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Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Breaking Down The Bitter Left-Part I-Iraq and Hurricane Chad-I'm not sure if James Taranto has what you might call the "bitter left" quite down in yesterday's column-(thanks to Josh for the link)
Dean made a lot more sense on Saturday than he had in the past--but this is actually a drawback for his campaign. Dean's appeal is to the demented wing of the Democratic Party--the folks whose entire worldview centers on the delusion that President Bush "stole" the election. These people sympathized with Dean's pro-Saddam stance not because they care one way or the other about Iraq, but because in their minds the freedom of the Iraqi people and the security of the world were worth sacrificing in order to deny Bush a political victory. By bowing to reality, Dean can't help but alienate his base, and it's unlikely he picked up many sentient Democrats' votes either. He may be destined to join Kucinich, Moseley Braun and Sharpton in the novelty category.
The grumbling about the "stolen" election is a symptom masking a generation of frustration on the left. Conservatives may think that they've been fighting a rear-guard action against creeping socialism for the last seven decades, but modern liberals haven't been able to make progress as of late. The candidates that have been able to get elected post-60s have been from the moderate wing of the party and they've not been able to make any big changes since the Great Society days. Their best hope for some big help to the little guy, Clinton's health care plan, got nibbled to death by the ducks of legislative politics and mismanagement. If the missed opportunity of 1993-94 and the following Gingrich revolution that rolled back the modest liberal progress of the Bush and early Clinton years were frustrating to liberals, 2000 frustrated them even more. With a generally peaceful world and a decent economy, Gore managed only a statistical dead heat with Bush. If I might use the metaphor of the 1972 Olympic basketball championship, where the USSR needed a pair of bad calls at the end of the game to win, the bad calls might have made the difference, but the US shouldn't have been only up by one with three seconds to go. The bitterness about 2000 was both at having lost a squeaker (if it had gone the other way, conservatives would have screamed, too) and having blown a key opportunity. I remember during inaugural week of 1993, Ron Silver, a thoughtful liberal, looked up at the military jets flying overhead. His comment-"They're our planes now." For the previous dozen years, the military had been in the hands of Reagan and Bush 41, the symbol of money that could have been spent on various social projects and of conservative patriarchy. Now, they aren't the left's planes any more. Silber may have supported the Iraq war, but most of his progressive buddies didn't. Often, they are too used to looking at the shortcomings of America to be able to see that even a capitalist patriarchy is an improvement over more authoritarian regimes. They're also more collectivist in their thinking and wanted a UN blessing instead of forming an independent posse. But there is also the feeling that, even if the weights are stacked in the favor of invasion, they still didn't want to pull the trigger. I remember twenty years ago when the Grenada invasion went down, my Reagan-hating friend Dave disapproved of the invasion; it wasn't that mounting what amounted to a SWAT team going into kick out some Cuban-friendly thugs who had taken over a few weeks before was a bad idea, but that it made Reagan look good. I remember saying something to the effect of "Dave, you've got to have a better reason than that!"A lot of people on the left feel the same way with Dubya; they don't want to give him the pleasure of being right. In short, there are a lot of other reasons for the left to dislike Bush than Hurricane Chad. It might be the first thing to come off of the lips, but that just the phlegm that is the symptom of a bigger infection of frustration. This group may not be the most logical, but they are a good hunk of the Democratic primary electorate. He also seems to sell Dean short; he has more gravitas than Dennis the Menace, Moseley Braun or Sharpton combined. Kucinich and Sharpton both seem to have anti-gravitas and Moseley Braun has so little gravitas that you can put it in a flea's navel and still have room for a piece of lint and two caraway seeds. Two of the three are likely not to get to Iowa and the third (likely Sharpton) will be a low-single-digit non-factor. In a crowded field, 20% could be a plurality and the hard-core activist that Dean attracts will be more likely to show up on a cold Iowa evening or New Hampshire afternoon to vote. Kerry and Edwards will have more money, but President Gramm can tell you how crucial a big war-chest of ready money is. If Dean can win one of those first two contests, he might have a shot at pulling off other 20-30% pluralities .

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