About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Friday, April 30, 2004

A military draft, part 2

I have received lots of email responses to my previous post, on whether we should consider a military draft. below, i've tried to put together my reaction -- incorporating objections, tweaking arguments, and reconsidering some things. thanks, all of you.

thinking about this issue is tying my moral intestines (and to some extent the real ones) in knots. i did say in my piece that a bush victory (or electoral theft) in november changes things for me with regard to the draft and iraq. as i read emails from others like yourself, i'm beginning to move toward the position that there should not be any kind of draft whatsoever for THIS particular conflict -- but that when it is over (or when the US is out), we've got to have some kind of public reckoning, a real discussion of why this war happened, and how we want to orient ourselves to the rest of the world in the era of terrorism. a draft has to be a part of that discussion, i think.

my great fear with the draft (and part of why i'm so conflicted over it) is that the idiocy of patriotism will just make the draft a source of more cannon fodder for the continuation of the same policies. if our leaders are bent on empire, and they are good enough liars and manipulators of political symbols and the reins of government to fool the American people into drafting its children for more wars of pre-emption and messianic destruction, then all a draft will do is accelerate our journey as a nation and a democracy down into the wormhole. I guess i'm betting, hesitantly, on the American people not being so gullible. or, i'm betting on the ability of those who love peace to persuade those who think peace isn't possible. if we have a draft (or even a public discussion of one), it will vastly increase the pressure on our political figures before, during and after any military adventures. and it won't take years, like it did in Vietnam. information from around the world is too readily accessible today, and far more Americans have a built-in skepticism of war, foreign policy, and our 'elected' leaders today than was the case during Vietnam. Congress is not some Solon-like deliberative body; it is, in the main, a group of rich white cowards. they do understand votes, however. for libertarian reasons alone, the possibility of an impending draft will cause the political sh*t to hit the fan, right quick...

and i do want to address a point a number of folks have raised -- do i have the right to discuss a draft as a possibility, when i am past draft age (i'm 37), and my present and future children haven't reached it yet? well, a future draft would certainly touch me in a concrete way: i spend most of my waking hours with young men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 -- hundreds of them every academic year. I become very fond of many of them; remain in touch with many of them, years after they've left school. they babysit my kids; they provide me joy (and frustration!), and give a great deal of meaning to my life. i'm not blind to the human costs of this. but i feel like we who love peace, and who care to trouble those who would rule over us, are stuck between a rock and hard place. if we have to have a military, and must occasionally go to war, how do we do it? Iraq provides us a ringingly clear example of how NOT to do it. how do we avoid future Iraqs?

i do want to be clear that i am not advocating a draft because i think it will end this war, and thus i'm willing to sacrifice the lives of others for this purpose. I have read some people in the anti-war movement who will bluntly argue for the draft as a means to this end. i do happen to think, from observing american history and american politics, that the launching of future wars will have a totally different process (and may not even happen at all, or as frequently) if war automatically triggers a draft. my reasons for considering a draft really have to do with one question: how should a democracy, with a civilian-controlled military, involve itself in modern war? how can we make war a very last resort for our political leaders, and for those american citizens who like their patriotism drenched in the blood of others? how can we ensure that when we do go to war (or fight to defend ourselves), that the reasons for doing so are publicly considered, and that the burden of doing so isn't placed on the backs of the working-class alone? how can we ensure that their deaths don't become anonymous (they won't even let us see the coffins, for god's sake)? or that the actions they take in places halfway across the world are not taken in our name and again anonymously, inspiring hatred of America that blows back to us years down the line, ensuring the repetition of this cycle of death again?

one of the unintended consequences of even discussing a proposed draft is that it might broaden the realization among americans of just how dangerous, unfeeling, and unaccountable this administration is. i can only hope that we can have that debate, and remove him and cheney from office, without actually having to implement a draft. but while i do see some form of draft in the long-term as something we need to consider, if this Administration is re-elected, and it somehow convinced Congress to initiate a draft to continue its prosecution of the war in Iraq, and its policies of pre-emption and empire more generally...well, i'm going to jail, somehow. in vietnam, LBJ and Nixon continued to throw our young people into the volcano long after they knew we couldn't stop the eruptions. we know we can't stop the eruptions in iraq already, before we even have a draft. it would be morally abhorent to initiate a draft while this president is in place, and without a drastic change in policy. but in the future, we DO need, i believe, to have an open and honest conversation in this country about our role in the post-cold war world, and the place of the military within it.

the larger question that we still have to address somehow is this: if we assume, as i think we unfortunately must, that this nation will fight wars in the future (most of them unjustified, if history is a guide), how can we ensure that the decisions are made democratically, that the full moral cost of a possible war is discussed and considered, and that the burden of war isn't carried by a small, unrepresentative, and relatively powerless minority, as it has been in the past? how can we minimize the frequency of American wars, and increase the possibility of solutions to world problems that are peaceful, just and multilateral? i honestly don't know the answer -- or i should say i don't really like the answer i come up with, which is a draft. how does a democracy keep a civilian controlled military, and fight modern wars when necessary? we can't keep on the way things are going now. something has to change. maybe the answer lies outside of all this -- in campaign finance reform, in building alliances between the peace movement and movements for economic justice, in revolution? i'm desperate. we're desperate.

what answer do i really want to give? that i don't accept the premise of the inevitability of war. but realistically, unless and until people like Dennis Kucinich are running this country, i just don't see that happening. we are a long, long way from the kind of cultural and moral transformation in this country that would be needed for us to choose peace, always and everywhere. i don't think a draft is a magic bullet to stop this war, or any other one. we must keep on writing, talking, marching, and going to jail to prevent our leaders addiction to the use of military force to solve all problems from holding sway. i just think that an equitable draft -- even if it is just a possibility -- will force all of us to decide: do we REALLY want to send our kids abroad to kill and die, because our leaders tell us it is patriotic to do so? if there is inevitably a burden to be carried, who should carry it? most Americans seem to be comfortable allowing a volunteer, professional military carry it, and our politicians to keep us blissfully unaware of the moral costs of that burden. but we can't go on like that. i don't know if a draft will stop it, but a public discussion of it might.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

The draft, Iraq, and the role of the military in a democracy (2004)

