Sunday, January 25, 2004

My Pre-New Hampshire Thoughts on Dean I haven't had much to say, so far, about Dean's howling concession and his subsequent dive in both New Hampshire and national polls.

So here's my thinking:

Dean may not be the best nominee for the Democratic party. (I don't think that's clear yet. But I'd concede that it is, shall we say, more than plausible.)

Still, I'm afraid about the damage that'll be done if Dean's grassroots experiment--one of the most exciting things to happen to progressive politics in years--effectively comes to a halt in New Hampshire on the basis of a single over-enthusiastic speech.

If that happens, the hard work, social capital and good will of literally hundreds of thousands of fervent supporters will have essentially evaporated because Dean got carried away with the TV cameras rolling.

So I'd like to see Dean recover. I'd like to see him do well enough in New Hampshire to live on to fight in South Carolina and the February 3rd states, and to have a fresh chance to make his case in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2.

If Dean can survive through Feb. 3 with a plausible shot at the nomination, he'll have a month to convince voters in some of the biggest, most delegate-rich states (New York, California, Ohio, Washington) to forget about his Iowa concession speech, and to embrace him as the nominee.

If he's unable in that month to beat back Kerry and whoever else is left, it'll only be fair to think of his campaign's grassroots experiment as having run its logical course. He will have tapped into a hunger in the Democratic party, waged a campaign fueled by it, and lost fair and square.

But if Dean's campaign gets short-circuited in New Hampshire--or does poorly enough that the media write it off--a lot of his supporters across the country will feel like victims of an undemocratic sham.

They'll feel that no matter how hard they worked and organized, no matter how many friends and relatives they convinced to come out for Dean, nominating power was ulitmately in the hands of a half-million lucky voters in two little states.

And they'll be right.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.