Obama and the Dean Democrats

posted: 09 July, 2008
There's a good interview with Matt Bai in the new issue of the Believer, which you can read online. I particularly like his analysis of the legacy of Dean's 2004 campaign, which I supported:
Dean himself will tell you that the failure of his campaign was the failure to make a transition to a broader, credible candidacy, to articulate a more constructive agenda for the country in a way that seemed reassuring to people. He was channeling so much fury that he was never really able to transcend it. And I think he regrets that. I know he regrets that. Nonetheless, the party that emerged from the 2004 campaign did not belong to John Kerry (though he thought it did). It did not belong to John Edwards or the Clintons. The party that emerged from 2004 belonged to Howard Dean.
During the brutal Clinton/Obama primary, I felt that the real debate was over the future of the party. The Clintonite strategy is the one of the past; of focusing on the swing states, doing the big-money donor thing, and trying ruthlessly to win. Obama, regardless of who or what he actually stands for, symbolised the Dean democrats - the angry lefties at the pub, the Matt Yglesiases of America, and the desperate workers who were dealt a raw deal by 8 years of Bill Clinton. Maybe I was overdramatising it, but I really saw the primary as far more important than the reductive personality game the media was playing.

Now the primary already feels like it happened sixty years ago. The general election campaign is looming and it's already starting to feel like the Clinton v Obama battle was irrelevant. (Or as I saw it, the McAuliffe v Dean battle, a battle not so much about platform ideology but about organisational ideology - how to raise money, how to connect with the oft-overused phrase 'grassroots', and how to built the party in 50 states). A shift of attention away from the party faithful to the general "independent" voter is expected - it's necessary, sure. But all of the talk about the 'base' of a party (such as how McCain is struggling to connect with his Ginrichite base) greatly simplifies the dynamic of an electorate, even within a party. There's a Democratic base, but that base differs wildly. The progressive left is already screaming about Obama's FISA vote, and his faith-based initiative talk scares all non-believers. Obama's gonna find himself in the difficult position of trying to appease not his base but his bases. The Obama campaign staff has been brilliant at recognising the "Dean base" within the party and doing exactly the right things to strengthen their support. But now that he's gotten over the primary hurdle, he'll have the same challenge of reassurance that Dean admitted to failing at.
Previous post:
Next post: