Life without Dean

A few days ago, a Respected Party Elder advised me to stop dissing John Kerry on account of, "He will be our nominee." He may be "our nominee," but he'll still be a boring stiff. OK, sort of an impressive boring stiff.

I say we're in for a terrific two weeks if both Kerry and John Edwards do the issue stuff they're both well-placed to do. Kerry has a strong, well-thought-out health-care plan, and he should make it his signature issue -- and put some passion into it, if he's got any. Edwards, with his populist riff, is perfectly placed to take on globalization directly.

I recommend that everyone take another look at John Edwards, especially if you wrote him off as too pretty and too light the first time you saw him. I did, too, and I was wrong: I know for a fact he's a much better candidate than he was a year ago. Ever since his speech at Georgetown University last summer, Edwards has shown he knows how to take that old time populist gospel and update it for the 21st century. Of course, the Bushies keep making that easier for him.

One of the best political races I ever saw was Kerry against William Weld in Massachusetts a few years back. Their final debate was almost enough to restore your belief in democracy -- two intelligent candidates both talking good sense. So I know Kerry can get crisper than he has been. Is anyone doing medical research on a humor transplant?

Edwards might want to take some text from an article in the current Harper's magazine, "The Collapse of Globalism (and the rebirth of nationalism)" by John Ralston Saul. Saul sees globalism as a failed theology that confuses ethics with morality. "Ethics is the measurement of the public good. Morality is the weapon of religious and social righteousness."

In addition to the abandonment of a broad sense of the public good, Saul manages to tuck deregulation, debt and many other horrors into his recounting of how globalization has played out. Those who dare to differ with globalization (still pretty daring in the United States, not in the rest of the world) are usually dismissed as protectionists.

Actually, I think the best argument against globalization is precisely that it kills the goose that lays the golden egg -- capitalism. In case you hadn't noticed, advanced, deregulated capitalism is rapidly producing a world without competition. In one field after another, corporate gigantism has reached such a berserk extent that it eliminates the competition that keeps capitalism healthy. When one giant bank swallows another giant bank -- knocking out 10,000 jobs in the process -- what is the public good? Saul's thesis is that globalization -- like the history it once claimed to have ended -- is over. But it's a good news-bad news argument: The resurgent nationalism he sees replacing it is certainly unattractive.

Meanwhile, the punditry is busy cranking out mostly pro forma hail-and-farewells to my man Howard Dean. I hate whining and life is not fair, but I still think a whole lot of people who should have known better freaked out over Dean, treating a mostly mild-mannered, perfectly sensible and quite cheerful fellow as some kind of anti-establishment antichrist. I mean, he was governor of Vermont for 10 years, not Lenin.

But he did tap into some real political anger, and look how many people turn out to be just scared to death of that. This is not the fake, pumped-up indignation of Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads over gay marriage -- now there's something that'll cost you your job -- but real anger about being lied to over war.

What was so scary about Howard Dean? Could it be because he (and some very bright young people who worked with him) found this way to raise real money in small amounts from regular people, and that just threatened the hell out of a lot of big corporate special interests? And out of an entire political establishment that is entirely too comfortable with the incestuous relationship between big money and politics? For just a moment in time, Dean was ahead of the pack -- and no one owned him. Go back and look at whom that scared.

Sure, Dean self-destructed to some extent. He now does a very funny imitation of his own "scream speech," delivered in a quiet monotone and ending with a mild, deadpan, "Yahoo." (Come to think of it, he should have done that riff on Leno the night after he made the speech: We all have great ideas when it's too late.)

I'm not crazy about anger as a motivating force in politics -- but didn't someone need to point out that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes? Didn't someone need to say that we were led into war under false pretences? Imagine an entire campaign in which all the candidates ignored that because they were all complicit in it.

I think we owe Howard Dean more than a, "Gee thanks for participating in our noble political system." Personally, I'd like to say, "Gee, thanks for helping keep democracy alive when it looked fairly dicey."


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