In December 2003, I wrote my first opinion piece and have been spouting off ever since. When I wrote that first piece, I was pretty much unaware of blogtopia* until a friend suggested that as an outlet. Unsolicited Opinion
was created a few months later. Since then, over 7500 people have stumbled on to my writings, giving me an average daily visitor rate in the low double digits.
My first piece was about Howard Dean, who had come blazing seemingly out of nowhere to become the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination the following year. I myself had come somewhat out of nowhere, after two years traveling (the Appalachian Trail and Alaska) during which I was at best peripherally aware of events and politics.
For what it's worth, I offer that original post below. Reading it four years later, I can see that I'm not much of a prognosticator: I expected the Republicans to crush Howard Dean. Who'd have thought that a single enthusiastic exclamation would torpedo his entire effort? I acknowledged the "success" in Afghanistan meme that CheneyBush was peddling although I was skeptical (easy to do with this administration). Time has proven that skepticism warranted. I'm also comfortable with the basic idea in the post: that Democrats need to stand for something. They didn't do that in 2004 and were unable to remove the usurpers from the White House. They did in 2006 and took Congress only to slide back into caution and fear. At any rate, here's what I thought four years ago.Thinking About Howard.
Howard Dean scares me even as he appeals to me. He has waged a dynamic campaign, strongly asserting himself as an alternative to George W. Bush. At last! A Democrat who is willing to stand for something other than a mild criticism of radical Republican ideology. I like that. But I am increasingly disturbed by Dean’s campaign, wondering if he is digging himself and the Democratic Party into a hole that will be bulldozed over by the Republican electoral machine.
I wonder how much I can believe Dean. He was definitely right about the war in Iraq but I’m not sure that he has convincingly presented a credible alternative to the war. Nor has he clearly articulated how he would extricate the US from Iraq. And then there’s the America is No Safer Now issue. That’s a hard proposition to sell to an American public saturated with Republican propaganda about the fall of the Taliban, crippling of Al-Quaeda and the capture of Saddam Hussein. Why should Americans believe that these successes haven’t made us safer? I believe Dean is largely right on this issue. Reluctant as I am to give the Bush Administration any credit, I must admit that at least the first two successes have reduced Al-Quaeda’s ability to strike at the United States. Al-Quaeda is on the run, its senior leadership disrupted and it lacks the safe base of operation it had in Afghanistan, so its ability to mount attacks “under the radar” as it did on September 11 is lessened. But Al-Quaeda is highly decentralized and still motivated by its members’ hostility toward American and western ideas. We remain at risk. Howard Dean needs to clearly present this case when he makes his claim about America’s safety.
Howard Dean’s record also gives me pause. For most of his career he has been a pretty conventional politician, pursuing moderate-conservative policies that do not distinguish him from most of his peers. Suddenly, he is transformed into a crusading foe of special interests. The conversion seems like more of a campaign strategy, putting his policies in the best light possible for Democratic primary voters. Some of his successes, such as Vermont’s civil union option for homosexuals, were forced on him by events. I think, in the final analysis, President Howard Dean’s policies would be little different than Bill Clinton’s.
Of course, compared to the current incumbent, that would be an improvement. Howard Dean would bring moderation to the White House and provide a counterbalance to the radical conservatism so rampant in Congress. I like that. Maybe what scares me most is that I fear Howard Dean will never have an opportunity to present himself to the electorate, that he will be crushed by Republican disinformation and propaganda. With hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal, the Bush campaign and its well-heeled supporters will re-create Dean in their own terms, presenting him as a tax-and-spend liberal who would weaken America’s defenses while turning the country into the Godless wasteland envisioned by the special interests of moral relativism.
That’s why Howard Dean needs to back up his words with facts, figures and information. He must define himself clearly to the American people so that the Republican caricature of him does not stick. I don’t see this happening now. At least, not as reported by the national media. The media image may be incorrect but it is the one that most voters see and respond to. Unless Dean can control his own image in the media, he is likely to suffer the same fate as previous Democratic nominees.
I want him to succeed. The more I think about other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, the better Dean looks. He may be a calculating politician (pretty much anyone seeking to be president must be), but I think he is right on most issues. He differs little from his rivals on most issues except for the war in Iraq but that one difference clearly sets him apart. I want a Democratic candidate with the same fire and passion that motivates Republicans and right-wingers. Howard Dean has a lot of that fire and passion. I hope he can maintain it and demonstrate to Americans that he can serve as a better president than the man in the flight suit.
* Yes! Somebody coined that phrase.)
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