On the possibility of a draft:

I just came back from hearing a talk by Jonathan Schell, capping a day-long conference on peace and justice sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee here in Providence. the draft came up in virtually every session, and its got me thinking...

as an opponent of the war in iraq, and as a man of the left who is deeply, deeply suspicious both of the viability of military means in pursuit of peaceful and democratic ends, AND of this Administration and its goals at home and abroad, i find myself very conflicted on the issue of the draft.

on the one hand, if it appears (as it does presently, under Bush/Cheney) that the purpose of instituting a draft next year is to better enable the execution and expansion of 1) the policy of pre-emption, and 2) policies based on the assumption that only an American monopoly on global military force (empire, in other words) can provide security and peace...then i will oppose it with every bit of energy, passion and intellect i can muster. 'Starve the beast' may have to take on a different flavor here. Both #1 and #2, as i'm sure everyone reading this knows, are the formally stated pillars of American foreign policy under the current Administration. we might have to somehow throw a monkey wrench into the machine (stop the draft, don't give them the cannon fodder), before it grows too large and inaccessible to be 'monkey-wrenched.' or try to make sure that when the draft does takes place, Bush isn't there to determine how and when our young people will be asked to kill and die...

then again, in an op/ed piece i wrote back before the war started, i argued for a draft.

i have had this discussion with a number of military friends and acquaintances, and all of them have opposed the idea of a draft. why? basically, because they believed that modern war is complex, and should be fought by the 'pros' -- that green draftees will just create a gigantic training headache, making our military cumbersome, instead of quick on its feet (i read 'quick on its feet,' cynically, as a codeword for 'unaccountable to people not in the military').

in the end, i believe that the creation of a professional, all-volunteer military has been bad for American democracy, bad for our foreign policy, and thus bad for countless millions of people around the world who are subject to that policy. in the wake of the vietnam war, when the draft was the focus of so much protest and controversy, many well-intentioned people in Congress and the anti-war movement believed that having a volunteer military would make wars less likely.

this of course has proven disastrously wrong. it has not made American involvement in war less likely. what it has done instead is

1. made American involvement in war more secretive, less transparent
2. greatly strengthened the Imperial Presidency, rather than weakening it
3. removed the decision to go to war from democratic deliberation
4. essentially provided an unaccountable army awaiting its Caesar (who has now arrived)
5. militarized American foreign policy, by weakening public oversight and concern
6. encouraged our leaders to carry out some of their overseas objectives by creating, funding and supporting non-state military actors to do our bidding (Al Qu'eda in Afghanistan being the best example), who have come back to bite us in the butt
7. encouraged our leaders to privatize and outsource military and even diplomatic tasks to private companies beyond the reach of Congress, who are essentially war profiteers -- mercenaries, criminals, really
8. created what is basically an army of economic conscripts, repeating all the errors of the Vietnam-era draft (a class and race skew) without any of the benefits of transparency and public discussion that a wartime draft tends to encourage. do you want to see Bush/Cheney's policy for the working poor? You'll have to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan (and the dozens of other places around the world where our young people are serving) to see it.

one of the things a draft does (theoretically) is ensure that decisions about foreign policy and war take place out in the open, in the bracing air of public deliberation. under a democracy, as long as equality under the law and open access to power exist, citizens do have an obligation to contribute to the common defense (my belief). as long as the draft is fairly administered (as it was not for most of Vietnam), i believe that in the modern world, a draft is an essential part of a civilian-controlled military, which in turn is an essential part of democracy (the 'civilian-controlled' part, that is).

does it rub our libertarian tendencies the wrong way? sure. ironically, however, a universal draft may be a better way to preserve those liberties in the end than a volunteer, professional military, accountable to no one -- other than to Congress, of course, which presently hears only strident and well-funded lobby groups (AIPAC), and defense contractors, on foreign policy and military issues. If millions of Americans are under arms, members of Congress will have little choice but to consider a broader cut of public opinion. can you imagine Congress rolling over as badly as it did in the build-up to this war, if we had a draft (at the time, or in the works)? i can't. at the very least, hearings would have been held to validate or debunk the Administration's case for war, allowing for a real public discussion of whether Bush's radically new plan for American empire is something we want or need. the reality of a draft might have made Bush actually tell the truth from the beginning about the war, or seek international legitimacy for it, or better yet, not launch it at all.

and just in case anyone thinks Vietnam is a counter-example to what i'm saying here, it isn't. popular pressure to pull out of Vietnam was in large part a direct result of the ubiquity (and possibility) of military service among the American middle and working classes. Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman didn't force a change in policy. churchmoms, WWII vets, and ordinary Americans worried about the lives of ordinary Americans, and about their own lives, did (and the Vietnamese themselves, of course). a draft doesn't always stop our Presidents from lying about why we need to go to war, but it does make it more likely that the truth will win out eventually.

World War II is an interesting example. while there were some class biases in the draft in World War II (and in the south, racial biases), by and large it was equitably implemented. i submit that widespread participation among the male population in the military during WWII and the decade or so after, had profound (and largely positive) effects.

if you count the peacetime and Korean War drafts, it provided two generations of American men with important experiences that shaped our culture, our foreign policy, and our military in positive ways. the experience of war for a substantial portion of our male citizenry helped to shape broad-based support for the internationalism of American foreign policy during the Cold War, which sought to contain communism, rather than 'pre-empt' it (the former worked eventually; the latter would not have worked, and won't now). It also provided millions of Americans with first-hand knowledge of other countries, other ways of living.

