Three days ago, Sen. John Kerry’s frontrunner-then-nobody-then-frontrunner campaign for the presidency “upset” the powerful lead that former Vermont governor Howard Dean had built up in the race for the Democratic candidacy in 2004. Pundits were startled, and the centrist DLC breathed a sigh of relief. Buried somewhere within this larger story was the surprise candidacy of boyish John Edwards.
And then, of course, there were the candidates’ post-caucus speeches. While everyone has been spewing snark about Dean’s James Brown imitation, even setting his “mad rantings” to outdated mid-to-late-1990s dance beats, few people have been commenting on Kerry’s oh-so-tepid, and oh-so-centrist, victory speech. As far as I can tell, there were no illicit MP3s circulating that featured Kerry droning on about special interests over a score by Philip Glass.
With that in mind, it might be good to gain a sense of perspective here, a few days after the fact.
Today, before New Hampshire’s primary next week, Kerry is “up” in the state’s polls, which can realistically be attributed to both his home state’s geographic proximity and, more significantly, to the jokes and ridicule leveled against Dean, his closest competitor in that state up to this point, both in terms of polling and geography.
Is this really a good thing for Democrats of any stripe? Take another look at the candidates’ Monday-night speeches. Reconsider how passionless Kerry appeared onstage, on this, what should have been the most inspiring night of his decades-long political career. It was, instead, like watching Gore sighing in the October 2000 debates. Dead. Lifeless. Unwatchable.
Contrast Kerry’s discussion with Charlie Rose, I mean, his victory speech, with Dean’s energy and enthusiasm just a few minutes prior:
“Not only are we going to New Hampshire … we’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico,” Dean said with his voice rising. “We’re going to California and Texas and New York. We’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. Then we’re going to Washington D.C. to take back the White House.”
Then, of course, to the delight of humorists everywhere, these lines culminated in the release of an animalistic “yowl” of sorts. But, dammit, was it not inspiring? Monday night was the first time in maybe two years or more of watching his candidacy that I genuinely felt a connection with the man’s drive to win. This, incidentally, comes from someone who has long been decrying the manner in which Dean has been presenting himself for the past few months. You know, “angry”, “off the cuff”, “red-faced”, and most damningly, “unelectable”.
But who’s kidding whom here? With Kerry at the helm of the Democratic Party in 2004, defeat is just as inevitable as it would be with Dean spearheading the race for the presidency. You’ll recall how close the 2000 election was, and that was back when incumbent Vice-President Al Gore was riding the wave of years of success and surplus, while Bush merely had the “uniter, not a divider” outsider approach going for him, however inaccurate either of those synopses may have been in reality. And Gore was supposedly a Southern Democrat, to boot.
In terms of policies alone, Kerry (and, for that matter, the plug-and-play John Edwards) is effectively Howard Dean in a different package. Centrist, politically moderate, but with far less attitude, and far less of a genuine public persona…in short, far less personality. Oh, and Kerry is a former military man.
But for all practical purposes, they’re both unelectable this fall. Four years ago, when a cowboy from Texas-by-way-of-Connecticut spent time on his campaign belligerently avoiding questions, sneering, calling reporters assholes, and fending off drinking-and-driving charges––but nonetheless managed to just about legitimately win the election––it might make sense to reconsider Dean’s “unelectable” “anger”. What is anger, if not passion? John “Monotone” Kerry comes off as more robotic than Gore did in 2000, if that’s possible. And perhaps that’s why he was polling so poorly for months on end, until an endless series of attacks on Dean’s anger and unelectability derailed a clean win in Iowa Monday night.
Seen through this light, Howard Dean can still win this thing, both next week, this spring, and in the fall. Just ask Karl Rove: media and personality decide elections in the 21st century, not experience, not policies, not ideology.
Put it this way: they’re effectively the same candidates, despite what the media or the DLC might have you believe, except one guy’s got an almost Clintonian passion for getting elected, while the other embarrassed himself––and the entire Democratic party––by awkwardly riding a souped-up motorcycle onto the set of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The guy even wore a helmet obscuring his face, which, while certainly promoting responsible vehicular safety policies, nonetheless obscured his face.
Joe Trippi, David Letterman, or John Stewart would never have allowed that shit.
And if worse comes to worse, and we’re going to lose this fall, let’s lose with principled pride, at least. Go Kucinich!
14 replies on “The “Unelectable” Impasse”
What the HELL are you talking about. Dean was not inspiring. Note that even the Deaniacs are embarrassed by what their guy did.
