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The odd thing about Dean’s tenure as a liberal standard-bearer is that he really wasn’t all that liberal; certainly, a good argument can be made that Kerry’s record was more progressive on balance, and the best argument against Dean in the Democratic primary is that he was perceived as much more liberal than he was.     Dean’s record as governor of Vermont was more of a DLC contrarian than a solid liberal, especially in the context of Vermont politics.   It’s just that in 2002 and 2003 any significant public figure who was willing to point out that the Iraq War didn’t make any sense was suddenly some left-of-Chomsky nut.     And Dean deserves a lot of credit for getting Iraq right and being willing to say so!     But if you look at his record as a whole I don’t think his disgraceful pandering here is that shocking.

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  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    An excellent point about Dean’s politics, Scott. And one that I’m always surprised isn’t made more often.

    Dean distinguished himself in 2004 (and after) less by how liberal he was than by how partisan (and effectively partisan) he was/was willing to be.

    Two of the salient divisions within the Democratic Party over the last couple decades have been ideological and strategic. These are two often confused with each other. And the strategic disagreement–between a kind of Beltway bipartisan complacency and an aggressive partisanship reflected in, e.g., Dean’s fifty-state strategy–has been much more actively fought over than the ideological divide.

    The ideological division(s) are more complicated but less meaningfully contested. While the Democrats have sloughed off most of their old, Boll Weevil Southern wing, the leadership of the party has drifted slowly but pretty steadily rightward for at least two–and arguably nearly four–decades. With the goalposts moving and ideological and strategic considerations being confused (sometimes intentionally, other times out of political sloppiness), centrists get easily rechristened as liberals.

    In addition to his strategic aggressiveness, the two things that made Dean “liberal” in 2004 were his vocal opposition to the Iraq War and his signing gay civil unions into law as governor. But the latter was forced on him by the VT courts (the only legal alternative would have been actual equal marriage rights, which Dean opposed). And opposition to the Iraq War shouldn’t have–and actually wasn’t–simply a liberal cause. After all forty some odd percent of the public opposed going to war with Iraq in early 2003, and only about a quarter of Americans call themselves “liberals.” Dean became a “liberal” both because it was useful to frame him that way, not only for the GOP , but also for himself, at least in the context of the Democratic Presidential primary, especially as most of the other candidates were trying to avoid sounding too liberal. Press laziness didn’t help, either.

    But I have one minor disagreement with this post. While Dean’s purported liberalism is largely imaginary, his generally good political sense and aggressive partisanship isn’t. And that’s why I found his statement on the “Ground Zero Mosque” kinda surprising.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      One more thing to add:

      Dean’s long tenure as a liberal standard bearer also reflects the continued paucity of actual liberal standard bearers in today’s Democratic Party.

      When people correctly guffaw over the prospects of, say, the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign, they frequently make the mistake of blaming its utter irrelevance on Kucinich’s views. In fact, Kucinich is irrelevant because he’s Dennis Kucinich. If he were to embrace more “mainstream” views, he wouldn’t win more votes…he’s win even fewer. He’s only done even as well as he has because, for two election cycles now, he’s been the only actual progressive running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

      What’s actually pathetic about the Kucinich campaign isn’t that his views are wacky. It’s that the sizable portion of the Democratic primary electorate whose views Kucinich’s positions represent cannot find a more credible standard bearer for those views than Dennis Kucinich.

      Since I’m an effete elitist, I’m reminded of the story of André Gide’s being asked who the greatest French poet was. “Victor Hugo, alas,” Gide is reported to have replied.

      Who is the most prominent spokesperson for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party?

      Dean (or Kucinich), alas!

      • There’s also the (literally speaking) image problem with Kucinich. Short dweeby guys aren’t going to get elected in an electronic age. Part of what sank McCain was how crippled he was in the walking about part of the (second?) debate against the athletic and healthy Obama. We still want guys who we can imagine leading us into battle. As always, Idiocracy is only slightly ahead of the curve on this point.

    • Anonymous

      But I have one minor disagreement with this post. While Dean’s purported liberalism is largely imaginary, his generally good political sense and aggressive partisanship isn’t. And that’s why I found his statement on the “Ground Zero Mosque” kinda surprising.

      I agree with this, but then again, when I first heard of this pathetic “controversy” I thought it was too transparently stupid and openly bigoted to move beyond, say, Malkin/Beck on the food chain. I clearly had no sense of the political potential of this thing.

      • djw

        That was me.

  • Scott Lemieux

    Dean distinguished himself in 2004 (and after) less by how liberal he was than by how partisan (and effectively partisan) he was/was willing to be.

    An excellent point.

  • bh

    But if you look at his record as a whole I don’t think his disgraceful pandering here is that shocking.

    It’s not that shocking, but man is it disgraceful. I’d really prefer straight-up bigotry to this mealy-mouthed nonsense about ‘compromises.’

