So is Howard Dean doomed? It's definitely possible, but then I thought Kerry was doomed until 48 hours ago.
What Dean needs to do, and has started to do, is to show that he will be the best President. He was the first off the carpet after the midterms, but everyone else followed him up. He can't make the electability argument credible until he, you know, wins some elections. So he needs to show some leadership, act presidential, be a statesman--pick your adjective, but you know what I mean.
We've seen almost none of Dean-as-leader or Dean-as-statesman this past month. People in Iowa and New Hampshire may not know he's capable of it. But I know, I know that he can do it. I wouldn't be supporting him otherwise--to quote the West Wing I may be dumb, but I'm not that dumb.
I know because I've seen him do it. Below are some examples (some of which I've posted before, but humor me, dagnabbit):
1. Statement on Signing the Civil Unions Bill, April 27, 2000:
I think the bill that the Legislature crafted does more than simply meet the mandate of the court. I think it is a courageous and powerful statement about who we are in the state of Vermont. I believe what the Legislature has crafted speaks to the notion that the founding fathers of this state put in the Constitution in 1777, that all people are created equal. I believe it speaks to the notion, with the common-benefits clause that the court cited, that all people are created equal and that no one group of Vermonters will get more benefits or fewer benefits than any other group of Vermonters.
I also believe that this legislation speaks to the heart of this state, certainly to my heart, because as I've said in the past, we in this state value who we are much more than what we are. And that extends to far more than the issue of gay and lesbian rights....
There has been some extreme rhetoric in this issue, but I think it's very important for us to remember that the vast majority of people either for this bill or against this bill are decent, thoughtful people....
Certainly this is the most intense public discourse I think that we've seen in this state. And I think, starting today, and the reason I chose to sign this bill in private, is because the healing process now begins. I choose to sign this bill because I fundamentally believe it's the right thing to do, and I also fundamentally believe that in the long run it's the right thing for the state of Vermont and the United States of America.
I believe that because until every human being is treated with dignity, because they are a human being, and not because they belong in some category, then every American and every Vermonter is poorer because of that. This bill enriches not just the very small percentage of gay and lesbian Vermonters who take advantage of this partnership and get the rights that the court has determined that they are due. I believe this bill enriches all of us, as we look with new eyes at a group of people who have been outcasts for many, many generations.
2. Another thing about the civil unions issue--this article is about Dean's difficult re-election campaign this year:
The issue has monopolized the gubernatorial campaign, despite Dean's best efforts to steer the discussion to issues like education and health care. He has been jeered by Dwyer supporters during debates and has had his share of confrontations with Vermonters who feel their views have been ignored.
"These are not unreasonable people," Dean said of those opposed to the law. "I am more than willing to listen to them and try to explain why I signed the bill."
He acknowledges that those discussions rarely net him votes, but he insists that they must occur to bridge the divide between Vermonters.
One distressing sign of the law's effect is the increased number of police escorts that accompany Dean when he travels to pockets of the state where opposition runs high.
He refuses to discuss security measures or if he has received threats. "I never talk about my security detail in any way," he said.
In fact he had received an enormous amount of threats, and was travelling around most of the state in a bulletproof vest at the time. This did not come out until after the election, though; he just wouldn't talk about it. (He still barely talks about it, as you can see from his one word response in this interview.
3. Statement on the first day of the war with Iraq:
"Tonight, for better or worse, America is at war. Tonight, every American, regardless of party, devoutly supports the safety and success of our men and women in the field....
This is not Iraq, where doubters and dissenters are punished or silenced — this is the United States of America. We need to support our young people as they are sent to war by the President, and I have no doubt that American military power will prevail. But to ensure that our post-war policies are constructiveand humane, based on enduring principles of peace and justice, concerned Americans should continue to speak out; and I intend to do so.
4. a paraphrase, from a House party I saw on C-Span many many moons ago: "We learned when those towers fell that we die together, as one country. But we need to learn how to live as one country."
This is why I started supporting Dean, and this is why I'll support him until we know for sure it's over. I appreciated that he was willing to fight Bush, but almost all of the other candidates followed his example. I thought the internet organizing was great, but I've never bought into the Triumphant Blogger Movement thing. I thought the small donations were great, but there's only so excited you can get by a campaign's fundraising prowess.
The truth is, I'm a hopeless romantic about politics. I've been wishing for the return of Bobby Kennedy since I learned about 1968 in high school, and for the real life Jed Bartlet since I started watching the West Wing. Dean isn't either of those things, but he's got something that I haven't seen in any other candidate, in this election or previous ones. I trust him. He's smart and he's competent and he's honest, and he's willing to risk his career to do the right thing. In dangerous times like these that's worth a lot.
Can Dean show this side in New Hampshire this week, and remind people what they saw in him in the first place? I've no idea. That speech last night was Bad News, by all accounts. I didn't see it myself, but I can readily believe the descriptions--this was the first election that the guy ever lost, and he reacted in exactly the wrong way. If you look at the blog, it's clear they've realized their mistake and they're trying to fix it. But that's easy to attempt and hard to execute with an exhausted candidate, a depressed staff, and a bunch of twitchy volunteers.
Will it be too late even if he can? Again, I've no idea. But we've come full circle, and once again he has nothing to lose. He's surprised people before.