Thursday, July 10, 2003

Gettin' down and dirty. 

I don't mind the idea of a candidate directly challenging the ideas of another, without getting dirty and personal, but you have to wonder about the over-all health of the candidacy of John Kerry, when he has apparently decided to focus on finding the dirt on Dean.

Dean was governor of Vermont for 11 years. If there was real dirt on him, it would more than likely be out by now folks. Okay, maybe there is some dirt that hasn't been dug up.

It was my understanding that the democratic candidates made some kind of pledge to refrain from attacking each other. In my view, its gone a little too far, with no one challenging the views and beliefs of the other, which makes for a rather dull campaign and little media attention. It is through healthy conflict that the candidates can potentially distinguish themselves from each other.

The way that the strategy of cooperation has worked is that democrats and their constituents appear united as never before in the common goal of regime change. We need this. What we don't need is for the candidates to go in search of personal dirt on each other.

Dean has a record of distinguished service in Vermont. You may not agree with his philosophy, or his political choices, but there were no scandals. If Kerry is going in search of scandals, he may create one himself.

Edwin Edwards, the ex-governor of Louisiana now in prison, used to say,
"The only way my political enemies can defeat me, is if they find me in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." Edwards wound up being convicted of extortion, basically. Barring any discoveries of this nature, it is difficult to see what will be accomplished with the dirt digging strategy, except the angering and alienation of Dean's supporters.

Let me bring it down to the micro level. Here in Louisiana, I am attempting to organize voter registration drives utilizing volunteers from the campaigns of the candidates. I am making my contacts through the meet-ups of each candidate. I am wondering how Dean supporters are going to react to the news that Kerry is searching for dirt on their candidate. I am also wondering if Kerry's hostility to Dean is going to trickle down to the well-attended Kerry meet-ups here. Will Kerry volunteers be willing to cooperate with Dean volunteers if they perceive that the "new" strategy is one of personal attack?

One has to wonder if there isn't a paucity of ideas right now in the Kerry camp, for such a strategy to be decided on. Wouldn't it be more constructive to find a way to better promote the ideas of Kerry in order to reach more people, which is, by the way, what Dean has managed to accomplish in his campaign?

Unfortunately, attack politics has worked all too well in American history, but this strategy has succeeded in denigrating the message. Does Kerry really want this political climate to continue, in which voters decide not on the basis of the merit of ideas, but rather on the dirt that manages to stain the man or woman running for political office? The choice is his, and ours:

The presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry may be saying that it doesn't care about the new momentum of Howie Dean's team, but it sure isn't acting like it. Kerry's folks have begun intensive opposition research on Dean, sending staff to Vermont to pull together whatever dirt they can find out about not only Dean but also his wife, who continues to work as a physician in the state.

"It's early, but not too early to start taking him down a notch," says a Kerry staffer. "We've gone head to head with Dean in debates, we've tried to shout them down and shut them up, and they are still hanging around. We're going on the offensive."

From the beginning, perhaps because Kerry was a fellow Northeastern Democrat, Dean seemed to focus his attacks on the senator from Massachusetts. The two candidates have gone at each other throats in debates and candidate forums around the country, and Dean has jabbed at Kerry from the podium. Now Dean has apparently outraised Kerry and his huge fundraising operation in the second quarter of this fiscal year.

Kerry's oppo staff appears to be focusing on Dean's career as a practicing physician, which the candidate has spoken about on the stump. Dean has claimed that he assisted underaged women who were pregnant, but has declined to say whether he provided them with abortions. Dean has also attempted to side-step his deferment from the military during the Vietnam War. Dean claims it was for a congenital back problem. But after receiving his free pass out of service, he spent several months skiing in Colorado, and has bragged about it.

The Kerry staffer says that Dean's recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" gave them pause. "He was avoiding having to talk about anything substantive from his background. There has to be stuff there. We're looking. If he's going to be around for the long haul, we might as well be ready."