The Accidental Populist

Howard Dean vs. the democratic establishment

Second, you can probably forget nearly everything in the foregoing paragraph, because the chances that Dean will pick such an audacious course and stick to it are surpassingly slim. The presumptive philosopher king of Dean's epic confrontation with the DLC, after all, is Albert Gore Jr. It's not hard to believe that Gore would like to seize the party apparatus from Clinton & Friends, but why should anyone get excited about the prospect of what he might do with it?

A few eternally masochistic Democrats are trying to make out that they finally have the new Al Gore they were promised for so long. One of the smartest consultants I know recently told me that Gore finally seems to have come into his own. "He seems to be at his best when he's had a chance to go away and just think," the politico said hopefully. "Like when he wrote his book." But the mirage of a bearded, far-seeing Gore foraging for nuts and berries with Tipper at his side faded after a mere few seconds. "Of course," my acquaintance said, "he had a populist revelation in the 2000 campaign, too, which is when his numbers finally jumped a little bit. It lasted about a week."

Optimists will correctly point out that Dean has yet to prove himself as craven as Gore. I'll go further than that: If Dean actually ran a campaign predicated on the values of his December 7 speech in South Carolina, he would have a plausible chance to win. As of this moment, he still could be either the next FDR or the latest Al Gore. But the whole corpus of conventional wisdom in American politics will continue pressing him back toward the fabled "center" and the Democratic fold. And if he goes there, the race will be entirely Bush's to win or lose.

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