My biggest surprise during the short, happy life of the Joe Biden for President website wasn't the number of snarky e-mails I got from Republicans (just a handful, actually); it was the jaw-dropping volume of truly mean-spirited stuff that came pouring in from purported supporters of Howard Dean. And while most of it wasn't nearly as polite as the letter Josh Marshall posted yesterday, it tended to carry the same basic message: You are part of an evil cabal that's trying to destroy my candidate, and if your dastardly plot succeeds, I'm not going to vote in November. So there!
Now, I know the Dean campaign isn't responsible for this stuff, and that most Dean supporters don't like it any more than I do. Still, it's really dumb, and the Dean movement should be doing more to put a stop to it.
First of all, if they want to be successful, insurgent candidacies like Dean's should seek to allay, not exacerbate, the concerns of party regulars. One of the least discussed facts about the 1992 election is that Bill Clinton's primary campaign was, in many ways, a classic insurgency; Clinton was too Southern, too moderate, and way too trouble-prone for most Democrats. But rather than pick unnecessary and amateurish fights with the establishment-types waiting for Mario's plane to land in New Hampshire, the Clinton camp did everything it could to convey the message that they were just the sort of smart professionals the party needed to win in the fall. [Full disclosure: I had a vanishingly small role in that campaign, the highlight of which was somehow managing to lose the car trailing me with the bulk of Mrs. Clinton's staff in a pretty scary neighborhood one night when I was driving her to the airport. There's professionalism for ya'....]
Second, it makes people like me, who've held our noses on more than one occasion and voted for Democrats we vigorously opposed in the primaries, wonder if your guy is part of the team, and deserving of the same kind of party loyalty should he win the nomination. (Nobody was any angrier than I was in 1984, when Walter Mondale bent the country's campaign finance laws into a pretzel to bury Gary Hart under an avalanche of special interest money, but I voted for him anyway. That's what political grown ups -- even very pissed off, 18-year-old ones -- do.)
Lastly, the folks getting carried away in this fashion are putting their own candidate in a tight spot. Because the Dean campaign has paid its Internet supporters the high compliment of embracing them as full partners in the overall operation, those supporters are now perceived as players, which makes only one of two conclusions possible: 1) Dean is intentionally ginning this stuff up, or 2) he can't control his own people. Either way, it looks bad.
So, if you're one of the undoubtedly well-intentioned folks sending out e-mail like this, please, please, try to stay focused on the big picture, and just cut it out.
POSTSCRIPT: At this point, you may be wondering why I care enough about the Dean campaign to post something like this. After all, a moderate, dues-paying member of the DLC like me should be rooting for Dean to shoot himself in the foot anyway, right? Well, the short answer is that I've decided to support the guy. With time, money and anything else I have to offer.
As I wrote last month when I shut down the Biden site, those of us who believe that the current crop of Republican leaders are running the greatest nation on the face of the Earth into a ditch need to get to work now to win this election. And the only way we're going to be able to do that is by being tougher, more disciplined, and just plain smarter than anybody else out there.
I'm ready to do my part. How about you?
Howard Dean for President, 2004.Posted by Jack O'Toole on September 22, 2003 03:25 AM