Think of this as Volume 11, Number 28 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I’ve written since 1997. Enjoy.
The media never, ever gets this. It didn’t in 1968, which is why conservatives still whine about a "liberal media conspiracy" even though they own the vast majority of media outlets. It didn’t in 1932, when journalists didn’t get Roosevelt’s game at all. It didn’t in 1896 or in 1860 — McKinley was called ineffectual (rather than a progressive) and Lincoln was called a monkey (rather than our greatest President ever).
It’s important for those in the Netroots to know this history, and be reminded of it often. It keeps away the heartache.
It’s also important, once in a while, to remember where the Netroots came from. It is not The Left. It is not The Anti-War Left. (That’s the right’s frame for it.)
The Netroots emerged from opposition to one war, Iraq, more generally to one specific type of war, a colonial war for resources. Outside opposition to that war the original Netroots movement was fairly moderate. It liked balanced budgets. It was business-oriented, asking only for honest dealing.
I remember this because I was there. I was among those who responded to the call, nearly 5 1/2 years ago now.
What I want to know, what I want to know, is what in the world so many
Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention
What I want to know, is what in the world so many Democrats are doing
supporting tax cuts which have bankrupted this country and given us the
largest deficit in the history of the United States?
What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing
up for us joining every other industrialized country on the face of the
Earth in having health insurance for every man, woman and child in America?
The speaker concluded, "I’m Howard Dean, and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of
the Democratic Party. "
Howard Dean was, and remains, the Barry Goldwater of the Netroots.
Howard Dean defined the agenda. It was Howard Dean who first reached
out to the Internet, who gave voters a personal connection with a
candidate and movement. It was Howard Dean who hatched the 50-state
strategy, upon becoming DNC chair. It was Howard Dean’s flag which
Barack Obama picked up in 2007, and Howard Dean’s strategy he is carrying forth now.
Barack Obama is the Ronald Reagan of the Netroots. Dean, like
Goldwater, can be a good speaker. Obama is a great speaker. Dean
understood the idea of image. Obama intuits it and represents it. Dean
had the idea. Obama implemented it.
One thing the media (and his supporters) never got about Dean was
that, despite proclaiming himself the candidate of his party’s
Democratic Wing, he was not a conventional liberal. He balanced
budgets. He moved cautiously, endorsing civil unions and not gay
marriage. He consistently defied a far more-liberal Vermont
legislature, and perhaps his greatest achievement, the preservation of
130,000 acres of northeast Vermont owned by Champion International, was
called a corporate bail-out.
The same is true for Barack Obama. In Chicago, in Springfield, in
Washington he has always sought compromise, not for the sake of
compromise but for the sake of action, for the sake of creating a 2-1
consensus rather than a narrow 51-49 majority which could be easily
overturned. He is, in fact, the young man his mother raised, a liberal
of the Adlai Stevenson school, accepting the premises of the New Deal era and seeking mainly to manage them carefully.
He is an intellectual liberal, knowledgeable about history, accepting
of diversity, calm in the center of every storm he has faced thus far.
When Ronald Reagan got nervous, his head would bob slightly and he’d grow a little quiet, starting his answer with "well."
When Obama is pressured his voice also gets soft, he stutters a bit,
but his words come out carefully. He doesn’t lose his cool. He stays in
Staying in the moment is, ironically, one of the best tools a
politician has for rising above the tumult of his times. While a
transactional President, say a Bill Clinton, will dive into the moment
seeking mainly to master the situation, a transformational President
will see the moment for what it is, a moment. He (or she) will surf
that moment, understanding its context, seeking a solution which makes
sense beyond the moment.
Calm at the center of the storm. That’s what Reagan was really
about. A calm certainty — ask his most passionate supporters. That’s
what Roosevelt offered. That’s what Lincoln gave us. This is a moment
we will get through, a test we will pass. When we pass it our children
and grandchildren will rise up to call us blessed.
This is the gift Barack Obama brings, a gift Howard Dean (in his
scream), we decided, did not have. Or did he? Wasn’t the whole "scream"
thing a falsehood in the end? He was trying to cheer up a bunch of
dispirited kids. He became a cheerleader in the room, and forgot the TV
cameras for a moment. In the greater scheme of things, so what?
And since then Howard Dean has built this party. He has defied the
DNC, he has defied the big contributors, he has defied the Clinton
machine, and he has built a party which has operatives everywhere,
which can compete anywhere, and which depends mainly on small donations
from many, many people, not a few from fat cats.
This is the model David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and the other
geniuses of Obama’s Chicago-based campaign have used. Dean is their
template. They have scaled Dean, scaled his party. But they should
know, and probably do know, that the foundation they stand on is one he
Just as Ronald Reagan stood on the foundation Barry Goldwater built.
And so we come to Obama’s choice. He needs a Vice President. It must
be someone who will support him, who thinks like him, who will act as
President as he would act, but who can also, during the campaign, act
as an Attack Dog, take the fight to the foe, and rally the base.
If your candidacy is about moving to the center, you choose a running mate who agrees with you on the issues but appeals better to your base.
What if Ronald Reagan had decided that 1968 was "his time," never
mind that he’d just become Governor of California. What if Reagan had
entered those Republican primaries early, and triumphed narrowly over
Richard Nixon? How might history have turned out if Ronald Reagan had
then chosen, as his Vice Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater?
So for Vice President, I offer the name no one has yet mentioned,
the man who created the movement, Barack Obama’s blogfather if you will.
Vice President Howard Dean.