General Dean's Hollow Army

If General Eisenhower had the kind of troops on D-Day Howard Dean is stuck with today we'd all be wearing lederhosen. Every time Dean says anything even remotely true about the mess Republicans have made -- domestically, fiscally or internationally -- his own party leaders feel compelled to rush out and apologize. They remind me of an abused spouse who, after every beating from her abuser, refuses to press charges blaming herself for saying the wrong thing.

Dean sent Democratic Party mice running for cover again last weekend when he (correctly) stated that if Iraqis adopt a constitution based on traditional Islam's rules for (mis)treating women, Iraqi women would be worse off than they were under Saddam.

Now, that statement is demonstrably true. A high school freshman on her first day in debating class could win that side of the debate without cracking a book. Just look at Iran, Saudi Arabia or even "liberated" Afghanistan, where traditional Islamic law (sharia) calls the tune. In those countries women are treated in ways that would send Sen. Barbara Boxer into orbit if it were happening anywhere in the US. And rightfully so.

Iraqi Shiites are demanding just those kinds of laws in the newly liberated Iraq. Nevertheless, top Dems elbowed their weaselly way to the nearest CNN microphone to denounce Dean's (completely correct and defensible) observation. Leading the Democrat damage control squad was the dapper senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, who wants to run for President in '08. He was the first to find an open mic and once again denounced Dean's statement.

It was the second time Biden cut the ground out from under Dean. The first was last June when Dean described Republicans as "evil," and that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "belongs in jail." (Which in fact may come to pass since he is under criminal investigation in Texas.) Biden was sent right out to hoist a white flag before GOP snipers took offense:

"He doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats," Biden told ABC News, flashing his overly-whitened teeth, used car salesman grin. People are starting to take note of this Dem strategy of "surrender early and often."

The Democrats' problem is partly a lack of strong leadership. Its main spokesman on foreign policy has become Sen. Joseph Biden, a man who -- how to put this politely? -- seems more impressed with the force of his own intellect than an objective evaluation would warrant. Listening to Biden, you sense how hungry he is to be president, but you have little idea what he would do, other than talk . . . and talk. (Full Text)
And talk he did. Asked if he thought Democrats needed to rein Dean in, Biden said, "I don't presume to suggest that I could rein in any chairman. But I think that the response from the bulk of the elected Democrats -- I don't imagine would be much different."

That statement is true, up to a point. If Biden is referring to fellow Democrat office holders, yes, he is sadly correct. They are a scared and beaten bunch. Their nerves have been shattered and frayed by ten years of no-holds-barred bombardment from GOP storm troopers. Democrats now suffer from the political version of post-traumatic stress syndrome, flinching at any sound or movement that might trigger an enemy counter attack.

Pity poor General Dean. He inherited an army that can no longer fight. Instead they surrender faster than Italian soldiers offered the choice between a fight or chocolate bars and American cigarettes. Dean's troops have no fight left in them. They need a rest. A long rest.

Which brings me to an observation my pal Tony Seton made in an email to me this morning: "This would be so the time for the eruption of a third party to take 30 congressional seats."

I suspect most non-Republicans, (and the growing number of former Republicans) feel the way I do. They find little in either party to inspire or motivate them to even bother voting any longer. If the Dems insist on putting up one of their tired old-guard leaders, like Hillary and Biden, then they will lose four elections in a row.

So, Tony is right, this is a rare moment of opportunity for solid and sane independent candidates. And they should grasp it because the field has opened for them in ways not available before. In the past independents didn't have a chance because they lacked the financial support and organizing muscle of a party apparatus. But there is a valuable lesson for independents in what Cindy Sheehan pulled off down in Crawford this month. I don't even have to tell you what it was, because you have been bombarded with Sheehan's protest on the news for two solid weeks.

It's the same lesson I and other anti-war organizers learned during the Vietnam era. We could get our message on the evening news any time we wanted to. All it took was a compelling news hook and a dash of gorilla theater, and the media came running. The media have become like a pack of stray dogs. Put some food out for them and they show up. Keep putting out fresh goodies and they keep showing up. Voila! All-you-can-eat free publicity.

Underfunded independent candidates can do the same because, if there's anything the media loves it's a good underdog story, like Cindy's. They lap it up. News satellite trucks are magnets -- for other news satellite trucks. Get one to show up and the others will show up shortly. (Hell, MSNBC will even airlift their newest media maven, Rita Cosby, in by helicopter to beat the others out of that all-important exclusive interview with the "maverick candidate who is bucking the system ..." etc, etc. blah, bladdy blah.)

So, instead of bemoaning the shallowness of today's news media, go ahead and just use them. It's okay, they actually like it. It makes their job easier if you just cut to the chase and tell them what the news is, otherwise they have go find it themselves. They hate it when that happens.

And, if a candidate can supply the media a ripping good yarn about his/her candidacy, they will take it from there and embellish it further. That's what I call the big "M" -- media buy in. Once you have it, it's hard to lose it.

I know that sounds a bit cynical coming from a former newsman, but I am afraid that's the state of the media today. So, use it or lose. The Bushites certainly know how and have beaten Democrats silly using it.

Maybe if 20 or 30 independents unseat incumbents in '06 and '08 it would spark a renewal -- not of the Democrat or Republican parties, but of America and our own decaying democracy.

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