Monday, December 08, 2003

Preach On, Brother Kristof

Nicholas Kristof chimes in with a warning against the politics of raw anger:

Watching presidential politics lately, I've been thinking back to when I was 13 years old and had my heart broken for the first time.

It was 1972, and I was antiwar and infatuated with Senator George McGovern. But as I handed out McGovern leaflets in Yamhill County, Ore., I was greeted as if I were the Antichrist. Soon afterward, Mr. McGovern was defeated in a landslide.

As Howard Dean will probably be, if the Democrats nominate him.

It is, of course, the Democrats' privilege to stand on principle, embrace the man they admire most and leap off a cliff together. Political parties have a hoary tradition of committing principled suicide, as the G.O.P. did with Barry Goldwater in 1964 and, most masochistically, the Democrats did three times with William Jennings Bryan from 1896 to 1908.

Yet my guess is that the Democratic faithful are being not so much high-minded as muddle-headed. Many Democrats so despise President Bush that they don't appreciate what a strong candidate he will be in November, and they don't grasp how poorly Mr. Dean is likely to fare in battleground states.


If the Democrats are serious about governing, they should remember the words of one of their nominees, Adlai Stevenson. After one of his typically brilliant campaign speeches, someone shouted out to Stevenson from the crowd that he had the votes of all thinking Americans.

Stevenson shouted back, saying that wasn't enough: "I need a majority!"

Obviously, I don't agree with Kristof that voters are too stupid to see Dean's merits, but his warning against indulging in the politics of vitriolic rage is spot on.