George Carlin once said that 'war is God's way of teaching Americans geography.'

it is of course a truism that those who have seen war will be less likely to support it in the future, but it has some basis in fact. the age group that was consistently most critical (according to polls) of US involvement in Vietnam in the 60's? the WWII generation (not 18-24 year olds, who supported the war in larger numbers than any other age group). the experience of service broadened minds, engendered a sense of national obligation, and encouraged generations of Americans to feel that voting and democratic participation was both their birthright and their obligation (those born in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties vote in higher percentages than any other age group). it also, after the desegregation of the armed forces in the late 40's, gave many Americans their first and only sense of our national diversity -- but also of our commonalities, across lines of race, ethnicity and religion.

the universal draft in WWII played a critical role in the creation of the modern American welfare state, and the post-war middle class. how? by helping to create a sense of common risk and common obligation, it encouraged FDR and Congress to fund the war equitably (through progressive taxation), and to provide returning veterans and their families with some measure of economic and social security upon their return (the GI Bill, creating the first real home-owning, college-educated middle class in American history -- a middle class under siege presently).

when the Iraq war started, we heard a lot of talk of 'supporting the troops.' the premise, of course, was that we lost Vietnam because of noisy dissenters at home, and anti-war protests this time around would lead to the deaths of soldiers, the destruction of military morale, and defeat. that is an inaccurate understanding of Vietnam, but it is also a very limited understanding of the word 'support.' Supporting the troops, at the very least, has to mean not only initiating a public debate and following Constitutional mandates with regard to the declaration of war -- it also means preparing the nation as a whole to join with the soldiers in equally and justly sharing the burdens of a democratically declared war. This means to me, among other things, following past precedent (World War II) and initiating economic and fiscal policies that do this. This would decidedly NOT include a series of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and punishing budget cuts in the programs which provide social and economic security for the American working and middle classes -- who provide most of the soldiers, and build most of our weapons. It also shouldn't mean publicly opposing the use of affirmative action -- a policy that while limited, has been incredibly successful in providing equal opportunity for women and minorities. Our military, disproportionately made up of people of color, is the single greatest institutional example of the effectiveness of it. Apparently it’s OK for W to send lots of minorities to kill and die, but it’s not OK to send them to the University of Michigan.

Supporting our troops also means seeing to it that they have jobs, and the means to re-adjust to civilian life upon their de-mobilization. Where will the compassionate conservative support for our troops be in a few years time, when they come back home, and seek employment, a union contract, a safe workplace, a living wage, a labor market and system of higher education free from racial discrimination? History (as well as W's budget) tells us the support of our troops will fall somewhat short of this. Can this still happen to vets if we have a draft? of course. is it less likely? i believe so. social and economic policies to help vets would then become broadly supported, not just temporary assistance to a specialized class. compare the support for Social Security, which virtually all Americans are entitled to, to the support for welfare, which goes to a small, means-tested and largely invisible group that is powerless to affect policy, and to make convincing arguments for a common interest in their lives.

so i think an argument can be made for instituting a draft, both as a means to other good ends, and as an end in itself. we are fast reaching a point of no return in this country.

we can choose empire, or we can choose democracy.

we can't have both. if democracies are going to fight wars, as occasionally they must, they must have a means of waging war that bears some resemblance to the fundamental values and institutions on which democracy is based. as imperfect as it is, a draft is the best means we've come up with.

war, as jimmy carter said, is sometimes a necessary evil. but it is ALWAYS an evil. the decision to engage in it must be made democratically, not by a small group of people in Washington, with a messianic religious bent, and a fundamental lack of intellectual curiousity, moral humility, and respect for the rule of law.

"On Patriotism," a talk presented March 26th, 2003 at St. Al's church at Gonzaga University

"On Patriotism," a talk presented March 26th, 2003 at St. Al's church at Gonzaga University, Spokane WA

A 12 year-old school girl in Maine wrote the following essay last year for her 6th grade class:
“The American flag stands for the fact that cloth can be very important. It is against the law to let the flag touch the ground or to leave the flag flying when the weather is bad. The flag has to be treated with respect. You can tell just how important this cloth is because when you compare it to people, it gets much better treatment. Nobody cares if a homeless person touches the ground. A homeless person can lie all over the ground all night long without anyone picking him up, folding him neatly and sheltering him from the rain.

School children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning. No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to love a rectangle of red, white, and blue cloth.

Betsy Ross would be quite surprised to see how successful her creation has become. But Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed to see how little of the flag's real meaning remains.”

As an opponent of this war, and an American historian, I have spent a great deal of time recently agonizing over what patriotism demands of us. Like millions around this nation, my acts of protest before the war began have inspired accusations of disloyalty; even within the anti-war movement, many have said that all protests must stop once the first shots are fired – that patriotism demands that we support the troops, and unify behind our leaders and our soldiers. I do not agree. Or, at the very least, I do not share the same definition of patriotism, nor of ‘support.’ Indeed, it is my patriotism that drives me to speak louder now that the war has begun. The logic is simple. If it is right to oppose a wrong when it is being publicly contemplated, how much more important is it to do so when it is in the process of commission? “When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart.”

It is not those who protest the war who need to justify themselves. The burden of proof is on the makers of war. As former President Jimmy Carter said recently, “war is sometimes a necessary evil. But it is ALWAYS an evil.” I’d like to share my thoughts on war, patriotism and support of the troops with you this morning. This will not simply be a plea for peace; it will also be a plea to stop THIS war. I can’t help that. I apologize if this talk will seem strident to you, but I believe it is important for those who support this war, and those who oppose it, and those who aren’t sure, to understand how much in common we share.
Why do I oppose this war? There are many reasons, but among the most important is my belief as an American in the rule of law over the rule of force. Under the new Bush Doctrine, a bold military strategy of preemptive attacks–including the possibility of a unilateral nuclear first strike– is intended to prevent any state or group of states from challenging our preeminent role in the world. The war in Iraq is the first application of this doctrine. Preemptive war, however, is unequivocally illegal. This prohibition was incorporated into the United Nations Charter after WWII as the basis for a new system of collective security in which no state retained the unilateral right to attack another–with two specified exceptions: self defense and Security Council authorization.

All of us should consider whether this radical new strategy is good for our country and the world, and whether it best represents what this nation stands for. What would happen in a world stripped of the very laws designed half a century ago to protect humanity from the carnage of unrestrained force? Can pure military might really defend us from evil and secure our freedom at the same time? The passage of the USA-Patriot Act should tell us no.

Before it is too late, we would do well to heed Sir Thomas More’s advice on the rule of law in the play “A Man for All Seasons.”

And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned around on you,
where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Do you really think
that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Why do I believe that it is a patriotic act to protest against this war? There are two visions of America, I believe, with deep roots in our history. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America exclusively as a religious nation. It views patriotism as akin to allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our Constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom, in peace and wartime.

