Dean: A Prophet Ahead of His Time?

by Patrick J Buchanan – January 7, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Within four weeks, the Democratic nominee will probably be known, and this city believes it will almost surely be Howard Dean.

The Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27, and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 3, same day as half a dozen other caucuses and primaries, will tell the tale.

The shrillness and savagery of the attacks on Dean by rival Democrats like Joe Lieberman underscore the point. They all understand that if Dean does not stumble, they all fall by Feb. 3.

Dean is today viewed as a perfect pigeon for George W. Bush. And it is hard to fault the assessment. He is angry, prone to gaffes, perceived as ultra-liberal and from a state where he never learned the rhetoric that can move Democratic minorities the way Clinton did.

Moreover, he is as divisive a figure in his party, with his denunciations of its “Republican wing” and “cockroaches” in Washington, as was Barry Goldwater in the GOP in 1964. And George W. Bush looks almost as certain of re-election as LBJ. Though, at times, LBJ, heir to the martyred JFK, ran 40 points ahead. Bush has never had such a lead.

Yet, the comparison is valid. For just as Goldwater split from his party’s establishment to vote no on the great issue of 1964, the Civil Rights Act, Dean broke with his party to say “no” to Bush’s war.

The greater question, however, is: Does Dean’s movement portend the future?

Consider: Though Goldwater lost 44 states, the movement that nominated him captured the GOP at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, shifted the party’s center of gravity south and west, helped elect Nixon twice, and put Ronald Reagan in the White House before passing into history.

McGovern’s campaign also outlasted its champion. After the rout by Nixon in 1972, McGovernism, the political vehicle of the counter-culture and social revolution of the ’60s, set down deep roots in the Democratic Party that have never been pulled up.

Like Goldwater, McGovern proved a candidate ahead of his time.

Conservative Democrats who stood against him in 1968 and 1972 – Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, John Connolly of Texas, Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia, George Wallace of Alabama – have no heirs in today’s party. Even “New Democrats,” though they decry the nomination of Dean as “another McGovern,” are all pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-feminist, pro-affirmative action. Where do they dissent from the agenda McGovern offered?

Indeed, McGovernism has even made inroads into the Republican Party. Though employing conservative rhetoric to win, the GOP has been sliding leftward on social, cultural and even economic issues.

Like his father, Bush is running up huge deficits and increasing the domain of federal bureaucrats. He, too, is a champion of foreign aid and intervention to build a New World Order. He, too, is a global democratist who cites Wilson and FDR. He, too, is a “big government conservative” like his dad. Since taking his oath, he has not killed one federal program, agency or department, or vetoed a single bill.

LBJ won a landslide running on the “guns-and-butter” budget that financed the Great Society and the war in Vietnam. The Bush Republicans have gone LBJ one better. They are for guns and butter – and tax cuts, too.

On the cause of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, Bush says America is not ready. Anyone ever heard the president preach from the Bully Pulpit to change our hearts?

After the Supreme Court affirmed the right of the University of Michigan to discriminate against white kids for 25 years – as long as it is not so blatant as adding 20 points to application scores for race – Bush hailed the court’s recognition of the value of “diversity.”

When the battle flag became an issue in South Carolina, Bush quietly removed a plaque to Southern war dead put up by the Daughters of the Confederacy in a Texas courthouse, and his brother Jeb took down the battle flag over the Florida statehouse.

Democrats are pro-gay rights. What do Bushites say? “We are inclusive.” “We are for tolerance.” “We are for diversity.” “We are against discrimination.” But, checking Gallup, “We believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.” Heroic.

Republicans have been winning elections, even for Congress. But they have done so by shucking conservative principles. Like the Americans in Vietnam, they are winning all the set-piece battles, as they are losing the war.

Dean may be routed. But my guess is that whatever he stands for today will be embraced by his party tomorrow, and the GOP the day after. Civil unions, here we come.