Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

November 7, 2003

by J

Brilliant Strategist or Condescending Yankee?

Tristero puts forth an analysis suggesting that Dean is actually being politically brilliant with his alleged gaffes. Read the whole thing. A couple of pullquotes:
Dean's Confederate flag comments were calculated to drive a stake through the heart of the Republican Southern Strategy. In and of themselves, they won't be enough, of course. But these comments are part of a carefully constructed and systematic plan on Dean's part to go after seemingly hopeless areas of strong GOP support, to attack the very premises by which Republicans define their constituencies.

For a while, the pundits greeted every new Bush initiative as "bold," "audacious," or - my favorite since it's so weasly - "breathtaking." They confused a bold idea with a foolish one. In contrast, Dean's strategy here, as elsewhere, is genuinely bold and audacious. And once again, the punditocracy doesn't get it. They think he was simply being a bit foolish.

[...] Dean's strategy, however, makes perfect sense, when one realizes that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Confederate flag is a lose/lose/lose proposition for the Republican Southern strategy. Since Nixon, the flag has been one of the major symbols the GOP has used to pander both to the bigotry of many southern whites and throughout the country as a wink-wink-nudge-nudge at the racist right meaning, "We might say certain things that are nice about blacks, but trust us, we're really on your side." Right now, in Mississippi the Confederate flag is being used to rally the faithful even if many of the national Republican leaders, including Bush, have been circumspect about voicing overt support.

Now, the brilliant question Dean poses to Bush and others is a far better way to proceed:

"Do Republican leaders agree with my Democratic opponents? Do they, too, unequivocably denounce the practice of evoking the Confederate flag in order to gain support?"

[...] the GOP really has only one decent option, to parse words as precisely as Dean has. And then Dean has them exactly where he wants them. The Republicans will have to prove that they are real, rather than phony populists. And they can't.

Get it? Republicans, in pandering to racist whites in the South, have insisted that the Confederate flag is a Southern populist, not a racist, symbol. Dean says, all right. Now, aside from supporting the right to fly the Confederate flag, which doesn't get anyone a job, and doesn't make anyone any safer, how populist have Republicans really been?

[...] He demonstrates that he is unafraid to meet Republicans on their most stable turf , and with their closest held issues. He demonstrates that there is not a single area he will not probe to see if he can find something to his advantage.

Now, folks. That is a bold strategy. That is audacious and, yes, breathtaking. That is exactly what the Democrats need to do to win.
There's more, supporting the hypothesis that Dean is being an incredibly savvy politician on this and other issues. I love the guy but I'm not quite sure I'm willing to give him that much credit. However, I've seen others suggest that Dean's greatest skill is to instinctively find the right pressure points in the electorate and apply just the right amount of pressure to achieve the results he wants. Certainly overcoming a 70-30 opposition on civil unions in VT by campaigning on equal rights and fairness (as opposed to some queer theory department's philosophy of homosexuality, e.g.) is testament to that. If we observe Dean's startling Teflon protection thus far, accept the bulk of Tristero's argument and stir in my skepticism, the options seem to be: cunning political theorist, uncanny political instincts, or dumb luck. We'll see.
Posted by J at November 7, 2003 01:33 PM

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