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The facial topography of Senator John Kerry–gravity and the exactions of time pulling his features inexorably southward, a forlorn Hawthornian feel to the whole ensemble–remind us of another conqueror of New Hampshire in 1972: Senator Ed Muskie of Maine, on whose cheek a single tear (or was it just a snow flake?) turned into a mighty river of defeat as the press derided him for being a cry-baby, chided him for not winning by a larger margin and consigned him to history’s trashcan, same way they’re trying to do with Howard Dean.
Other winners in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary include Lyndon Johnson in 68, with a margin over Eugene McCarthy narrow enough to be construed a vote of no confidence. A few weeks later LBJ stepped aside. Then in 1992 Paul Tsongas, another son of Massachusetts, beat Bill Clinton, who was beleaguered by the kiss ‘n tell revelations of Gennifer Flowers. As with the Iowa caucuses, victory in New Hampshire has been often a portent of doom, which may explain the cloudy cast to Kerrry visage.
So the distraught supporters of Howard Dean need not abandon all hope–even after the loss to Kerry by 12 points, the resignation of his rumpled campaign strategist Joe Trippi and amid the fearful pounding in the press for his tiny break with decorum on the evening of the Iowa caucuses. The onslaught on Dean in the press, orchestrated mostly by Clintonites in the DNC and their consorts in the media, has been bizarre. After all, it’s not as if Dean is anything other than entirely mainstream in his views, most of all on economic policy where, as he himself plaintively insisted, he is "the most conservative" of all the Democratic candidates.
But Dean embodies two prime threats: first, to a run four years hence by Hillary Clinton; second, to the money-dispensing monopoly of the Democratic National Committee. Dean has displayed a poweful ability to raise money, $42 million to date, though he has spent much of it already, $3 million in Iowa alone.
The more hostile the DNC and press acts towards Dean, the more money drops into his campaign chest. But after coming third in Iowa he promptly raised more than $1 million in the next three days. If this stays true, he can stay in the race through to the convention in Boston this coming summer. There’s a scenario where Dean could finish second in most of the states, win only a handful of primaries and still capture a plurality of the delegates at the Democratic convention.
What comes next? There’s nothing much for Dean to look forward to in the immediate future beyond other candidates turning on the front-runner, Kerry, and drawing some blood. In South Carolina next week it will be a time of truth for its native son, John Edwards, the lissome-tongued trial lawyer who is now North Carolina’s senior senator. As Edwards himself has perhaps unwisely said, South Carolina is make or break for him. By the same token Dean’s camp hopes that Kerry will knock out Edwards, thus narrowing the field.
Those who’ve spent some time in South Carolina say it may be tough for Kerry, since he’s apparently decided on a strategy of writing off the south, which in the case of Democrats means blacks in the south who, in most states below the Mason Dixon line, represent a majority of registered Democrats. Kerry declared his candidacy on an aircraft carrier off Mount Pleasant S.C. and has scarcely been seen in the palmetto state ever since.
A person who could at last make some sort of a showing in South Carolina is Wesley Clark, the Clintons’ stalking horse, who plummeted after slipping badly in New Hampshire on the treacherous surface of his evasions on whether he supported the war in Iraq. Of course he did support it, repeatedly, and the only merit we can find in the ever more remote beacon of the Lieberman campaign is that Senator Joe has usefully catalogued no less than seven different Clarkian claims to have been a peacenik, all of them false.
Clark is also encumbered with an endorsement from Michael Moore, whose kiss may be as lethal as was Al Gore’s for Dean. But Clark is a military man, albeit one in whose "integrity and character" former chief of the joint chiefs of staff Hugh Shelton has publicly expressed categorical mistrust. There are many black people in South Carolina with sons and daughters in the military, and besides, unlike most of the other white candidates, Clark has invoked the name of Martin Luther King.
Everyone has something to look forward to. Clark can take comfort in good polls in Oklahoma and Arizona. Kerry eyes Missouri now that native son Gephardt has quit the field. Edwards and Al Sharpton hope for a boost in South Carolina and the DNC is already hinting to Edwards that he could end up as nominee Kerry’s running mate, and therefore shouldn’t start throwing dirt at the thin-skinned senator from Massachusetts. Lieberman? Well, it is hard to detect any silver lining for him and for our part we hope for his imminent departure since it will stop the noxious slogan, which even some of our friends proclaim, "ABL", Anyone But Lieberman. He apparently reposes his hopes in the state of ten thousand corporations (most of whom he’s probably carried water for): Delaware.
It’s been bemusing to read the heroic press releases from the campaign of Dennis Kucinich, as indomitably optimistic as was Comical Ali in the last days of Saddam Hussein. Dennis, a politician whom we admire but in whose candidacy we have always entertained 100 per cent lack of confidence, now heads back to where it all began, New Mexico, where resides his spiritual adviser. His press man is now William Rivers Pitt and Pitt promises to be as sanguine as was the former flack, David Swanson. As least Kucinich can afford the air fare to Albuquerque.
You ask about ideas, the clash of ideologies, of visions? Friends, this is a minimalist campaign between Democrats and no doubt it will be thus, between the ultimate nominee and George Bush. The night of the New Hampshire primary, on a day when six US soldiers died in Iraq, not one candidate used the deaths as a rallying cry to end the occupation of Iraq. Indeed the "antiwar" candidate, Dean, said the war in Iraq was no longer an issue.
Kerry, who supported both the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, defended himself against media charges that he was "just another Massachusetts liberal" by riposting that he is no such thing, touting his support for Clinton’s demolition of welfare and Clinton’s ramping up of the drug war which funded 100,000 cops in urban (ie., black and hispanic) neighborhoods. As for Edwards’s low-cal economic populism, we’ve been there, haven’t we? Truth in packaging. At least Dean ‘fesses up to being a neoliberal.
This brings us to the Democrats great dread: the return of Ralph Nader. As young idealists who have bizarrely hooked their hopes to the impeccably conventional former govenor of Vermont see him treated by the Democratic powerbrokers as if he were a dangerous revolutionary, they may throw up their hands in disgust and look outside the two parties. Scenting this menacing prospect, this week’s edition of The Nation magazine carries an unsigned "Open Letter" imploring Ralph not to run. From Anyone But Lieberman to Anyone But Nader.
As yet there’s no comment from Nader, though a seasoned staffer did remark to us that there was certainly "plenty of oxygen" out there.
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair’s new book, The Politics of Antisemitism, has just been published by AK Press.