A Party Possessed by Anger


Howard Dean's public surrender to scary rage probably disqualifies him from ever having his finger on the nuclear trigger, in the minds of most Americans. We want our Commander—in—Chief to be judicious in the application of force in time of crisis. Those who readily give—in to their inner demons under pressure are downright scary to imagine in the Oval Office. It is hard to imagine how Dean will recover plausibility as a Presidential contender.

Paul Mirengoff, writing on the superb Powerline website, argues that another Democratic candidate, most notably front—running Kerry, can readily inherit the mantle of opposition to the war in Iraq, even if not able to claim to have been opposed to it 'right from the start.' In his analysis, now that the economy is growing at a healthy clip, a Democrat's only chance to win rests on the possibility of continued bad news from Iraq, such as escalating American and allied casualties:

The Democrats have probably realized, though, that they don't need to nominate Dean in order to profit from bad news out of Iraq. If things go badly there, Bush will be blamed regardless of who the Democratic nominee is.

I think he is correct in his analysis, as far as it goes. However, there is an additional question: will Kerry, or Clark, or Edwards be able to eschew the very anger which undid Dean?

I think the answer is a qualified no. Of the three main contenders, Edwards has the sunniest disposition, and has consciously pursued a positive agenda. Helped along by a schoolboy visage and Southern charm, he has largely stayed away from recriminations and anger. His issue of choice is the 'two Americas' schtick: the poor are getting poorer, and the rich are too selfish, so we need a bigger government taking more taxes, to give stuff to poor people. While this makes for fine traditional Democratic rhetoric, it will not take him to victory in an economy which is expanding healthily. If Edwards is to win the nomination, he will have to address national security issues, and to please the Democratic base on the issue.

Clark is easily the goofiest of the three, and has been known to say stupid or indefensible things under pressure. He has demonstrated a snappish nastiness which makes him an excellent candidate for a meltdown.

Kerry has demonstrated a modicum of self control, so far, but has a long, very public track record to defend. His aristocratic airs are not a helpful attribute. He is accustomed to the electoral climate of Massachusetts, where the press rarely pushes Democrats very hard. Remember that for decades Kerry was able to attend St. Patrick's Day breakfasts in South Boston — an event known for jibing at politicians — as a faux Irishman, and nobody checked out his Gaelic particulars, which turn out to be non—existent. 'Kerry,' it develops, was a name chosen to replace 'Kohn.'

Any Democrat nominee is going to have to mobilize his base, and that base is very angry. Democrats are angry because Bush won the Presidency based on a (sensible) Supreme Court decision, because Bush cares not whit about appearing to be an intellectual, because he is an unapologetic Evangelical Christian, and because they view his prosecution of the war against terror to be as politically—motivated as was Clinton's lobbing of missiles into a Sudanese aspirin factory.

But most of all, the Democrats' rank—and—file activists and party pros are angry because they are out of power, and see little chance of actually restoring what is to them the Normal Order of Things. Until 1994, Democrat dominance of the House of Representatives appeared to be divinely ordained. The New Deal coalition could be occasionally displaced from the Presidency by a Nixon or Reagan, from time—to—time, but when it came to writing budgets, the Democrats thought they had it made in the shade. Republican budgets could be openly pronounced to be 'dead on arrival' by the House Democratic leadership, and nobody thought it in the least bit odd.

Now, from the standpoint of career Democrats, things have wrong, terribly wrong. The circumstances in which they grew up, and upon which they planned their careers, are gone. Time is out of joint, and they are cursed to be born to set it right. The GOP has run the House for ten years, and there is very little prospect of the Democrats regaining control, now that Sunbelt states are adding seats, and the Republicans have succeeded in gerrymandering Texas as lopsidedly as the Democrats used to.

The Democrats' inability to gain traction any issues other than a potential military disaster for America is more than disconcerting, it is destabilizing. They are dealing with major cognitive dissonance: the champions of all that is right are reduced to rooting for all that is wrong.

This circumstance must not stand. It is crazy—making for them. Faced with such emotional contradictions, they lash out, especially when in the company of others, similarly destabilized. When they get together for political rallies or to strategize, their anger cannot help but come to the fore. They are possessed.

I have a name for this collective rage. To honor the role of Howard Dean in bringing this anger to indisputable prominence, I suggest that we call it 'Dean—monic Possession.'

Posed by Thomas  01 22 04