The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution, and in the words of the Declaration of Independence. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces reason and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism neither as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country and one's fellow citizens (all over the world), and as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy.

The admirable obligation human beings feel to their neighbors, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens, all too often becomes confused with blind obedience to government. Most of the evils in world history have come from obedience, not disobedience; from conformity, not from dissent. Unity, stability and order are not the only desirable conditions of social life, even in wartime. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to life, liberty and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, patriotism may require us to disobey the law; and citizens may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the eighteenth century, as antislavery people did in the nineteenth century, as Chinese students did in the last century, and as anti-war protesters are doing now.

It is this second vision which is my vision, my patriotism. It is the vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it, and strong enough to defend it against all its enemies, even during wartime. When he spoke out against the Vietnam war, Martin Luther King explained his protest simply: “I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.” If we do not speak out in protest, King continued, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” With Dr. King, I claim, without pretense or apology, a place in the long and honorable tradition of those who demand that American ideals apply to all and oppose the efforts of those, from whatever quarter, who try to reserve them for privileged groups and ignoble causes. The most effective way to love our country, I submit, is to fight like hell to change it. Through most of U.S. history, this brand of patriotism was indispensable to the cause of social change. As the poet Langston Hughes wrote, "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed. Let it be that great strong land of love where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme; that any man be crushed by one above."

Given this vision of patriotism, what does ‘support the troops’ mean to me? First, supporting the troops means preparing the nation as a whole to join with the soldiers in equally and justly sharing the burdens of a democratically declared war (though this is not, as of yet, a ‘declared’ war). This should include an ongoing public debate over the rightness, the wrongness, and the feasibility of this war. This means to me, among other things, following the precedent of WWII and initiating economic and fiscal policies that call on all of us to sacrifice, and that support the troops and their families. This would decidedly NOT include a series of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and punishing budget cuts in the programs which provide social and economic security for the American working and middle classes -- who provide most of the soldiers, and build most of our weapons.

Second, Supporting our troops means seeing to it that they have jobs, and the means to re-adjust to civilian life upon their de-mobilization. Recently, the Republican majority on the House Budget Committee voted for $25 billion in cuts in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, and a $204 million cut in the Impact Aid program that supports the education of soldiers' children. 163,000 veterans of the Gulf War continue to suffer from largely unaddressed illnesses from exposure to the fall out from destroyed chemical weapons, ammunition depots, oil fires, depleted uranium and experimental drugs. I question where the compassionate conservative support for our troops will be in a few years time, when they come back home, and seek employment, a union contract, a safe workplace, a living wage, and a labor market and system of higher education free from racial discrimination. History (as well as the President’s budget) tells us the support of our troops will fall somewhat short of this, unless we speak up for them. Supporting the troops doesn’t mean abject silence. It means seeing them as real human beings, with families, with fears, with rights, with opinions, and with moral consciences which will be stretched to the limit by the nature of modern war. And as human beings who will hopefully live long lives upon their return.

Last, and most important: supporting the troops means speaking up on their behalf, and demanding that our elected representatives do so as well. The men and women in our armed forces are duty-bound to follow the orders of our commander-in-chief. That is their job; it is their citizenship duty, and they should be honored and respected for fulfilling it, in an age when too many of us see democracy as a spectator sport. I salute them for their sacrifice on behalf of our nation. I thank them for their willingness to risk their lives. Even as I praise our servicemen and women, however, I regret that the President of the United States has ordered them to start a preemptive war fought without international support. A preemptive, unilateral war is unworthy of the honor and tradition of the U.S. military. Our armed forces should not be invading and occupying other countries. In a democracy, it is we the people that send them to war; it is we, the people, who choose when to bring them home. They die in our name, and they kill in our name. To attempt to cut off public discussion once the war starts – or even to question whether the public has any legitimate say at all – both undermines our essential values, and jeopardizes our soldiers far more than any protest ever could. We cannot shirk this responsibility, nor can we allow others to fulfill it for us. We must speak up for the soldiers, regardless of what we think about the war itself. Do you want to know how to support the troops in wartime? Do not be a cheerleader. Be a citizen. Speak up for them, in all their diversity. When we silence any of us, we silence them as well.

The idea of 'support our troops' is troubling for those who oppose this war, because it is being used by many to hammer dissenting voices into silence. Given my definition of support above, I intend to get louder, not quieter, once the war begins. It is my patriotic duty to do so.

I would like to conclude with the words of Mark Twain:

“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Sunday, February 15, 2004

the Dean infatuation, electability, and the 2004 Democratic primaries

letter to my friend Mike, a Dean supporter, who asked me to convince him about Kerry:

let me try to answer your political questions about kerry. i'm sure i cannot convince you that kerry is a better candidate than dean, and i wouldn't care to try, really. i like dean as well, and i think he has played a historically critical role (and as a historian, i ought to know) in shifting the terms of political discourse in the nation in the past 6 months or so. and i mean that seriously: if kerry wins the election, political historians will point to Dean's campaign as the catalyst sparking the decline of Bush's fortunes (also a shout-out to michael moore for uttering the word 'deserter,' and to Clark for making the unintentionally brilliant political move of refusing to distance himself from moore, forcing the media echo chamber for once to work for us). its hard to think of anything comparable to Dean's role in the past, aside perhaps from Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in early 1968 (just after Tet), or (even better) Senator Fulbright the year before (he held senate hearings on vietnam, making criticism of the war legitimate for the mainstream).

