Sunday, December 07, 2003

Plan B and plan C
And what if we lose?

I have been thinking the unthinkable for the last few days.

It began with the thought that the economy might actually improve enough, in spite of Bush’s policies, that people let him off the hook for the last few years’ misery. I’m not yet convinced that the recovery is here. A few weeks of good indicators are nice, but not enough for me to believe the hype. But what if things are getting better? The Bush machine will make the most possible out of even a slight recovery (they already are). Will enough people be convinced to push him into a legitimate term in the White House?

Then there is Iraq. The Administration’s plan for Iraq is painfully clear. Hold/stage some elections, install a government, and slowly withdraw a division or so of troops. They’re counting on the elections, installation, and parades for returning troops all providing an unbroken series of photo ops that will drive the truth of what a mess we’ve created in the Middle East off the front pages. It has a very good chance of working.

Finally, there is the Dean-McGovern analogy. This has been everywhere this week. If you’ve missed it, it goes like this: the Democrats are doomed to defeat because Dean’s ability to create enthusiasm makes him the inevitable candidate and he is too liberal to be elected. Two things bother me about this. One is the big lie. It makes no difference that Dean isn’t actually that liberal. This is politics; perception is more important than reality. The more this meme spreads; the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Dean can’t win becomes established as the popular wisdom, he will not be able to win. This is always the danger of a vigorously contested primary; our guys plant the messages that their guys use to beat our guy.

The other reason that the McGovern analogy bothers me is that it is a warning about a very real problem. In contested primaries there very often appears someone who electrifies voters and actively thousands of new faces in the electoral process. These people usually fade early in the primary, leaving the favorite of the old party insiders to take the nomination. But, every so often, one of them manages to overwhelm the system and get the nomination. The result is usually disaster for that party. The same characteristics that electrify political outsiders often scare the center (as well as annoy the professional insiders). Republicans fear another Goldwater or Wendell Wilkie, we fear another McGovern or William Jennings Bryant.

Although I like Dean and would be perfectly comfortable voting for him, I don’t have a feeling for how he would play on the big stage. Will he scare the center? Will it be because the center really feels that or because of a carefully placed meme? I just don’t have a feel for it yet.

But suppose we lose, either because of dumb luck on the Texas frat boy’s part, something his people did right, or because we had the wrong candidate. What is our plan B?

To be continued…

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