certainly was, but another reason they gave was that he was for national healthcare -- which is Dean's bedrock issue. The game has just begun.


-- Steve Warren

Salon Staff

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