I'll start out with some random observations, then throw in a list of reasons why i think kerry is preferable, and more electable (and i do see those as almost interchangeable).

in the end, my preference for kerry is very narrow, in some ways personal and visceral, and not based on particularly profound reasons (though i will discuss them, below). as i've stated before, i generally have very low expectations of Democratic presidential candidates, and hope only that they win. when we have a group of candidates that don't differ all that much (as was the case this year, at least among those with a real shot), i really only care about two things: 1) will people who don't think like me feel comfortable enough with them to vote for them; and 2) do they, at least in some small way, understand that being the president of a corporate capitalist liberal democracy demands that they see the inherent contradictions of a corporate capitalist liberal democracy (that the first two words will, always, undermine the last two, unless government remains vigilant). i don't know if i've ever voted for someone because i thought they'd make a great president in my eyes -- that they were 'the one,' or that they had 'the answer.' usually, i just try to vote for someone who is at least not asking the wrong questions.
i consider it an unexpected bonus if they actually attempt to lead the nation towards a profound discussion of baseline issues. i have only been passionate about one presidential candidate in my life, and that was Jesse Jackson in 1988. a victory by Jackson (as unlikely as it was) would have had a transformative effect on American life, and the world. no other viable candidate in my lifetime fits that description. dean doesn't. kerry doesn't.

this next paragraph may sound like dean-bashing, but i don't intend it to be. its really just a few thoughts on his rapid rise and fall. i've never quite understood the fervor (narrowly based, as it turns out) for dean. i can explain it, i think, as i'll do below; but i've never shared it. believe me, i yelled as much as the next guy when he came to spokane last year; i cheered reports of his unabashed and powerful truth telling with regard to the war; enjoyed his sense of fun as a candidate; and sent off money to him with a keystroke. it seemed like every dollar he received, and every person in attendance at a speech, amped up the volume of his voice within the body politic. i was so happy to hear someone, anyone that the national media covered who was saying what i and so many of my friends were thinking. and as i said above, i think that it made a tremendous difference. that doesn't necessarily make him a viable candidate, however, or a 'front runner' (a big media mistake, which perhaps his organization bought into as well -- how does someone with union endorsements and $40 million run such a lousy campaign? media is partly responsible, but not entirely). such fervor has usually been reserved for a candidate who represents a particular group breaking ground in national political life (usually a racial or ethnic group, or a religious minority, or a viable sectional or 3rd party candidate). many Democrats (not to mention others) actually found this fervor somewhat off-putting, myself included. it had all the qualities of a young man thinking he has fallen in love with a young woman, when in reality she is just the first girl to show an interest in him. for me, the fervor seemed completely out of scale with the candidate himself. just because he made a virtue out of necessity in fundraising (using the internet, because he had no other means) doesn't make him the second coming of thomas jefferson, a tribune of the people against the interests. he would have been much better off portraying himself as i like to see him -- a doctor, a pragmatist, with a long history of solving problems most people think government can't solve, a person who sees those problems as something to be honestly discussed, rather than politicall manipulated or put off to future presidents and generations. while he may have started that way, his message got lost somewhere along the way, and the timing was just awful -- because it got lost right about the time when Edwards found his voice, and Kerry fired his staff, fully recovered from prostate cancer, and began to find his voice. the notion that the capture of Saddam derailed Dean, as some have argued, is nonsense, i think.

his rhetoric notwithstanding, Dean is one more socially liberal centrist, like virtually every candidate the party has seriously considered in the past few decades (including Kerry and Edwards). some of them catch on beyond the Democratic base (Carter, Clinton), and some of them do not. they virtually never bring new people into the political process (dean included, all hype about the internet aside -- to the extent that new people have gotten involved, they haven't voted for him); the best they can hope for is that they mobilize the base, face a lackluster opponent, and convince a sizable number of independents that they will use the power of the presidency in a principled way. there isn't much that is remarkable about any of them (Edwards, actually, might be the exception -- as an orator). perhaps Dean's a little more passionate than most, and he had both the blessed luck and good sense to stake out a clear position on a volatile issue ahead of most politcians of similar beliefs and accomplishments (though of course in the literal sense his position made no more difference than mine did, as far as having a difference on policymaking). Dean also has a refreshing intolerance for the cant and nonsense of political rhetoric, and a directness that i find engaging (though many others don't).

but as precipitous as his rise was, his fall was virtually inevitable, as the race kicked into high gear, and as his own flaws as a candidate began to emerge (and as it became clear that his remarkable power to raise $ early on didn't translate into actual political power). obviously the national punditry decided, for whatever reason, that they didn't like him very much, and the echo chamber certainly hurt him and helped Kerry. it seems very unlikely to me that media criticism of Dean has much of anything to do with his position on media conglomerates (which wouldn't become law if he was elected anyway). perhaps the punditry made the mistake of thinking that Dean was 'too liberal' -- but part of that might be because so much of the Democratic left thought he was, too. unfortunately, it seems to have much more to do with personalities than with policy positions. the fact that the national political punditry liked Bush and didn't like Gore (and i don't mean liked their positions, i mean liked them personally) made an enormous difference in 2000. it is absolutely ridiculous that journalistic priorities are often set in that way, since the kinds of traits that beltway folks like in a person are probably quite different than what ordinary folks prefer. but of course Dean's rapid fall also has a great to do with Dean himself, as well as the growing strength and consistency of the Kerry and Edwards campaigns. his fall was imminent once it became clear that the only thing he had to distinguish himself from other candidates was that he figured out what he believed about the war before it started, and to his credit voiced it, from the hilltops. he is to be credited for that, and others who should have known better are to be criticized, for sure. but that wasn't and isn't enough for me, and apparently not for most other Democrats either.

electability: as the candidate stands up now (or in debates with bush in a couple of months) and states his positions on the war, the differences between Dean and Kerry (past and present) will seem to most undecided voters to be largely semantic. if we assume that the foreign policy of a kerry presidency will look almost exactly like the foreign policy of a dean presidency (and i think that's a safe assumption), then those differences basically will be semantic. the question of 'who took the right position first' will only matter to the antiwar left, which is going to vote for the Democrat anyway. and one doesn't have to dig very deeply into Kerry's life and record to discover that the one thing we know he consistently believes is that international problems have non-military solutions, virtually every time. we can't say that about Dean, because he basically has no record, other than making the right call on Iraq. most undecided voters (right or wrong) will actually find Kerry MORE credible than Dean on the issue (as have most Democrats), precisely BECAUSE he voted for the war initially, and then became disillusioned with the administration's dishonest botching of the mandate congress gave it. Democrats that take a centrist position on an issue, and then tack left, virtually always have more broad appeal to voters than those that do the opposite. I don't agree with kerry's position (though i can live with it), but the fact that his position (and its evolution) matches that of most of the electorate should enable him to neutralize Iraq and national security as an arrow in Bush's quiver. you are right that Dean's statements on the issue can't really be picked apart -- they are very consistent, and to me and you, of course, they are and have been dead-on. he was right, though a large percentage of Americans aren't willing to accept that yet. and as i've said before, he's not terribly convincing to the unconvinced on that score. kerry (especially once you throw in his greater familiarity and knowledge of foreign and military affairs) has a better shot at this. being right is not enough, if not enough people think that your opinion carries much weight.