  • wengler

    I should should suggest this new era of compromise and understanding to the people that run the large Jewish community center I drive by near Chicago.

    I mean the neo-Nazis keep telling me the Jews are planning to kill everyone by starting all the wars(thanks, Mel!). I think instead of having a community center there we should have an “understanding building” where the Jews and neo-Nazis can come together and kvetch.

  • wengler

    This incident could also be filed under the “we need the guys with the confederate flags on their pickup trucks”. Dean really wants to reach out to people that define themselves by their race hatred and tell them that it’s OK, I understand your fears and them Others need to understand them too.

    How Liebermanesque.

    • strannix

      This is all kinds of wrong.

      Firstly, not everyone who embraces the confederate flag “define[s] themselves by their race hatred.” I know we would all like this to be true, but there are honestly people out there who are ignorant of what flag means and honestly think it’s just part of their heritage.

      Secondly, Dean wasn’t telling them that race hatred was “OK.” He just wasn’t. He was simply explaining that the need for progressive policies extends to white Southerners, too. As he had said a few months earlier, “White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us, and not [Republicans], because their kids don’t have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.” Note he doesn’t say that race hatred is OK.

      Third, this was all part and parcel of his 50-state strategy, which few activists seemed to have trouble with. The idea behind that wasn’t that there are already enough self-identified Democrats to win office all over the land – it was that Democrats needed to work to persuade GOP voters that they were better off voting Democratic. That’s not an appeal to white supremicists, especially an appeal based on racial terms.

      And fourth, it’s not the slightest bit Libermanesque. I realize that’s an all-purpose insult aimed at anyone who steps even slightly out of line, but Lieberman is all about subverting actual progressive policies, which Dean’s confederate flag remark did not do no matter how much you read into it.

      • wengler

        I disagree with this analysis.

        Dean was promoting economic populism to the detriment of civil rights. The 50 state strategy worked not because a bunch of guys in Confederate flag emblazoned pickup trucks started voting Democratic, but because black voting went way up in the Presidential election and once you get that you only need about a quarter of the white vote in these Southern states.

        I’m simply stating that you don’t engage in compromise on issues of principle. Dean is an idiot for making an oppressed minority group do the bidding of racist morons who want said minority group to magically disappear.

        • strannix

          Dean was promoting economic populism to the detriment of civil rights.

          When? How? The whole point of progressive policies, which you’ve conflated here with “economic populism,” is that they make for a more equal society. Most liberals I know think that universal healthcare, for example, is a civil rights issue because the poor, which of course are disproportionately minorities, would benefit from it the most.

          So can you give an example of “promoting economic populism to the detriment of civil rights?” He’s not FDR, implementing Social Security but excluding black people. He wasn’t suggesting walking back or subverting a single aspect of the civil rights movement unless you can give an example.

  • strannix

    Somerby’s been pointing out recently how unprepared Dean seems to be for many of his TV spots, and I think that’s what’s happened again here. The issue isn’t so much with Dean’s political views, it’s that he doesn’t seem to actually know what he’s talking about (e.g., the “court battle” that he’s worried about).

    It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Dean believes that this is being built near the WTC site specifically as a response to the 9/11 victims. Which, if that were the case, his language about “compromise” would make somewhat more sense.

    So … I don’t know what to make of that. But it seems like he’s just ignorant of the actual specifics here, which is really irresponsible even if he had reached the opposite conclusion.

  • Joe

    Do you actually explain how his record, even if it isn’t “that liberal,” explains his pandering here? Ted Olsen had a reasonable statement and he isn’t “liberal” either.

    As IB noted:

    While Dean’s purported liberalism is largely imaginary, his generally good political sense and aggressive partisanship isn’t. And that’s why I found his statement on the “Ground Zero Mosque” kinda surprising.

  • Dean favored single-payer, and was going to run on that as his big issue until his honesty about the Iraq war turned into his defining issue. He opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and the Patriot Act. He was a leader on the issue of corporate regulation, and favored the reform of anti-drug laws. He’s right thinking on education and education funding. Just about the only area where I thought he was less than perfectly progressive was on gun control. He’s plenty progressive, or liberal far as I can tell.

    His position on the Cordoba House is the position of someone who is looking to take the toxicity out of a Republican scare point, and is consistent with the kind of outreach that’s marked his career. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that as a Democratic strategist he’s been pretty much right every time since Iowa derailed him.

    I also think it might be interestingto walk back the “Ground Zero Mosque” story a little. Come to find out they haven’t got anything like the money to develop this project, so where is all the hubbub coming from? This is beginning to look like a silly season trap.

    • Ed

      I agree with Bill Altreuter’s post in its entirety.

      The more I read about this project the more I think this is not the hill Democrats want to fight and die on and the more ill-advised Obama’s remarks on the subject seem to be, as much as I respected his initial statement. Let’s hope the silly season ends with August.

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