Editor's note. Dr. Sniegoski distributed the initial version of this piece to some e-mail correspondents on January 25, two days before the New Hampshire primary. However, thanks to the cogency of his analysis, the text as it appears here (February 3) required only very minor editing, mostly involving the changing of a few verb tenses.


The Dean derailment



The Establishment media essentially removed Howard Dean from the presidential race. As Sam Smith puts it in his article at CounterPunch, "Dean in Freefall: Howard's End?", the primary cause of Dean' demise was "the most excessive and gratuitous media assault on a presidential candidate in recent times."

Dean has indeed received a bad press. For benefit of the more politically attuned, the media focused on Dean's political flip-flops and contradictions. There's nothing unusual about that among politicians, but the media were relentless in finding and highlighting Dean's gaffes. For benefit of hoi polloi, the media presented Dean as somewhat mentally unbalanced — a theme that went into overdrive after the Iowa caucuses with the coverage of his exodus speech, dubbed the "I have a scream" speech. The media constantly replayed the speech with the most negative possible anti-Dean spin to illustrate that Dean was "out of control." The effect was to undermine Dean's support in the New Hampshire primary, where he had previously seemed a definite winner and which he had to win to stay in contention, since New Hampshire is his neighboring state.

Why was Dean derailed by the media? One explanation is that Dean was just too liberal and antiwar — that he was outside the mainstream.

Smith writes that Dean was removed because he did not identify with the Establishment:

Dean failed to accept the fact that before you can get elected by the people you have to be selected by the crowd in charge. You don't just run for president in the Democratic Party (unless you're a Sharpton or Kucinich doomed from the start); you ask permission nicely just like Clinton did. Show the elite that you want to come to Washington to serve them, not lead others.

But Dean was not significantly liberal as Vermont's governor, not by Northern Democrat standards, nor was he all that antiwar, if one looks closely at his position. He kept trying to identify with internationalist Establishment positions on foreign policy. For instance, while Dean said he was against the United States going to war, he never advocated removing American troops from Iraq once they were there. Absent a time machine, therefore, Dean's position on the war didn't mean much in terms of policy.

But whatever Dean's personal positions on foreign policy, he did find himself leading an antiwar movement. And Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo argues that the Establishment, while not fearful of Dean, was fearful of the antiwar movement that had coalesced behind him. Raimondo writes:

While Dean is not "antiwar" in the sense that he wants us out of Iraq and out of the empire business altogether, unlike "frontrunner" [John] Kerry he did speak out before the President launched his fateful invasion, and has especially focused on the process by which we were lied into war. For this alone, he has been marked for destruction by the War Party, which explains the bipartisan coalition that has developed to crush him.

What frightens our rulers is not Dean, whose foreign policy would be only incrementally different than their own, but the movement that he has generated. His campaign taps into deep and widespread antiwar — and anti-neocon — popular sentiments. The Bush administration's legal and political onslaught against the Constitution, their wild spending spree, and most of all their imperious arrogance have deeply alienated voters on the right as well as the left. ("The race for the White House — who cares?", January 23, 2004. [Scroll down after page loads.])

I believe that there was a different reason for the media's removal of Dean. It was not that he was "antiwar" or "anti-establishment" but, rather, that powerful interests really want to defeat Bush and regard Dean as the least electable of the major Democratic candidates. That would appear to be borne out in the recent Newsweek poll that had John Kerry leading Bush in a hypothetical election 49 percent to 46 percent. Dean did the worst among the leading Democratic candidates, losing to Bush 45 percent to 50 percent. Undoubtedly, Dean was weakened by the recent media attacks — but at no earlier time had he led Bush in the polls.

Even without the polls it seems understandable why an overtly antiwar candidate such as Dean would do less well in a general election than a war waffler. That stems from the fact that antiwar voters are ardently anti-Bush. Lacking an important third-party candidate, and considering their animosity towards Bush, the antiwar voters have no other place to go. Given their hatred of Bush they don't want to do anything that would facilitate his reelection. Ergo, it is not necessary for the Democrats to have an openly antiwar candidate to win the liberal antiwar vote. But it is necessary for the Democrats to "triangulate," as Clinton's political guru Dick Morris used to put it: that is, come close enough to the Republican position to win centrist votes while still retaining the liberal Democratic base. Thus the Democratic candidate should attack the war lies and the unilateralism of the Bush administration, without saying the war to remove Saddam's regime was wrong. That has been the position of the war liberals — Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen, Kenneth Pollack — all along, and I expect it will be the Democratic position in the fall.

Why does the elite want Bush removed? There are a number of overlapping elites that converge on this question. The mainstream media — the major networks, the major newspapers such as the Washington Post and New York Times — usually prefer a liberal candidate. The international financiers are angry with the Bush administration for its unilateralism and the fact that it has run up a huge debt that has weakened the dollar. (See Jim Lobe, "The War Party Versus Global Capitalism," Antiwar.com, December 30, 2003; and Peter Boyle, "World Economy: IMF warns about growing US debt," Green Left Weekly, January 21, 2004. [Note: the second link was working only intermittently at time of posting.]) In contrast to Bush, Bill Clinton and his treasury secretary, Robert Rubin (former co-chair of Goldman, Sachs), basically followed the policies sought by international finance — the banker bailouts looming large there.

Also, important liberal Jews have become concerned about the neocons. The neocons have advanced Israeli Likudnik goals (not all leading Jews subscribed to that approach), but they have been outed in the course of doing so. There is new concern in Jewish circles about a rise in "anti-Semitism." George Soros, the international financial speculator who is using his billions to defeat Bush, said in a speech to the Jewish Funders Network that the increase in "anti-Semitism" was caused by "'the policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration.' His solution: 'If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism will diminish.'" (Jonathan Tobin, "When Some Money Talks, Don't Listen," Jewish World Review, November 13, 2003) Soros's opposition is obviously motivated by his liberal internationalism, but it seems reasonable to take him at his word that he fears that belligerent Zionism is harmful to Jews. The foreign-policy establishment, steeped in the tradition of internationalism, also has been cool to Bush's unilateralism.

My point is that leading elements of the American Establishment are now demonstrating their preference for an internationalist Democrat as opposed to Bush and the neocons. Remember that the major media gave Bush the Elder a favorable press during Gulf War I and moved into the attack mode only some months after the war's end. In January 1992, Bush the Elder was far ahead in the polls, in contrast to the current situation as reflected in a recent poll showing Kerry slightly ahead of Bush the Younger. The Bush administration has a number of significant vulnerabilities that the media has yet to exploit, among them Cheney's questionable connections; war profiteering; a notable scarcity of war veterans; and Bush's lack of intelligence. It should not require much effort for the media to remove Bush — less spin than it took to jettison Dean. Bush only has to be knocked down a couple of percentage points to guarantee a Democratic victory. In short, the derailment of Dean should pave the way for the ultimate derailment of Bush. Obviously nothing is a sure thing; I am only dealing in probabilities here. And of course a major terrorist event could alter everything.

February 3, 2004

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