you say that 'electibility' is a fiction of the media, and that is probably true, at least after Iowa, to some extent (though not entirely -- i do have a fairly specific thing in mind when i use it). but politics is all about usable fictions -- like the notion that dean (or clark, or edwards, or whomever) is an 'outsider,' while others in the party are 'washington insiders.' that kind of rhetoric strikes me as just silly, especially when used by one Democrat against another. the notion that Kerry is a tool of 'special interests,' for example, or that he is 'almost a Republican,' is just silly. every statement like that that Dean has made has just dug him into a deeper hole. the idea that because someone hasn't been elected to national office qualifies them to be elected to national office (or the reverse) has always struck me as ridiculous. running 'against washington' is a cheap political tactic with virtually no analytical or intellectual weight behind it. it plays into the now widely accepted Republican fiction that government is just a swamp of corruption and waste, that it serves no useful purpose, and is governed by 'them,' a group of folks trying steal our money and our opportunities (as did Clinton's statement that the 'era of big government is over'). it is that fiction which has made the Democrats a minority party, because it kicks the legs out from under the party's most basic beliefs: that government in a democracy, however flawed, can and should be an instrument for furthering justice, freedom, and opportunity, that public service in a democracy is a noble endeavor to be respected and encouraged, and that the 'common good' is something worthy of pursuit, and capable of being articulated. it might get them into the White House -- it got Clinton there -- but it makes it almost impossible for them to govern, or get their party in a position to control Congress. i do distinguish this kind of rhetoric from the populist rhetoric around economic justice that seems to be growing in the campaign, which i think has a great deal of validity ("Perfectly Legal," campaign-style). its much closer to the root of the problem than the 'Washington sucks' stuff that infused the term limits movement, the Reform Party, etc.

on a more personal note: working on the Jackson campaign in 1988 is when i first became aware of (and, a few times, met) Kerry. i worked with jackson's campaign in tennessee, and after the democratic convention, when dukakis won, i and many other jackson people jumped into his organization. i left school for the semester, moved to boston, and was a part of dukakis' debate research and prep team (it was, briefly, pretty heady stuff for a 21 year old). kerry was quite involved in the campaign (he had been dukakis' lieutenant governor), but more to the point, was pushing the senate to investigate iran contra, and the contra/cocaine connection, and bush the elder's involvement. the jackson folks trapped in the 'competence not ideology' vibe of the dukakis campaign loved the heck out of him for pushing the issue. the Dukakis campaign was divided between people who wanted him to push Bush on iran-contra, and to push on the savings and loan scandal -- with the Jackson people wanting him to be aggressive and populist, and the Massachusetts-based folks wanting him to leave it alone. kerry took our side. he basically framed himself in my mind at that point, long before i knew anything about his vietnam service, or his anti-war activities: while not much of a legislator (not then, and not since), he is an avid good government type, is impeccably honest, and has generally tried to use the power of his senate seat to uncover what needs to be uncovered, and to investigate what needs to be investigated -- to bring things to the public eye. the picture of him as some kind of waffling weather vane who says and does whatever is expedient really strikes me as both unfair and inaccurate. he is very much a boy scout type, a child of John Kennedy, with an almost naive faith and belief in public service. but he also seems to have a deep, strong reserve of character and bravery (as anyone who has spent anytime with him, including political opponents, like John McCain, will attest to), even if he seems to struggle intellectually at times with what this faith and belief in public service should mean in actual practice. he is also, when his back is against the wall, a very good debater and campaigner. unlike with gore, the viciousness of this election is likely to make him better as a candidate. it would force Dean into a series of irreversible public misstatements, which would quickly become the focus of all media discussion. the fact that kerry's wife waits in the wings to drop an enormous amount of money on his behalf doesn't hurt, either.

i've spoken quite a bit about electability here, but a few more thoughts, and then i'll end this ridiculously long thing (and edit it, and put it in my blog). as divided as the electorate was in 2000, it is even more so this year. we all know how close florida was, but many other states were just as close. perhaps 43% of voters will go for bush, no matter what happens; perhaps 40% will go for Kerry (or Dean) no matter what happens. never in modern american political history has there been such a razor-thin group of undecided/swing voters. this 10-15% will be the targets of this year's campaigns. if the Democrat just mobilizes the party's core constituencies in the same percentages as in 2000 (given demographic changes -- growth of the hispanic population, for example) he will guarantee a virtual tie, just like last time (i'm assuming more turnout for evangelicals for the GOP, and the theft of votes here and there).

that is the set up, for either kerry or dean. now come the questions: 1) will one of them be better able than the other to hold the base, while bringing in new voters? on holding the base: Democratic won the popular vote in 2000 by inspiring record turnouts among blacks and unions. even with the endorsement of major unions, dean couldn't hold them in the primaries. on new voters: dean's claim is that his internet campaign shows he's the one to do this. i don't buy it. an anti-war candidate isn't going to mobilize new voters in significant numbers. an economic populist might, but he's no more innovative or appealing on these issues than any other Democrat is. to the extent that new voters have participated in the primaries, they've voted for Kerry or Edwards, not Dean. 2) will one of them be able to steal some moderate Republicans or so-called 'Reagan Democrats,' while holding the base? even Dean supporters have to acknowledge that Kerry will be better at this than Dean. why? he's Catholic, and he's a decorated war veteran. add together the number of registered voters who are Catholic and vets, and who have generally voted for the GOP, and that alone may give Kerry the advantage over bush. the exit polls within the Democratic party, anyway, seem to indicate that Kerry has support among these groups. vietnam vets remain a surprisingly untapped voting constituency, and they number in the millions -- and many of them don't vote. they may now. working-class Catholics in industrial areas, many of them Vietnam vets, are THE swing voters in this election: Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania. Kerry has a much better chance with these folks than Dean does. are the reasons superficial? perhaps. but they're real. one pattern has been remarkably consistent in all of Kerry's elections in Massachusetts, and in all the primaries and caucuses this year: working-class Catholics vote for him, much like they voted for another rich New Englander -- Bobby Kennedy. if Kerry holds serve with Gore's voters, and wins Ohio, we don't need Florida. 3) will one of them appeal more to the swing voters than the other? again, it seems clear to me that Kerry is stronger here. swing voters, like most voters, pay some attention to politics, but not a great deal. to me they are the ones who agree with the Democratic party on most domestic issues, but they need to be pacified with regard to national security. kerry, by virtue of his war hero status, and his position on the war, can do this. Dean can't. if even a small percentage of the voters up for grabs worry about having a president with no claim to foreign policy knowledge or experience, Dean as a candidate would be sunk.

