President Bush is doing it all wrong, and one of the only Democrats with the balls to say it is Howard Dean. On the environment, on the economy, on the continuing war in Iraq, Dean has been unabashed in decrying President Bush's methods and motivations. And it may well save the Democratic Party.
Dean is anything but a liberal. He has an "A" rating from the NRA, is a vehement supporter of states' rights, and believes in a balanced budget. Yet he has styled himself as a quasi-liberal, gaining support from, if not pandering to, the anti-war crowd. But in order to bring his campaign into the mainstream, Dean will need focus, discipline, and perspective.
The Democratic Party has a nasty habit of focusing on good issues and then letting them slide. Four months ago, Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi held a major press conference during which they said that the Party would be to emphasize the growing "credibility gap" between what the Bush Administration was saying and what was actually happening. For a few weeks, that phrase was all the rage among party members and in activist circles. And then it all but disappeared. Yet the issue of credibility still hangs in the air like smoke from a smoldering fire. Weapons of mass destruction have not been found, and the justification for war-specifically, that Iraq had active weapons programs-has been discovered to be not only false, but also fabricated. Unemployment is at its highest rate in nearly a decade, and we have the largest deficit in the history of the country, despite three major tax cuts, spending cuts, and other Republican economic policies that, during the 2000 election, were declared to be the only way to keep us on the right track. What Governor Dean is doing, and doing well, is keeping the focus on this credibility gap.
Discipline is the next thing Dean must focus on. During a recent appearance on Meet the Press, Dean seemed somewhat unprepared for Tim Russert's grilling. Governor Dean might want to take a page from the President's playbook. Intense preparation for press appearances, including some canned or rehearsed answers, can focus a message and bring it home to the viewers. Dean needs to have ten words on Medicare, on Social Security, on the economy ready for the cameras. These words, which eventually will work their way into the culture of the Dean campaign, will become emblematic of his ideals. It is important to formulate them now while a media eager for the Anti-Bush is still slathering attention upon him.
Finally, perspective may be the defining factor between a decisive campaign and a burst of hot air. "Small" quarrels with the administration over singular issues need to take a back seat to a sweeping indictment of the Bush administration, coupled with a viable, understandable, even simple alternative. Dean has successfully energized the Democratic base; now he needs to find a way to convince the American people that they should, in essence, fire their commander in chief. The Republicans are getting ready to finish the revolution that Newt Gengrich started in 1994 in this upcoming election, ten years later. The president is going to raise well over $200 million for his campaign (nearly twice as much as the last cycle), and will no doubt use the surplus funds to bolster Republican candidates for the Senate and Congress. The Supreme Court, newly invigorated by evolving standards of decency, may slip from the mainstream if only one or two Justices announce their retirement. The voters deserve an alternative. And Dean needs to learn how to bring that alternative message to the people at large.