The bankruptcy of the establishment Dems

There�s an exchange on Talking Points Memo between Josh Marshall, who runs it, and a buddy, John Judis, one of those ubiquitous liberal honchos who is regularly trotted out to make lame arguments on major league op ed pages, and within his stomping ground, The New Republic. The New Republic has been campaigning against Howard Dean, with comic ineffectuality, since last January (comic, since they keep running that blurb from Howard Kurz, about how the Democratic candidate has to �win the TNR primary.� Right. Judis�s letter is couched in that higher form of brainlessness that passes for political wisdom in the salons of establishment Dems. It lost them one presidential election and the Senate --- but of course, such losses pale, in the minds of such as Judis, with what happened thirty two years ago in 1972. Those who remember parts of their history too well, to paraphrase Santayana, by way of Freud, are doomed to repeat it.

Here�s most of the letter:

�I share your sentiments completely. The only thing I'm semi-certain about is Dean's lack of electability in November. I think it is because I lived through the McGovern campaign, as did some of those ex-Clinton people who have tried to pump up Clark. The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace). The economy deprives the Democrat of the issue that would allow him to attract working class votes; the war splits the Democrats, but not the Republicans. True, there are more "Starbucks" voters now than in 1972, but on the other side Bush is far more popular than Nixon was. Nixon was actually trailing Muskie in polls, which is why he thought he needed all the dirty tricks. I fear a cataclysm in the fall if the Democrats nominate Dean.�

This could have come from Tom Daschle�s super-ego � the same Daschle who said, about the compliant senate voting a blank check to Bush to make war in the Middle East, �now that�s over, we can get back to the economy.� These people truly don�t see what is right in front of their noses. The similarities with McGovern are trite. The idea that the war is just gonna simmer down, with the resistance melting away, is from Donald Rumsfeld�s May playbook � it looks silly now, and it will look even sillier as Bush bungles from one homemade solution to another. The truth is, the administration doesn�t just want to defeat the guerrillas in Iraq � they want a conservative showpiece in Iraq, something like Chili on the Euphrates. This is the dream they have clung consistently to, and there is no indication whatsoever that they have been swayed by the Reality principle. This is the true comparison with Vietnam. It isn't military, but attitudinal. Johnson saw Southeast Asia as another version of Delta Mississippi, with himself and the Pentagon supplying the necessary Great Society programs. Bush sees Iraq as a sort of Texas, where privatization and the right kind of can do businessmen will get the whole thing on-line and up to speed. That's a permanent illusion, we think. If there are any analogies to past elections, it should be more like Nixon vs. Humphrey.

As for the economic pickup � to be spooked because of a good quarter, and an uptick in employment that is, incidentally, one hundred thousand short of the standard Bush projection, is either na�ve or blind. Of course the economy is going to grow, but I wouldn�t bet on the deficit shrinking. I also wouldn�t bet on unemployment going down far enough that it recedes as an issue. So the Dem candidate ought to be able to talk about both of those things � and the only one I see crafting a realistic message is Dean. Dean is also the only candidate who knows that the electorate doesn�t punish an adaptive candidate � all the fingerpointing about previous positions just looks silly. Who cares what Dean said about Medicare in 94? It is an unlikely issue for the Republicans, anyway � what are they going to do, accuse Dean of secretly wanting to bring down the cost of Medicare?

There are, of course, a number of wildcards, but they are mostly not in Bush's favor. There is the possibility of another terrorist attack on this country -- and there is the growing possibility that terrorists might interrupt the oil economy of the Saudis. If that happened, the spike in oil prices would unwind this leveraged economy like nobody's business.

What Judis hates is the prospect of a Democratic president who does not particularly care for his kind � that niche of D.C. liberals who are always finding liberal reasons to support conservative policy. Those people have created a silly putty party, that presses out pale imitations of Republican programs. That�s a deeply dumb thing to keep on doing. Judis should look not to 72, but to 2002.