Dean — McGovern

Bullshit Analysis #1: Howard Dean is George McGovern--an angry left-wing peacenik who will take the Democrats off a cliff. (See: Joe Lieberman, New York Times op-ed pages, and the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.)

Bullshit Analysis #2: Howard Dean is not George McGovern--purist lefties condemn Dean as an NRA-approved, NAFTA-loving, standing-with-Newt Gingrich, social-program-cutting stealth conservative. (See: Richard Gephardt, The Nation, mossy lefty editors.)

Here's what all these Democrats are missing as they argue that Dean's either too liberal or too conservative: Dean is too liberal (for conservatives) and he is too conservative (for lefties); i.e., he's a compromise candidate between the two wings of the party. That's a good thing. The Democratic rank and file gets it (check the latest polls), the unions get it (check the endorsements), the donors get it (check the dollars). Two weeks ago, Al Gore got it.

But Dean's conservative and lefty critics in the media are intent on bashing Dean because they can't see the forest for the trees. The fact that a conservative argument can be made against Dean and a left-wing argument can be made against Dean at the same time ought to be the first clue that the party is actually, finally, and perhaps unwittingly, onto something that the armchair prognosticators aren't. It's called common ground, which may be why so many professional Democrats are uncomfortable. Common ground isn't a place Ds are familiar with.

Dean's unprecedented rise to the top of the pre-primary pack makes it plain that his ascent resolves a conflict that has persisted in the Democratic Party for years. Historically, it's been conservative vs. liberal: LBJ vs. Eugene McCarthy; Hubert Humphrey vs. George McGovern; Jimmy Carter vs. Mo Udall, Jerry Brown, et al.; Carter vs. Ted Kennedy; Walter Mondale vs. Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson; Michael Dukakis vs. Jackson; Bill Clinton vs. Jerry Brown; Al Gore vs. Bill Bradley and Ralph Nader. Finally, however, polling numbers and contribution dollars show that regular party members may have settled this chronic dilemma once and for all with a popular compromise candidate.

The problem is, the prognosticators are so conditioned to thinking there's a split in the party that they've fabricated a divide out of reflex, and have taken to handwringing about Dean. Stop it.

To the conservative wing I say this: Howard Dean is not George McGovern. Dennis Kucinich is George McGovern and Dennis Kucinich ain't going anywhere. So calm down, we're not going over a cliff.

To the left wing I say this: You're right, Howard Dean is not George McGovern--and thank God for that. The last thing the Ds need now is a repeat of '72. Calm down and join the party.

What you've got in Dean, my fellow Dems, is a truce, a hopefully permanent lull in a battle that's plagued our party for decades. Democratic voters have found a compromise for the party. And, lo and behold, he turns out to be a hard-boiled campaigner and topnotch candidate: Howard Dean.