Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, December 14, 2003
I agree with Avedon and Atrios that the other candidates, including Clark, blew the moment at the beginning of the debate when Koppel asked them to raise their hands if they thought Dean could win. They may have just been startled by Koppel's boorish behavior and the ridiculous question, treating them like a High School class asked to raise their hands if they knew the answer, but that ultimately doesn't alter the fact that they blew it. Dean does have a shot, albeit not a very good one, at winning, and party leaders shouldn't be saying otherwise.

There is little chance that Bush will score a landslide against Dean. I set out today to compute how many reasonably solid electoral votes Dean would have against Bush. Using the very useful data on Dave Liep's election history site and the slick electoral map on the Edwards web site, I gave Dean the votes of every state that Gore carried by at least 10% in 2000. (CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, MD, MA, NJ, NY, RI.) Two states that Gore carried by a large margin, but below 10% were VT and ME, both easy wins for Dean. I added in Michigan, close in 2000 largely because Arab voters broke for Bush, a mistake they won't make again. And MN and WA were both close largely because of Nader. (I think he'll likely run again, but if there's one thing we know about Dean, it's that he can win the votes of affluent, well-educated white liberals, the voters who went for Nader. I don't see Nader doing Dean a lot of damage.) I think they're both good matches for Dean, so I gave him those too. That's 15 states and DC with a total of 210 electoral votes where Dean will be a favorite.

The count of rock solid Bush votes is lower (I count 196), but for almost all of the remaining votes I think Bush would be favored. In spite of the fantasies of some Deaniacs, Dean is not popular in the South, so FL is probably lost. OH is tough for any Democrat and will be quite tough for Dean. And adding in NH where, despite all his campaigning and his strong lead in the primary, Dean polls very badly against Bush in a two way race, and Bush is already up to 247. Dean would have to pull 60 of the remaining 81 votes to win, and he would be the favorite for very few of them.

Not a Bush landslide, but well short of a Dean victory. And whether or not there is a landslide in 2004 hardly matters. We already know that this President acts like he won a landslide even after stealing the election.

Avedon and some others are trying to start up a sort of counter-meme that Bush is unelectable. It's a nice idea, but we have to face the reality that it isn't true. It is certainly true that on the scale of bad decisions hiring George Bush as a president ranks several steps above hiring Michael Jackson as a babysitter. I know this, so do Avedon, Patrick , Atrios, and the others saying that Bush is unelectable. But we had better understand that in the real world outside our little circle, most Americans like George Bush. 59% say he "is honest and trustworthy". 50% say he "is a person you admire". And 64% approve of what he is doing to fight terrorism. Bush can win and unless we put up a strong candidate and an effective campaign, he very probably will.

It's tempting to look at Bush's evident lack of curiosity and failed record in office and assume he'll be equally incompetent in the campaign. But Bush and his circle are bad at governing for the same reason that Tiger Woods is probably lousy at chess - it isn't their interest. They care about power, they know politics is a necessary skill to gain that power, and they are very good at it. They use it to reward their friends and punish their enemies, something this administration has probably done more effectively than any in history. By the standards of those of us who see government as a tool to solve societal problems they look much more like failures than they really are. This is particularly so since, for political reasons, they pay lip service to those standards themselves. But they don't believe a word of it. The Bush administration hasn't failed at improving the economy, they simply never tried. To this day, Bush has never even proposed a serious policy for job creation, or energy, or health care. He's only collected proposals to reward his campaign contributors out of public funds and labeled the results as an 'Energy Bill' or 'Growth Policy' or 'Medicare Drug Benefit'.

Bush hasn't failed at solving the country's problems because he hasn't tried. He has tried to be seen as somebody who has proposed solutions for the problems that don't interest him, and he has succeeded. What he cares about, he does well, much better than we are generally willing to admit. And he cares very much about winning the election.