to conclude, however much we prefer Dean's stance and consistency on the war, he doesn't bring any advantages to the Democratic ticket. I just don't see Kerry's voting record being damaging enough during the race to offset the other advantages he has over Dean (whose record as governor, while impressive, won't seem any more relevant to voters than was Bush's, or Clinton's).

i've been telling people for weeks now that Kerry may choose John McCain as his running mate. if it happens, you heard it here first. if it doesn't, well, it goes into the books with my super bowl prediction. not saying i want him to choose mccain, but it sure would make things interesting...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Its Kerry, Mike, not Dean

the short summary: what i believe about politics, why i'm not supporting Dean, and why i'm leaning back and forth between Clark and Kerry (today, leaning a little toward Clark, after watching a very impressive speech he gave yesterday to a VFW post in New Hampshire).

read this David Brooks piece from the NY Times on the Iowa Caucuses, if you haven't already. he's a conservative, but i think he's hit on something here, whether we like it or not:


on the caucuses: David Corn's article (http://www.thenation.com/capitalgames/index.mhtml?bid=3&pid=1196) is a good one. i spent the evening watching the caucuses, with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. i'm not as bothered or surprised by the result as many are, i think (more on this in a moment), but what glimpses i caught of various caucuses on C-Span disappointed me for sure. though i've never participated in a caucus, i like the idea of it -- one of the deep flaws of american democracy today, i believe, is how individual and anonymous it is. being citizen involves walking into a booth, pulling a lever, and hoping someone actually counts your vote. in theory, the caucus aspires to a more public, social, and deliberative idea of democracy: that being a citizen involves knowledge, persuasion, coalition building, and compromise, not just choosing a candidate like you choose toothpaste. since i still believe that parties are (or should be) important, caucuses (again, in theory) seem like a valuable way for a political organization to build support behind a candidate or candidates.

that said, corn's criticisms were right on. while a lot of folks i saw on the TV seemed to know what they were talking about, and attempted to deploy the tools of persuasion with one another, i also saw a lot of barely concealed political bribery, and the kind of insipid personality assessments that pundits like to engage in so much ('he lacks gravitas,' 'he's angry,' 'he's running a positive campaign,' etc.). personality does matter for electability of course, whether it should or not (i think most voters unconsciously use the traits of personality as a substitute for what they really mean, which is character and the ability to communicate and persuade, which do matter). i would just hope that in a room full of political activists, a partisan for a candidate could come up with something better.

I've been trying to make sense of Iowa as well. i've also been trying, for some months now, to figure out which Democratic candidate to support. i've just been unwilling to pull the trigger on dean -- and like you, for me 'pulling the trigger' means a lot more than just pulling a voting lever. it means selecting the person that i intend to spend a good part of the next 10 months of my life working for. i'm still trying to put my finger on why i can't bring myself to support him. in the end, i guess for me it comes down to a few things.

first, here are a few basic assumptions or beliefs that underlie my thinking about all politics. they pretty much govern my thinking about Dean and the others.

1. for lack of a better term, i consider myself a democratic socialist, or a social democrat. i have no expectation whatsoever that i will ever see a viable presidential candidate in my lifetime who even comes close to approximating my beliefs. i don't have a checklist of things that a candidate i vote for has to believe in or reject, in order for me to vote for them. example: Clark supports the School of the Americas? that sucks, but i don't give a shit. i'd rather have him than Bush. Clark is against flag burning? see 'don't give a shit,' above. as a result, all politics for me is an exercise in lesser-evilism. i have absolutely no qualms about that. if you believe in democracy, that's the way it goes. if my views are to ever get a national hearing, it will only come during a period of liberal Democratic political dominance, as it has in the past (Progressive era, 1930's, 1960's). thus, the only path, for me, to 'no-evilism' is 'lesser-evilism.' to believe that things will have to get worse before more radical ideas get a hearing is folly, i think. human history indicates that after things get worse, they get much much worse.

2. at the national level, i think third parties make absolutely no sense whatsoever. if this view had been a little more widespread on the left 4 years ago, we wouldn't be in this mess. if a leftist view of things is ever to become a part of america's political common sense, it will come through the Democratic Party. period.

3. the best way to move the political spectrum to the left is find candidates (or become a candidate) that can express ideas of social justice in basic political keywords that thinking Americans can understand -- to 'speak American,' as it were. make leftist ideas sound moderate (the 'vote for the living wage law because its good for the economy and small business' argument). hard to think of any examples in our lifetime, but to go back a bit -- think of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy at the end of his life, and FDR. i always thought Mario Cuomo was pretty good at it too. I have hopes for CLark on this.

4. the Bush Administration is not just another right-wing, pro-corporate, white Christian male-dominated presidency, like Reagan or Bush I. it is ideologically driven, deeply hostile to democratic politics and the rule of law, and is smartly and systematically undermining the structural basis not only of the kind of changes that Democrats and most Americans desire (by running up deficits, seeking to cripple labor unions, appointing ideologues to the judiciary, privatizing social security, destroying medicare, changing Congressional rules, redistricting, changing FCC rules to allow further corporate concentration of the media, ignoring the FReedom of Information Act, etc), but also the basis of the Democratic party's core constituencies. not to mention democracy itself (An absolute must-read on this:http://www.prospect.org/print-friendly/print/V15/2/kuttner-r.html). it is a danger not only to what most Democrats hold dear; it is a danger to what many Republicans hold dear. it thus matters much more that a Democrat win, than that any particular Democrat win. THis is why i would even vote for lieberman, if it came down to it. the argument, long favored on the left, that there is no difference between the two parties, is as untrue as it has been since the 1930's. besides, the GOP will retain control of both houses of congress, meaning a Democratic president won't be able to do much anyway, other than veto things, avoid making offensive appointments, issue executive orders, and do his level best to help Democratic win the mid-term elections.

now for Dean: like many in Iowa, who strongly agreed with dean on the war (as do I), i have serious questions about his electability. unlike the mainstream media, i don't question his electability because i think he's too liberal (he's not, not even close), or because he's supposedly made several misstatements on foreign policy (the one everyone seems to jump on in the mainstream media -- when he said that the capture of Hussein doesn't make us any safer -- is of course entirely accurate, not a misstep).

in the end i'm just not sure he's a very good candidate, in the superficial (but not unimportant) sense: his personality is off-putting to many people, he's not terribly persuasive, he has a tendency not to explain his positions very well (the Confederate flag thing being a good example -- he was right, but couldn't convey it). it simply isn't enough for him to be right. he has to be able to bring people at least part of the way towards his conclusions, help them make the steps. he just isn't good at it. he hasn't exactly distinguished himself in the debates. at first blush i like what he says, particularly about the war, because i've already made the steps. he states my conclusions, and expresses my anger and frustration that others (including, of course, much of the Democratic party) haven't done the same. much of the country, including most Democratic voters, aren't there yet. they are basically skeptical of the pre-emptive war doctrine, in so far as they understand it, and skeptical of unilateralism, probably too. that skepticism has to be directed, focused, toward the question that will ultimately stir most voters -- is Bush's foreign policy competent, and will it keep us safe? Clark is much, much better on this than Dean is. despite his vote for the war, i'm not sure kerry isn't better at it too (more on him later too). clark , to most voters, is more credible on this issue as well.

i just can't bring myself to use the vote on the war as a litmus test for which candidate i will support. especially given the deception and rush to judgment that went in to the passage of the resolution. i would certainly prefer if Kerry would just straight out say, as others in the COngress have, that he voted for it because he believed the President, he is angry because he was lied to, and he now realizes that the war was unjustified, and this history makes it clear that George Bush is not qualified to run this country. he's not far from this now, and his long career before this tells me that our foreign policy would be very very different under Kerry than it is under Bush. Kerry has always been a voice for international institutions, multilaterialism, and diplomacy. His father, a diplomat in the 40's, 50's and 60's, made the same arguments. it is one thing to criticize Kerry for voting for the resolution; he should have known better, and one does have to wonder whether he just decided to play politics with his vote, knowing that he was soon to be a presidential candidate. these are fair criticisms, though i'm not sure his argument (he assumed Bush was being honest, he assumed Bush wouldn't go to war without a broad coalition, he assumed Bush wouldn't go to war without a post-war plan) isn't genuine, even if we don't (and didn't) agree with it. but we cannot then make the leap from 'he voted for the resolution' to 'he's no different from Bush.' up until now, Kerry hasn't done a very good job of explaining the evolution of his position on the war; though of course, up until now, no one other than political junkies was really paying attention anyway. Iowa Democrats appear to have bought his explanation, and i suspect NH Dems will too.

but rather than examining the voting record on the resolution, it makes more sense to me to ask this question: if this candidate had been president 2001-2004, would we be at war in Iraq? the answer to me is clearly no for Dean, Kerry, and Clark. if this candidate had been president, would we have radically altered our military and foreign policy towards pre-emptive war and unilateralism? again, no for the three. if this candidate had been president, would his administration have falsified intelligence reports, attempted to use leaks to the media to intimidate whistle blowers, committed the impeachable offense of lying to Congress and the American people in the State of the Union, and caused our diplomatic apparatus to atrophy, alienating nations around the world? again, no. the differences between these Democratic candidates on basically all issues, including the war, are miniscule compared to their differences with Bush (i'm not including lieberman in this discussion, because he is much closer to bush than the others, and has no chance of winning). Given that, and given the question of electability (and i'm very open to counter arguments on this one), and the interchangeability of their domestic agendas (see below), i'd much rather support Kerry or Clark than Dean. ultimately, the goal has to be to defeat Bush. for me, i honestly care much less WHO becomes president, as long as it isn't Bush. he's that dangerous. and i'm not even really referring to foreign policy.

and ultimately, i think you are going to see a ticket with Clark and Kerry on it, in whatever order (for a very good article by Robert Kuttner in American Prospect on Kerry's viable use of populism as a candidate, see http://www.prospect.org/print-friendly/webfeatures/2004/01/meyerson-h-01-22.html). dean will sink as a viable candidate once we get into the SOuthern primaries, though his $ may allow him to stay around until the convention as a power broker (at which point he will endorse Clark, i'm guessing).

given the fact that there is very little separating these candidates from one another on domestic policy -- which is what will ultimately drive the election, unless something unforseen occurs on the world stage before November -- i can't see supporting Dean. on social and economic issues, he's certainly not to the left of the other viable candidates (meaning Dean, Kerry, and Clark -- i don't buy Edwards, not this year); if one includes his record, along with that of kerry, dean is probably to the right. clark's domestic proposals actually strike me as the most progressive. kerry has had a consistently liberal record going back many years, including a history of raising important and very uncomfortable (for some -- Iran Contra, restoring relations with Vietnam) questions about foreign policy. their military service, for whatever reason, buys them just enough credibility on foreign policy to allow us to slip liberal domestic politics in through the back door.

in the end, i wasn't very surprised about what happened in Iowa (though i was certainly surprised about Edwards). core Democrats (which caucuses do speak for, imperfectly) are SO angry about the Bush Administration -- they know just how radical and dangerous it is, in many cases -- that electability was ultimately what made the decision. if Dean doesn't play well in a state that he visited many times, and among Democrats who wholeheartedly agree with his position on the war, he's got no shot at wooing the couple of million fence-sitters he'll need to grab in the general election. the new voters he will mobilize will be vastly outnumbered by the millions of evangelicals that the GOP will get out to vote this time (this may happen to the Democratic nominee anyway). we don't need Dean to mobilize the Democratic base. George W. Bush (and you and I!) will do that.

of course, all could change with the debate tonight...