Like a lot of Democrats I have been worried lately that a primary victory by Howard Dean could doom the party to another McGovern-Mondale-Dukakis type of defeat. So I've been secretly hoping that John Kerry might bounce back or that Wesley Clark will ride in at the last minute and save the day.
But the truth is that it really doesn't matter whether the Democratic nominee is Dean or Kerry or Clark. Any one of those guys plus Gephardt, Edwards and Lieberman would be sufficient to beat Bush next year. These are different times than '72, '84 or '88 and Bush is in such a weak position that it will be very hard for him to recover enough to win a second term. It's funny that it took a conservative like William Kristol to point that out, but the points he makes - even the partisan jabs - are good ones and should have been more obvious to me.
"Could Dean really win? Unfortunately, yes. The Democratic presidential candidate has, alas, won the popular presidential vote three times in a row -- twice, admittedly, under the guidance of the skilled Bill Clinton, but most recently with the hapless Al Gore at the helm. And demographic trends (particularly the growth in Hispanic voters) tend to favor the Democrats going into 2004."
Kristol tends to soft pedal the obstacles facing Bush next time around but even so doing he makes it clear that they may be insurmountable:
"Bush is also likely to be the first president since Herbert Hoover under whom there will have been no net job creation, and the first since Lyndon Johnson whose core justification for sending U.S. soldiers to war could be widely (if unfairly) judged to have been misleading."
Kristol also bursts some of the Republicans' wishful thinking regarding Dean the candidate:
"But is Dean a credible alternative? ... Dean has run a terrific primary campaign, the most impressive since Carter in 1976. It's true that, unlike Carter (and Clinton), Dean is a Northeastern liberal. But he's no Dukakis. Does anyone expect Dean to be a patsy for a Bush assault, as the Massachusetts governor was?
And how liberal is Dean anyway? He governed as a centrist in Vermont, and will certainly pivot to the center the moment he has the nomination."
Kristol even lays out Dean's attack plans for the campaign:
"On domestic policy, Dean will characterize Bush as the deficit-expanding, Social Security-threatening, Constitution-amending (on marriage) radical, while positioning himself as a hard-headed, budget-balancing, federalism-respecting compassionate moderate. And on foreign and defense policy, look for Dean to say that he was and remains anti-Iraq war (as, he will point out, were lots of traditional centrist foreign policy types). But Dean will emphasize that he has never ruled out the use of force (including unilaterally). Indeed, he will say, he believes in military strength so strongly that he thinks we should increase the size of the Army by a division or two. It's Bush, Dean will point out, who's trying to deal with the new, post-Sept. 11 world with a pre-Sept. 11 military."
I know that Kristol is just trying to scare his conservative readers into not being complacent in the upcoming election, but he does so by laying out some very hard truths that most Republicans have refused to acknowledge so far. Democrats actually have cause to be optimistic about the next election. We have a big opening before us just waiting for someone to step up and take advantage of it. If that someone is Howard Dean, then so be it.