View Full Version : Hope for great election died with Dean

07-28-04, 07:15 AM
Hope for great election died with Dean

Ken Kurson is co-author, with Rudolph Giuliani, of "Leadership."

July 27, 2004

It should have been Dean.

All over New York City - and many other sure-thing Democratic locales - young volunteers are trying to register other volunteers. Their clipboards and t-shirts and classified newspaper ads do not say "Kerry '04." They say "Help Defeat Bush."

That's a problem for John Kerry, and it's a problem for the electorate. I support President George W. Bush and would vote for him regardless of his Democratic opponent. But as a Bush supporter - and as an American concerned with the well-being of his country - I'd much rather see the president challenged on his core beliefs and made to explain them by an opponent who holds opposite beliefs and doesn't run from them.

Instead, Kerry is determined to make this election solely a thumbs up or down on the current jobholder. In fact, Kerry's put so much distance between his candidacy and his legislative record - and has voted so seldom in the Senate - that it's easy to forget he's even a senator.

Had Howard Dean gotten the nomination, the volunteers I've been seeing would be wearing homemade "Dean 2004" shirts, not simply "Beat Bush" ones. Dean, who addresses the Democratic convention tonight, inspired passion - from the meet-ups that were thinly veiled singles clubs, to raising $50 million on the Internet, to the infamous scream that revealed the startling fact that the former Vermont governor is, indeed, a human being. On a bitterly cold weekend in Iowa, 3,500 Dean "Stormers" knocked on doors to get out the vote. That kind of passion doesn't exist for John Kerry.

The Kerry camp coined the phrase "Date Dean, marry Kerry," and as they made clear in caucuses, the Dems consider Kerry safe, not sexy. In spite of those eager Dean volunteers shivering in their orange helmets, Iowans chose Kerry because they thought he looked more "presidential," and beating George Bush was more important to them than backing a candidate in whom they believed. How sad. Bush supporters - and even detractors - have far stronger feelings about the president.

Actually, in several key areas, Kerry does resemble a president - his opponent.

Kerry keeps busy these days distancing himself from the backing he's given to ideas Bush supports. Iraq, the Patriot Act, NAFTA - Kerry even admits that he thinks life starts at conception. Kerry would roll back just part of the Bush tax cut. He likes "No Child Left Behind." As Dean put it to "CBS Evening News" in February, "When Sen. Kerry's record is examined by the public at a more leisurely time when we're not having primaries every week, he's going to turn out to be just like George W. Bush." Except weaker in his commitments to those ideas.

Leaders must have strong beliefs. They must have consistent beliefs. I personally prefer a leader with strong opinions that don't necessarily echo mine to one whose every position matches my own but who only holds those positions with a weak handshake.

Howard Dean has strong opinions. Seeing him pit those beliefs against the president's would have raised the entire country's consciousness.

Joe Trippi, Dean's innovative campaign manager during the good times, is in Boston promoting his book about the experience, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." He told me, "I've been with politicians when they look at polls that say 80 percent like something and 20 percent don't - they invariably find a way to like the 80-percent position. Dean was the only one who looked at the war when it was at 80-percent popularity and said, 'This is wrong.'"

The irony is that Kerry - who supported the war before declining to support the troops who are fighting it - will likely benefit from the hordes of disaffected people Dean magnetized. According to Trippi, "There are a lot of people, particularly those who never voted before, who Dean pulled in to participate in the system. A large group was voting for Dean. Kerry's competitive now because those people are still in it, thanks to Dean."

Ethan Geto, Dean's New York State campaign director. says he jumped aboard the Dean freight train not just because of Dean's strong beliefs but because he thought that strength was the best way to defeat Bush. "Most of his supporters thought he was the best candidate in terms of someone we could believe in and thought he could really carry this party to victory."

That's the problem with this year's election. Now, it's really only about the incumbent. But the ballot's not going to read "Bush" and "Anybody But Bush." If Kerry wants to win this election, he'll have to convince Americans he stands for something.
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