It looks like it will be a Kerry/Edwards ticket for the Democrats this year and let’s hope they can beat Bush—I’ll do everything I can to help, because Bush has to be beaten. But when I go to the Washington state caucus this Saturday, I’ll be urging my precinct to send uncommitted delegates to the county convention, because, at this point, the real question is how much we voters can make our voices heard in this campaign when it comes to setting the Democratic party platform. We need healthcare reform, a restoration of education based on equity and opportunity with radical reform of the local and national funding of schools, we need absolute assurances of our civil liberties, an economic platform that emphasizes job and small business formation. An uncommitted delegate is in the position to demand attention from the rest of the party, even if for only a moment, before votes are cast at a convention.
Howard Dean had stood for some of this, but I’ve lost faith in the Dean campaign for three reasons:
First, Dean grossly underestimated the role voters want to play in this campaign and we hear it each time he urges people to “join me” or “join us” to create institutional change. Voters want to lead this change, not follow. The “I have a scream speech” showed that he was willing to ignore most of America; it is the fact that he didn’t turn his attention to the national audience when he had it—when he could speak to ordinary Americans—that betrays a failure of imagination.
Second, the Dean campaign may have done an extraordinary job raising money, but they spent it profligately and irresponsibly. Dean tonight acknowledged that his campaign has spent more than $40 million of the $42 million it has raised. An awful lot went to ads placed in Iowa and New Hampshire, with as much as 15 percent of the money flowing into the coffers of Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi’s consulting firm, and unusually large amounts spent on consultants and staff. That means that actual volunteering accounted for less than the normal percentage of the work being done, in stark contrast to the mission statement of the campaign.
That last statement may sound like an illogical leap, because we don’t know the value of volunteer work in the Dean campaign. However, if he spent $40 million and had unprecedented support from volunteers (which, in the technology area of the campaign is absolutely the case, though in the field it isn’t clear that Dean had anymore people canvassing or driving folks to the polls), then his campaign did the worst job imaginable in converting those resources into votes. We have to assume that the money was the main resource available, since volunteers bring voters to the poll. Either that, or the Dean camp is really bad at grassroots politics. One way or the other, that’s not the makings of an administration I can count on. Maybe Joe Trippi’s experience in the technology business during the bubble years made him think this is the way you run a business, but it is not. Nor is profligacy a foundation for a populist campaign.
Third, Governor Dean is blaming everyone within pointing distance for the failure of the campaign, including “the Establishment,” the media and the attacks by his Democratic competitors. I heard him do it twice today on local radio when he was in Washington campaigning. In reality, a campaign’s results are the fruit of its labor and leader. He made the boneheaded decision to give a pep talk in front of a national audience. He made the decision to convert his campaign from an insurgency into a coronation by shifting to an endorsements-based strategy when endorsements mean almost nothing to voters (except endorsements by organizations, of which Dean has his share, but only a share). He chooses to blame others and bring a Washington insider into the campaign while decrying Washington insiders—and, in fact, from what I hear, Roy Neel, the new campaign manager who was Al Gore’s chief of staff, has made things run more smoothly and responsively. Nevertheless, Howard Dean is ready to blame everyone but himself for his failure to connect with voters and that’s not what I want in a president.
So, that’s the way it is with this Democrat on February 3, 2004. Undecided on the ticket, certain to vote against Bush in 2004.