Wednesday, January 28, 2004

After New Hampshire, it looks like we're down to Edwards, Dean and Kerry. Clark seems to be losing steam, but I'll keep him in the mix for now. From what I've read and who I've talked to, the number one factor in who folks vote for seems to be "electability", or the ability to defeat Bush. What are the factors there?

Personality and Charisma. I've watched all the candidates speak on the tube, none of them live, so I think my experience is probably similar to the 'average American' (as if such a beast existed). Here are my impressions. Clark seems forced and awkward, but comes across as competent. Kerry's dull as dishwater, and the content of his speeches is either generic rhetoric or the standard Democratic proposals. Edwards knows how to set a room on fire, and he really seems to get the economic issues that divide our nation, but I don't get a clear sense of what he wants to do about it. Dean's a strong speaker and projects passion, competence and honesty. He's not particularly patient with stupid questions, which hurts him with the media, and he's not great at apologizing. Advantage Dean, but that's a matter of taste.

Experience. Clark's a four-star general, Kerry's been a senator since 1984, and Dean was governor for 11 years. Edwards was a trial lawyer, then served one term as senator. He's just not in the same league as the rest of them. So it comes down to senator, governor, or general. Being a senator is very different from being president, and while they keep running, no sitting senator has won a presidential election since Kennedy. Not to mention that with the reputation the Democratic party has in this country, having been a part of their power structure since 1984 is not really a virtue. Our country's a damn mess after three years of Shrub, and fixing it is going to take tough decisions, discipline, and a willing to make some unpopular choices. Deservedly or not, these are not things that leap to mind when folks think of the Democratic party. Advantage Dean and Clark. Call it a tie. Some might argue that Clark, being career military, doesn't have real political experience, but more than one Army vet has told me that anyone colonel or above is a politician, and I believe it.

Biography. This is press shorthand for "where were you born?" In a field of four men, we have two from wealthy backgrounds and two working class. But Edwards is the only one for whom biography seems to matter, possibly because he's so young, though not nearly as young as he looks (is he feeding off Kerry or something)? As far as the rest, what they've done with their lives matters much more to me than the circumstances they were born into. So Edwards is a rich lawyer, Kerry is a rich politician, Dean is a rich doctor, and Clark is a retired general, which to me (speaking as a typically ill-informed average American) means that he's not rich, but won't be missing any meals, either, thanks to powerful friends and a pension. The fact that Dean walked away from Wall Street to go to medical school does make me think well of him, though. It indicates that he probably values something more than money and power. That's not to say that being a doctor can't be an ego trip, just that it's a different kind than politics, law or the military. Finally, as a doctor he was dealing every day with objective reality, whereas Kerry and Edwards both live in a world that is almost entirely socially constructed. Why this is a good thing, I'll leave as an exercise for the reader. Advantage Dean.

Policies and positions. Edwards' main position seems to be that he cares. If there's more to it than that, it hasn't filtered down to my level of indifference. Kerry's pretty much a generic Democrat, with all that implies. I haven't heard any of Clark's domestic policies, but I have heard him speak approvingly of a constitutional amendment banning flag burning, which leads me to pigeonhole him as an emotional thinker who makes his decisions with a part of his body other than his brain and doesn't deal well with complexity. I could go on, but instead I'll just say that the flag burning amendment is an indicator issue, in that how a candidate comes down on it tells me a lot about who they are as a person, and I don't like what this says about Clark. Dean's a moderate and a fiscal conservative, and he seems to favor actually solving the problem over placing and/or escaping blame. And he has a track record of balancing budgets while doing so, which is exactly what we need. Advantage Dean.

Media-Savvy. Dean really gets the Internet, but isn't so good with the rest of the press, which has hurt him tremendously. Of course, their main game seems to be "pile on the leader" so now that Kerry's winning, maybe Dean will get a fairer shake. In which case losing Iowa and New Hampshire was a brilliant strategy. Edwards is a wizard with the media, as he's just as twinkly as they are, and they love people who pretend to care about them. Kerry puts them to sleep so quickly they never get a chance to write about how dull he is. As for Clark, they love his biography more than they love him. Of course, none of them know how to play the press like the Republicans do. Advantage Karl Rove.

Crossover voters. Everybody I know in education, many of whom voted for Bush last time, is in or moving towards the "Anybody But Bush" camp, thanks to No Child Left Behind. Moderates are put off by his radically conservative stances on social issues, fiscal conservatives by his profligate spending, and hardliners by his blatant political pandering. In the New Hampshire primaries, 4,632 registered Republicans wrote in one of the Democratic candidates for president. That's 7% that were pissed off enough to come in and flip the bird to their own party. Not a good sign for Bush.

A moderate candidate stands a much better chance of luring those voters away from Bush than a generic democrat, not to mention the many thousands of independents and almost-voters out there. Advantage Dean, but only if the media actually tells the truth about him (which is certainly not a guarantee).

That's my take on the electability issue as well as a pretty good explanation of why I'm a Dean fan.

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