In the comments
to British Spin's post about Howard Dean
, I put forth the view that if you're going to compare Howard Dean to a losing Presidential candidate it should be Barry Goldwater, not George McGovern. The McGovern comparisons are understandable, because he was an anti-war Democrat, but the nature of the Dean candidacy seems to me to parallel Goldwater much more closely.
Now, I'm not claiming that I can predict the future - if I could I'd currently be in a luxury suite somewhere in Vegas not an overheated office somewhere in London - but let's assume the conventional wisdom is right and that if Dean gets the Democratic nomination, he's going down to a big defeat, equalled only by Mondale, McGovern and Goldwater in recent US political history.
As I said, the McGovern parallel is the one that most people reach for, given that McGovern's candidacy was driven by his anti-war message. While this could be seen as a similarity between Dean and McGovern, it's only at the most superficial level. While both Dean and McGovern have an anti-war message, McGovern's main support came from people who were not already active in the Democrats, Dean's supporters, while they include many people who have not been involved before (see this week's Doonesbury
featuring Alex's Dean house party) it's also strong among many active Democrats - specifically those who don't identify themselves with the 'New Democrat' DLC. For this core, the war is an important issue, but it's one of many on which they feel the party leadership is not listening to them. Dean is capitalising on that anger and frustration and he's positioning himself as the outsider from 'the democratic wing of the Democratic Party' against the party establishment.
The key, then, is not to see Dean as just the maverick anti-war candidate, but as the spokesman for the disenfranchised wing of the party, a group that has a vision and is frustrated at the party establishment's desire to fight over the centre ground. By staking out a clear identity, and having some definite beliefs and goals, this wing believes it can lead it's party into a dominance of American politics. That's not just a description of Dean, it's a description of Barry Goldwater and the conservative movement's takeover of the Republican Party.
In 1964, Goldwater challenged Nelson Rockefeller, the Republican 'establishment' candidate, and defeated him. Goldwater's victory was based on mobilising the Republican core behind the conservative agenda of which he was an outspoken proponent. Back then, Goldwater was seen as an extremist, out of touch with the American people - hence the Johnson campaign's counter to Goldwater's 'In your heart, you know he's right' slogan - 'In your guts, you know he's nuts' - but, despite the defeat, it allowed the conservative movement to increase their say in the Republican Party. It was the start of the process that finally culminated in Reagan becoming President in 1980.
The key thing to remember is that the Dean campaign isn't the shambolic mixture of hippies, college kids and Hunter S Thompson that made up the McGovern campaign. It's much closer to Goldwater's disaffected masses of party stalwarts, finally seeing a message that excites them and gets them involved. Dean may or may not be the Democrats' candidate next year, and if he is, he may or may not win in what may be a squeaker or a landslide. But if the conventional wisdom is right (and it so rarely is), then look on Dean as a Goldwater, not a McGovern and a much more interesting future appears. Not least the fact that four years after Goldwater, his party did win the election with a former Vice-President who'd lost a controversial Presidential battle before and was assumed by most to have disappeared from national politics...