Safire: incoherent to the last

· long story short

I really should resist responding to Bill Safire’s op-eds in the Times, which lately have amounted to a form of trolling writ large. Also, I promised not to be all pro-Dean here at Edgewise. I have plenty of other outlets for that (Oakland for Dean, Tech4Dean, etc.). But Safire’s latest piece, Don’t Stop Dean is just so wrongheaded in so many ways I almost don’t know where to begin. I suppose the place to begin is with what Safire himself describes as “convoluted reasoning”:

There are now three de facto political parties in the U.S. In order of present strength, these are:

(1) The Republican Party, in control of all three branches of government and most of the statehouses, fat and sassy because the economy is rising and the war is being won.


(2) The Dean-Internet Party, its Bush-despising base so energized as to be frenetic, its leader happy to be the apostle of anger, its bandwidth bandwagon gaining momentum with each pulse of its cursing cursor.

The “anger” canard, the pun on cursing … but isn’t it Kerry and Clark who’ve been showing their “anger” by cursing at the opposition? Safire won’t let that fact get in the way of some clever wordplay.

(3) The Old Democratic Party, its base off base, its leadership fractured, its third-way ideology – vainly espoused by the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council – a lost cause without a rebel voice.

Wait, I thought the DLC were the New Democrats?

Can it be that the opposition to the reigning Republicans is deeply cleft in twain, as mouth-fillingly described above? What evidence is there that the present noisy jousting is not just the usual primary-season scuffling?

Consider the “you’re a liar” clash between the Old Democrat poll front-runner, Wesley Clark, and the emerging Dean party’s hero.

Safire is so blinded by his Clinton obsessions that he doesn’t recognize that the only viable alternative to Dean in the race right now is also an Internet-driven phenomenon, complete with fundraising keyed off of attacks and an open-source middleware software development arm. He’s also hitting Bush on the war. The only real distinction between the Dean and Clark positions and their supporters is the “we need a general to beat a sitting commander-in-chief” argument.

Clark claims that Dean offered him the vice presidential nomination: “It was dangled out there . . . offered as much as it could have been.” Dean denies it flatly: “I did not and have not offered anyone the vice presidency.” Clark, egged on by his Clinton handlers, imputes a dishonorable motive to Dean: “Why is he squirming? Because maybe he’s done the same for a lot of other people.”

As a partisan, I wish they weren’t tussling over this and I hope it doesn’t mean they can’t be friends once the voting is done, but I also remember the Dean camp attempting to deflate Clark by suggesting he’d make a good veep and with all the parsing of words going on, I have little doubt that we’re looking at two different spins on the same set of facts. Hardly the equivalent of push-polls in South Carolina attacking McCain as if he had Strom Thurmond’s skeletons in his closet.
Skipping the DLC-related insider baseball, we get to this:

What if Dean, as the pollwagon now suggests, trounces the Clinton Establishment – Clark, Lieberman, Kerry, even Edwards and Sharpton – in the primaries? Will they loyally kiss the ring of the winner?

You bet your fat ass they will, Bill. They all want to unseat Bush. Only in your fantasies are there Democrats who like 2008 better than 2004 for retaking the White House.

Of course they will. They’ll rally round to hold the Democratic Party together even as it is taken over by the Dean-Internet set. They’ll pay lip service and lose respectably, eyeing a comeback and takeover in ’08.

If only Republicans were capable of losing respectably….

But what if Dean loses momentum in Iowa, does “less than expected” in New Hampshire, gets clobbered in Carolina or blows his cool at media tormentors once too often? What if the Old Democrat center, revivified as a stop-Dean movement and helped by the pendulum press, actually stops Dean? Could happen. Then what?

Of course it could happen. Any Democrat who can beat Dean now would be a formidable candidate in the general election.

He is not the sort who gives up easily. Nor is he likely to ask Clark or whomever in a smoke-free room for the No. 2 slot. Dean has grass-roots troops, a unique fund-raising organization, the name recognition and the fire-in-the-belly, messianic urge to go all the way on his own ticket.

This last part is a lie at worst, a projection at best. This is the latest right-wing fantasy (at least until they start slavering over a Hillary write-in again): the idea that Dean will run as a third-party candidate. Not only has Dean said he will endorse the party’s nominee, but it’s clear to anyone paying attention that Dean’s campaign is about rebuilding and reinvigorating the Democratic party from the grassroots up, not about creating a new Whig party.
Sure, some true believers may refuse to knock on doors for Gephardt or Clark, but more of us Deanies will dedicate our people-to-people network to the unified project of kicking out the rascals, and there’s a good chance that this network will persist after the election, regardless of who wins (contrast that with the evaporating Rainbow Coalition from 1988).

Politronic chatter picked up by pundits monitoring lefty blogsites and al-Gora intercepts flashes the warning: If stopped, Dean may well bolt.

I’m starting to realize that Safire bathes his bullshit in cuteness. Naturally, the lefty blogs I read suggest nothing of the kind, but then Safire can always say he’s just fantasizing, with his al-Gora joke (which is pretty offensive). He’s having it both ways, floating his trial balloons. It’s actually been fairly amusing watching Brooks and Safire hammer away at Dean from any angle they can imagine.

That split of opposition would be a bonanza for Bush. In a two-man race, the odds are that he would beat Dean comfortably, but in a three-party race, Bush would surely waltz in with the greatest of ease.

No duh. Even the first part is reasonable. Dean himself has pointed out that Bush, not he, is the frontrunner in this race.

Here’s my problem: Such a lopsided, hubris-inducing result would be bad for Bush, bad for the G.O.P., bad for the country. Landslides lead to tyrannous majorities and big trouble.

This is the most laughable part of the column for two reasons. First of all, it’s the cheapest sort of reverse, reverse, reverse psychology. Naturally Safire would love a Republican landslide, even though yes he would fear that his libertarian pet projects would be swamped in such an event. More importantly, though, the narrow, razor-thin, dragged-over-the-finish-line result from 2000 was already bad for the country. It turns out that it doesn’t take a landslide to yield tyrannous majorities and big trouble after all. It just takes hubris.