What's bothering me is some of talk I see and hear from Dean supporters about John Kerry's possible (probable?) winning of the Democratic candidacy: "If it isn't Dean, it's nobody."
Count me out of that crowd.
A sobering front-page article in today's L.A. Times shows that Team Bush is ready to attack the Dems, using Kerry as a lightning rod:
Bush Is Set to Strike Back at DemocratsTake this to the bank: these people are sick and relentless. They have over $200 million to back their upcoming (and you KNOW it's coming) smear campaign to draw attention away from their now-falling house of cards. And they'll stop at nothing to stop the Democrats. They're loading their cannons.
With his approval rating falling, the president and the GOP will speak out on the war in Iraq, his military service and his rivals' records.
WASHINGTON - President Bush is going on the offensive.
The president has just had one of the worst months of his presidency, with his approval rating skidding below 50% in the Gallup Poll for the first time. His administration is under new scrutiny over its decision to go to war in Iraq. Even his past service in the National Guard has come under attack as a Vietnam War hero leads the Democratic presidential pack.
Now, after holding their fire for much of the month, Bush and his aides are setting in motion a new strategy to try to turn the slide around.
For the president, January's bad news was unrelenting. Testimony by his former chief weapons inspector cast deep doubt on the rationale for Bush's signature issue, the war against Iraq, and he was forced to agree to set up an independent commission to investigate.Knowing they're not going to get away with as much as they have in the past - people are paying attention now - they're going to protect their ill-gotten power in any way they can. And it won't be pretty.
Kerry quickly took the lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, and much of the party fell in behind him, focusing their attacks on Bush rather than on one another.
And that wasn't all. Bush's annual State of the Union address got tepid reviews. Critics lambasted the president for raising the cost estimate for his Medicare reform plan by $130 billion and proposing a 2005 budget with record deficits. And Democrats revived an issue that Bush had hoped was laid to rest in 2000: the question of whether he failed to fulfill his duties as a National Guardsman in the 1970s.
"There was a confluence of events over the last month that in large part we knew were going to happen. And the Democrats had the stage all to themselves," said White House communications director Dan Bartlett.
This is why we as Democrats - and therefore the self-proclaimed standard-bearers of fairness - must unite behind whoever our candidate is. Whether it's Howard Dean. Or Wesley Clark. Or John Edwards. Or John Kerry.
Yes, I've had my problems with Kerry. His early dressing-down (in harmony with Lieberman) of Dean instead of focusing on Bush was painful and divisive. He still needs to realize that when you talk to a crowd, you don't need to sound like a foghorn. And his basset-hound looks were never his strong suit.
And then there was the vote to give Bush the power to attack Iraq.
I was against that vote from day one. Kerry says that the vote over Iraq was made under false pretenses by Bush, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree - just about everything under this administration is done with pretenses of suspicious origins. If Kerry says he genuinely regrets giving Bush that power, I can take his word on that.
But moreover, these are my peccadilloes. And I'm open to forgive any of these things if Kerry's message and heart can ring true and override these items with the American voters.
Getting back to Dean here. I said this before and I'll say it again. Dean brought us and the rest of the Democrats (sit down, Lieberman) to the dance. He was the band who got everyone to sing along. He was the emcee who whipped the crowd into a frenzy. He was the bartender who loosened you up enough to speak your mind when everyone else was too uptight.
The rest of the running field, seeing that they weren't going to get into trouble after Dean got the party going, joined in...and in the process, picked numerous fights with Dean, which he was reluctant to join until it became a survival issue.
(In Kerry's case, he didn't outwardly criticize Iraq until last October. October 16th to be exact - you can look it up in his own press releases. That's the day he finally called it "the Bush Administration's Failed Iraq Policy.")
If I can beat the analogy one more time: A LOT of us were more than happy to pay the admission - giving dollars to keep the dance going. This is very evident in Dean's current drive for Wisconsin.
Even if we don't win Wisconsin, we're here. We've let ourselves be known. And we cannot possibly be ignored by whoever becomes the Democratic candidate who will beat George W. Bush.
The top four candidates are all good guys. I believe Dean is the best, having the credentials as a governor, a budget-balancer, an environmentalist, and a uniter in a very non-Bush sort of way. But America will be a better place no matter which of the final four breaks through.
So to my fellow Deaniacs: This is not a concession speech. We're still in it. And if the day should pass that Dean decides to step aside, we still need to be heard as loudly as we have been for the better part of the last year.
Whoever that person is, they're a Democrat. And they'll listen. Because that's what Democrats do.
And they will be deserving of our 100% support.
UPDATE 9pm: NPR announced tonight that AFSCME has withdrawn its endorsement of Howard Dean. Though Dean is being gracious in his response, I can't really spin this as good news for the campaign.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos