September 22, 2003

The Dean Team

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.

Howard Dean for President

UPDATE: For more, see Kevin Drum's thoughtful post on this topic, as well as The Dean Team -- Part 2.

Posted by Jack O'Toole on September 22, 2003 03:25 AM

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Comments

I"m a Dean supporter, and I'm even a person who wrote to Josh Marshall, and I really wonder at the emerging "Dean is mean and his supporters are kooks" meme. I mean, I get the campaign emails and they never order me to trash other candidates or request that I treat dean as the second coming of (name your religious figure here) or that I withdraw my support from the democratic nominee if its not dEan. And I have specifically written to Josh Marshall about this and, like every other Dean supporter I've ever met, (I think I said, my memory not being what it used to be) directly that not only would I support any democratic nominee (ok, not lieberman, but then I think what's the diff?) but that I am open to switchingto Clark which I take as shorthand for being open to any democratic nominee. I don't doubt that Marshall may have gotten one or two kooky emails but out of the whole mailbag is it possible that that is *all* he got? He got at least one from me saying the opposite. Why take one kind of posting as more evident of who the dean campaign is than the other? Its true that people who watch politics closely are a little nonplussed (in the original meaning of the word) at the rapid marshalling of resources for Clark by the DLC and plenty of us are pissed at the DLC types who have shown a consistent tendency to run to the right rather than stand up to the Bush regime. Aren't we entitled to do that (be suspicious I mean?) I'm voting for whoever is the nominee, and I'm workign for Dean right now, but most of all I would like to see Dean, Clark and all specifically the pundits and would be pundits just hammering away at the GOP/Bush cartel and leave the candidate scoping to the electorate. As far as I'm concerned any speech made by a candidate, and any discussion by their supporters, should be focused on a) the bush outrage of the day, b) how we can cleanup this mess and c) the bush outrage of the day. Having multiple candidates is a good thing if they all stay on anti-bush message and force the white hosue to respond. I'd like to see dean and clark, rather than discussing their previous war/anti war or whatever stance get up this mornign and say "hey, privatizing iraq and selling off its assetts? sounds like theft to me."--aimai

Posted by: aimai on September 22, 2003 09:26 AM

In response to Aimai above, the answer is "No, it is not possible that is all Josh Marshall got" because he also received email from me. It may have been testy in tone but it wasn't nasty.

Aimai also raises a good question: How do you know the most rabid emails come from actual Dean supporters? Is there no chance that it's something like the callers that start their comments on CSPAN with the old "I'm a long time Democrat but...Clinton is a rapist...Bush was sent by God...anyone that opposes war is a commie" line? Sure there's a chance. Might even be a good one.

Posted by: Romberry on September 23, 2003 03:22 AM

wonder if your guy is part of the team, and deserving of the same kind of party loyalty should he win the nomination.

and exactly why would the party be deserving of my loyalty when they do damn fool things like:

a) knock their best performing candidate like Al From did

b) Make it clear that the DLC are the kingmakers and anyone who does not toe the line is toast

c) hand Bush a blank check on the Iraq War without so much as a question

d) hand ashcroft the Patriot act (I believe John Edwards co-sponsored that piece of trash legislation... I am not sure)

So exactly what has the party done to show they are truly Democrats? Why should I blindly vote for, say, Lieberman just because the 'party regulars' want him?

I am electing a president, not voting for a party.

Posted by: cynic on September 23, 2003 10:17 AM

I am so feeling this. I can't even talk to the Dean supporters about the issue itself without being screamed at.

Posted by: Stephanie Dray on February 10, 2004 01:39 AM