Dean for a Fightin' Chance

AUSTIN, Texas -- No one has been waiting with bated breath for me to make up my mind about the Democratic presidential candidates, but I have, and you might be interested in how I got there. I'm for Howard Dean -- because he's going to win.

It is the bounden duty of bleeding-heart liberals like myself to make our political choices based on purity of heart, nobility of character, depth of compassion, sterling integrity and generosity of spirit. The concept of actually winning a political race does not, traditionally, influence the bleeding heart liberal one iota -- certainly not in the primaries.

Over the years, I have proudly voted for a list of losers only a lily-pure liberal could love. I am rather surprised not to find myself in the camp of the Noble Dennis Kucinich this year. (And believe me, there are supporters of the Noble Dennis who are plenty upset about it, too.) In fact, I initially passed on Dean precisely because he looked like one of my usual losers -- 2 percent in the polls and the full weight of Vermont behind him ... wow, my kind of guy.

Having concluded that this was the year to Be Sensible, look for a winner, find a moderate, and all that good stuff the expert political players do, I carefully studied the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom -- the avatar of all political knowledge, the Washington, D.C., press corps -- said John Kerry was the man. So despite his resemblance to the finer products of the taxidermist's art, I sat around waiting for him to show signs of life. And waited.

Next, I consulted my buddies in the union movement, and they said Dick Gephardt was the man. I always like a labor liberal, and Gephardt's eyebrows have improved. I was hopeful for while, but concluded, as many do, that while Gephardt is Perfectly Good as a Democratic candidate, he ain't settin' the world on fire. Doesn't seem like a good year for a regular politician on account of we ain't lookin' at regular politics. These Republicans do not have a different strategy -- they are playing a different game. They don't want to govern, they want to rule.

Next, my lawyer friends recommended John Edwards, and even though my first impression was, "Too pretty, too light," I liked him better as time went on. Good strong populist streak to him, some good economic ideas, goes right after Bush on the economy. But conventional wisdom decided he is too young and untried.

Then along came Gen. Wesley Clark, and lots of people were excited. But I never have thought anyone should start in politics at the top. All those rich guys who run for office want to start at governor or senator, instead of running for the school board. Arnold Schwarzenegger aside, it's really not as easy as it looks.

Meanwhile, there's old Dean, causin' excitement. I went up to Vermont and talked to a bunch of liberals there. They all said Howard Dean is no liberal. Funny, that's what Howard Dean says, too. And indeed, he isn't, but in politics, everything's relative. The conventional wisdom first dismissed Howard Dean (the man has never been to a Washington dinner party!), then condescended to him, then graciously offered him instruction on how he should be running his campaign -- which seemed to be going along quite well without their input.

I talked to some big money guys who assured me Dean Can't Win. But of course I'm noticing this interesting thing: Dean has so much money he actually turned down public campaign financing (since I'm a card-carrying liberal, I was naturally deeply unhappy over this. But since Dean's money comes from Real People instead of corporate special interests, I'm not that unhappy.) Let me second the notion that this year, the Internet is to politics what television was in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race.

For a while, I fretted over Dean being angry, or at least appealing to the political anger that is normally manipulated by right-wing radio jocks. Anger makes liberals uncomfortable: We prefer peace, reason and gentle persuasion. Beloveds, it is way past time for us to get mad -- social, economic and political justice are being perverted by the Bush administration.

Dean gives a hell of a speech -- even if you're Republican, you should go and hear him just for the experience. But I fretted about Dean on TV -- TV is so important. How could anyone poker up on Margaret Carlson of PBS, not one of the world's toughest interviewers? But then I saw Dean laugh his way through a Chris Matthews interview (which he should have done with Tim Russert, who was hell-bent on gotcha questions), and I know the guy can take care of himself. So he fights back if you get in his face -- that's not all bad.

I know, he's even less of a liberal than Bill Clinton was, but I don't think Dean is a moderate centrist. I think he's a fighting centrist. And folks, I think we have got ourselves a winner here.

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