And Kucinich is not even an “if only” candidate. The guy’s an idiot. He wants us to pull out of Iraq *now*. Yeah, that’s real smart.
the only legitimately ’embarrassing’ thing about dean’s concession speech, to me at least, was the “yeaaaahhhhooooooaaaahhhhh!” at the tail end of his recitation of states. admittedly, that seemed bizarre and weird, but the rest, the increasingly frenzied state listing, can be said to be inspiring, particularly if you’re standing before a crowd of your staunchest supporters, men and women who have spent the past few days, weeks, months tirelessly supporting you…a little inspiration is the least dean could have given these people after a disappointing finish.
compared to kerry and his godawful, insipid “special interests” drone. that was minimal techno to dean’s “state recitation” gabba.
and i was serious when i said i found it inspiring, rousing even…and i didn’t even like the guy. in this era of the daily show’s host appearing on newsweek, and obligatory late-night appearances by candidates, you cannot win, sad as this is, by experience and skill and policy-strength alone.
and that’s all kerry has. enough to win an election by a landslide in 1904, but not 2004.
kucinich, meanwhile…not in any way an idiot; the best candidate there is, by these same 1904 standards, save for an ever-so-slightly troubling background towards abortion policy. but think more carefully about his declarations regarding iraq.
yes, the united states fucked shit up badly over there. but for that reason alone, we have ceased to be credible enforcers of anything, be it security, or government construction, or whatever, and only an international bevy of perceived outsiders can lend any air of legitimacy to the enterprise whatsoever.
so perhaps what we do is FUND the united nations’ assistance-providing over there, rather than provide illegitimate and unrespected (hu)manpower.
that way we can get to work trying to encourage all those privates and sergeants and whatnot to come back to the US, where under the kucinich presidency, their college education would be covered, sans their having to enroll in ROTC.
then again, there’s always bush’s “21st century jobs program”, where everyone is a community college grad, working to become mechanics or dishwashers.
even the worse misanthropes need a little faith in humanity.
here, of course, one might jump in endorsing clark or edwards for these reasons, but clark seems destined to be VP, and edwards…for electabililty reasons alone, he often looks just barely old enough to be the presidential minimum age 35, though we of course know he’s well older than that.
Repulsive vs. Robotic. I think both lose in November. Better to roll the dice with pretty boy? I agree with Clark for VP. Ah, but we’ll never have another debate like Benston v Quayle!
I find Dean repulsive and you do, too, I think. Sitting around hoping other people won’t seems like a losing game.
What about Clark. Didn’t he threaten to beat up anyone who challenged his patriotism? Now that’s charisma.
getting a labeled a hothead sure didn’t help mccain’s get elected…
dean may be more eloquent than kerry, but enthusiasm doesn’t equal better president. jarvis makes a good point here http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2004_01.html#005969
re: mccain in 2000:
he didn’t lose the election in 2000 because he was fiery or hotheaded. he lost it because, after mccain’s winning in NH, the bush juggernaut rolled out those disgustingly racist ads about mccain’s non-white children in the SC primaries. it’s well-nigh that simple, though the analogy between persona and attitude and behavior between dean in 2004 and mccain in 2000 is certainly apt.
it only goes to show the whole lot of us: the power and prowess of your handlers most definitely matters.
edwards in ’04?
Let’s see. Teddy refused to play by party rules, and despite being one of the most accomplished, intelligent presidents we’ve ever had, was unceremoniously dumped by his party in favor of the guy we only remember as “Taft, the fattest fucking president, ever.”
In 1864, you would have complained that Abraham Lincoln was a depressive with no personality. Consider turning off your TV for once in your life, say even reading (maybe even the newspaper) — or visiting Vote Smart web sites. We are dead serious about replacing Bush. Are you?
hello mister or missus relevant/irrelevant,
methinks we play for the same team, and perhaps you yourself misread eveyrthing above…
thesis in a nutshell: the 1864 analogy isn’t relevant; today’s political landscape is defined by its relationship not to governability or skill, but to pop culture and media congolomerates’ packaging thereof.
kerry: suitable for 1864, perhaps (though, with his years and years of washington-insider experience, i saw in the congressional ledger that he was out campaiging rather than approving during the all-important 14th amendment vote. kidding. a reference to his peers’ attacking his ‘vast’ experience)
dean/edwards: suitable for 2004
perhaps if one read history texts from the 1950s/60s/70s, one might recall those early-but-salient points about the infamous nixon v. kennedy televised debates.
this trajectory has culminated in our new ‘first family’ having an entertainment show television announcer, a wannabe model, and a drug addict in its camp. yay for ’04!
Hey, Jean-Paul ~
As you know, I gave you that “irrelevant” on a silver platter. 🙂 (As I am wont to do.)
Here’s another one: Dean — irrelevant, the candidate for naively politically correct and adolescent college sophomores.
And another: 1864 — relevant, as is the Viet Nam war.
Patience. Don’t underestimate the American voter’s hunger for substance, experience and a brain (even if appropriately interestingly depressive) over manufactured “American Idol” style, even on TV in ’04. Especially in ’04.
Yes — it’s possible we’re sort of on the same team.
P.S. Keep saying, however cleverly, that “defeat is inevitable” and you’ll get what you ask for. Not everyone has the IQ and attention span of an MTV/Simple Life viewer. Unstoppable and (buzz word warning) electable: Kerry/Edwards. Understand and get behind it early.
P.P.S. Kerry has been a Harley enthusiast his entire adult life. Leno may be an irrelevant awkward nerd looking for any chance to play with cars and bikes, but what exactly is your problem with that again? 🙂
Look, were stuck with a candidate that was either:
a) too stupid to see what a lying craven scumbag Bush was, and trusted him with war authority
b) made the craven political calculation that he couldnt get elected if he voted against the war.
Neither is very inspiring.
Still, I’ll skip all the way there to vote for Kerry. Bush is the fucking anti-Christ.