Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Howard Dean and the Politics of the Personal (Attack)

George W. Bush, despite his excellent speech writers, will not be remembered as a great orator. Fortunately, he has no competition. The chief spokesman for the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, seems constitutionally unable to open his mouth without sticking his foot in.

A few days ago, he discussed Hurricane Katrina and the Roberts confirmation hearings with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. The whole interview is worth reading (it's the last segment, down at the bottom -- find 'dnc' to jump right to it) -- Dean refuses to back off his suggestions that Bush's response was racially motivated, even when lobbed a softball on Kanye West, he responds: "No. I do not think that this president cares about everybody in America." Despite repeated questions from Blitzer, he refuses to assign any blame to the Governor or Mayor, and finally gets to the point of accusing Wolf Blitzer of applying a double standard (**). On Judge Roberts, Dean concludes with: "I know Judge Roberts loves the law. I'm not sure he loves the American people."

Today's message: Republicans don't care. Add this to his previous refrains: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for" and "This is a struggle of good and evil. And we're the good." (sadly, referring to Republicans, not Islamofascists)

One of the most frustrating things about the policy debate in this country right now is that only one side is showing up. For the Democrats, it's never about proposing a policy, it's about attacking a person. Howard Dean has become the personification of that problem. John Roberts doesn't have a different view of the Constitutional separation of powers -- he doesn't love the American people. John Ashcroft doesn't have different ideas of how to keep America safe, he's "not a patriot", "a descendant of Joe McCarthy". Republicans don't have different ideas for how to make America better -- they are evil and I hate them!

One of the fundamental reasons that Democracy works so well in producing sensible policies is that we have such a free-wheeling marketplace of ideas. The political parties are certainly not the only sources of these competing ideas -- but in the public policy sphere they are major ones. Reducing the public debate to the level of schoolyard taunts does America itself a great disservice. Last year, Jon Stewart made waves appearing on CNN's Crossfire and calling on the hosts to "stop hurting America" by reducing public policy debate to the level of pro-wrestling -- will no one stand up and say this to Howard Dean?

** I've come to believe that this is actually a deliberate rhetorical technique -- if you're in the middle of doing something egregious, like making political hay out of a natural disaster, you must immediately accuse the other side of doing exactly that, no matter how ridiculous you sound doing it. This will defuse the power of their counter-accusation, despite any evidence.

(9/16) UPDATE: Howard Dean has now fleshed out his critique of Roberts in this op-ed. The message: John Roberts has no compassion, mercy or understanding.


Blogger fatman said...

You know, it's almost a pity that Dean wasn't elected president in '04. Almost. Four years of that fool in the White House and conservatives would have had a lock on the place for the next generation.

6:00 AM, September 14, 2005  
Blogger clint said...

I'm not sure I'd wish that on the American people.

I'd much rather have an opposition party proposing solutions to our problems, so they can be publicly debated.

12:07 PM, September 15, 2005  

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