A Brief American Interlude

The front page of today’s Washington Post has a none-too-flattering analysis of Gov. Howard Dean, the man most likely to challenge GW Bush for the White House in 2004. It starts:

“Former Vermont governor Howard Dean stands on the brink of a remarkable achievement in American politics, having transformed himself from rank obscurity to clear favorite for his party’s presidential nomination. But rarely has a front-runner begun an election year with as many questions swirling around him as the man who rewrote the rules in presidential politics the past 12 months.”

Coming from someone whose profession is supposed to be reporting on American politics, the second sentence is rankest stupidity.

For confirmation, look no further than the challenger from the party out of power four years ago. No primaries had been held, but GW Bush was a front-runner who had rewritten the rules of presidential politics, and he had an enormous number of questions swirling about him. And they were far more serious than those swirling around Gov. Dean right now: Bush was an admitted alcoholic until the time he turned 40; he was governor of Texas, a post the quirks of history left with far less political power than the state’s Lieutenant governor; he had a poor record of convincing people to do his bidding; most of his career involved questionable business deals that traded on his name. None of that, of course, kept him from the White House.

Anyway, two points for Europeans looking at the American election: key people in the press (and Balz is one of the most important paper’s most important reporters) have very short memories and are apt to say very stupid things.

Second, tagging Dean as someone who rewrote the rules is actually an astute observazion, maybe even the most important one he could possibly make. Because rewriting the rules is precisely what GW Bush did in 2000, what Bill Clinton did in 1992, what GHW Bush did in 1988, what Ronald Reagan did in 1980, and what Jimmy Carter did in 1976, which is about as far back as my political memory reaches. If Dean really is rewriting the rules, then he is exercising the single most important presidential skill: dominating the national agenda. And if he can keep doing it — which will involve continuing to do all of the little things right that his campaign has done so far, while offering a vision for the future — the chances are good that he will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come January of 2005.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

10 thoughts on “A Brief American Interlude

  1. I’ll just chime in to say that I think both your points are spot on.

    And re the second, one can say the same about Nixon in ’68, Kennedy in ’60, Eisenhower in ’52, and FDR in 1932.

  2. The rules get re-written about every forty-eight hours in DC; just in time for the deadline on the lastest deep-think piece on national politics.

    I don’t know how important this Balz can be. I’ve never heard of him.

  3. “No primaries had been held, but GW Bush was a front-runner who had rewritten the rules of presidential politics”

    W was, however, not the front-runner till after South Carolina, a contest he won by having his staff spread malicious rumors about John McCain’s illegitimate half-black daughter.

    Dirty tricks in Presidential campaigns are nothing new, but Karl Rove & Co. plumbed new depths of depravity with their successful campaign to crush McCain. And the 2004 general election promises to be the nastiest one ever.

    It’s easy to see the result as a foregone conclusion, whether because of Bush’s enormous financial superiority, the GOP’s ongoing efforts to suppress voter turnout, or the fact that most of the Washington media is more than happy to follow Rove’s playbook if it means staying with the herd (and retaining White House access). And then there’s the little-reported issue of “black box voting.”

    What really baffles most Washington insiders about Dean is his willingness to fight back. Democrats aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing anymore.

  4. I doubt the veracity of this anonymous statement:

    “…his staff spread malicious rumors about John McCain’s
    illegitimate half-black daughter.”

    It sounds like malicious shit.

  5. Coming from someone whose profession is supposed to be reporting on American politics, the second sentence is rankest stupidity.

    The first sentence isn’t brilliant either:
    “Former Vermont governor Howard Dean stands on the brink of a remarkable achievement in American politics, having transformed himself from rank obscurity to clear favorite for his party’s presidential nomination.”

    U.S. state governors are a higher elite than federal senators (50 vs. 100). And Governors are more likely to be elected President than senators.

  6. The whispering campaign about McCain’s alleged black child is well documented:

    “Bush?s campaign strategists, including Karl Rove, devised a push poll designed to degrade the character of the senator in the minds of the voters. Voters all across South Carolina were called and asked the question, ?Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?? A push poll by its nature is designed to plant a seed in the minds of those participating and its end result percentages are really just beside the point.

    The seed was planted and then there was John McCain campaigning all over South Carolina with his beautiful wife and their little adopted Bangladeshi daughter.”

    Karl Rove and his minions — excuse my intemperate language — are a fucking bunch of fucking subhuman scumbags.

  7. vaara,

    The links you offer do not “document” the allegation, they
    simply make the allegation. Saying something is so is not
    the same as offering evidence that it is.

    No evidence is offered; simply a blanket statement that
    something occurred, and clearly neither speaker is speaking
    of their own experience.

    If I go to democraticunderground or indymedia, I’m sure
    at least once a week I’ll be able to watch some vicious
    rumour generate (absent evidence from the first moment) and
    then spread fueled by those that want to believe it. Pretty
    soon some will confuse the number of people who have repeated
    the vicious rumour with ‘evidence.’

  8. “If I go to democraticunderground or indymedia”

    Or FreeRepublic or TownHall.com or WorldNetDaily or even, these days, the Wall Street Journal.

  9. 2004 Here we come!

    1. Iraq becomes Vietnam II, the death toll rises and correspondingly Bush?s poll ratings decrease. There is no terrorist activity launched on mainland USA, only in Iraq. Despite this, the number of statements from the White House about potential threats/alerts will increase every month until the election. This in conjunction with security measures so tight that all foreign journalists will be prevented from entering the US and all American journalists abroad who are on Karl Roves black list will be incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay on attempt at re-entering the country. News items on Iraq will become so frequent that most Americans will actually come to realize where Iraq is located on the map and then the penny will drop. Iraq is just a bad call and it will look bad for Bush. As a result the Dems will run a Dean/Clark ticket. Cheney will retire citing heart trouble and the whole world will do a double take on that one! Rice won?t get to run for VP as everyone is just sick to death of her and rumor that she is Hitlers? love child just will not abate. The Bush team gets worried, and goes with Powell in an attempt to win back some of the anti-war voters. The White House will worry about his ethnicity but they work on the assumption that anyone short sighted enough to vote for Bush in the first place will probably be colour (note spelling) blind too. WMDs discovered in Iraq in June, along with a series of Christmas cards from Rumsfeld to Saddam. On a closer look some of the weapons have very recent manufacture dates and it is discovered that they were unearthed by Rumsfeld himself (alone) on a ?fact? finding mission.

    2. Bush, unfortunately wins 2004 by 1% and we again have the world second biggest dick head in the White House. Much to the chagrin of the worlds biggest dick head in Downing St. Having hoped that all the anti-Bush/anti-US/anti-invasion sentiment would be evaporate with the demise of Bush and that he could get back to wooing the Voters in time to get another spin, Blair looks shakey and 2005 can?t be looking like a good year for old Tony!

    3. Bush wants to invade Saudi but gets told off by his Dad and Cheney (now on death bed after 43 attempts at open(ing) heart surgery) as they are the guys who bankrolled Bush Snr?s campaign in the 80?s and we can?t upset them as they own the keys to the ranch.

    4. After deciding to up the intellectual anti and plagiarizing the Frankfurter Allgemine Zeitung and Die Stern and then using babelfish.com to translate, Phillip Adams? attempt at reviewing a biography of Konrad Ardenauer accidentally wins first prize in a curry recipe competition.

    5. Jean Chretian visits Australia to have lunch with Mark Latham and discuss ways legalize marijuana and antagonize Bush. Latham, failing to understand his English mistakes his conversation for being very golf-centric.

    6. Howard re-elected, Latham, having spent too much time at home with his family, does surprisingly better than expected.

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