Who’da Thunk It?
Wow — never thought I’d be saying this, but the analysis of the Democratic race that comes closest to how I feel has come from conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan:
Dean did a little worse than the exit polls suggested. But his concession speech was easily the best of the night. It was authentic, uplifting, and red meat to the Democrats. It actually rang true to me as Dean’s real view of the world. It isn’t one I entirely share, to say the least, but it is genuine, represents a lot of people in this country and deserves a hearing. He seemed more affable than recently as well. He smiled more. He spoke more calmly but not ineffectively. He’s real. Kerry is so fake, in contrast, I cannot believe that Democratic primary voters will continue to support him in such numbers. Dean gave arguments. Kerry spoke in packaged Shrumisms. Dean has a vision. Kerry has ambition. If I were a Democrat, I’d vote for Dean over Kerry in a heartbeat. To my mind, this is a battle between the Democratic party’s soul and its fear.
That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. I’ve been trying to puzzle out what people in Iowa and New Hampshire have meant when they cited “electability” as their reasons for voting Kerry. After all, if you’re really thinking strategically, you’d vote for Edwards, since the Democrats have historically needed Southern votes to win the general election, and there’s no reason to believe Kerry can deliver those any more than Dean can.
The best answer I could come up with is rooted in human psychology. When faced with multiple choices, people usually, in my experience, go for the route that seems the safe, low-risk route, unless they have a serious reason to believe that doing so will backfire on them. When it’s clear that the safe options don’t work anymore, they’re willing to consider alternatives — but it usually takes a lot of painful experience with failing via “safe” choices before people start to look around.
I think these people are seeing Kerry as the “safe” candidate. He’s got “experience”, he’s an insider, he’s familiar with the levers of power. Dean, on the other hand, is the alternative — the high-risk play. Sure, he might be a better candidate in a lot of ways than Kerry, but Kerry’s familiar, like an old shoe. You know what to expect with him. Dean wants to take the party in a new direction.
That analysis, if true, would also explain the popular Kerryite slogan “Dated Dean, Married Kerry”. They want their guy to be seen as the reliable, unexciting choice. But as Halley Suitt wonders:
As for marrying Kerry, are we still marrying someone our parents think we should marry? An inside-the-beltway kinda guy? Is it politics as usual? Can he satisfy us at the breakfast table AND in the bedroom? Or is it time to admit we need all the passion and fire a suitor can summon to help us play house in the White House?
I am reminded of Dustin Hoffman at the back of the church in The Graduate. Maybe we’ll all be SHRIEKING by the time we hear the wedding march play.
That, of course, is the rub — that the “safe choice” psychology is only meaningful to Democrats. In the general election, it means nothing. In fact, for the independent voter, the “safe choice” will be to stick with Bush. So one hopes that if that’s Kerry’s plan — to appeal to people’s fear of the daring, the bold, the new, and then offer them an opportunity to stick their heads in the sand — that he’s got more than one trick up his sleeve.