“Right” from the start, but so what?

A number of commentators suggested, following Howard Dean’s defeat in Iowa, that the Democrats now realize that passionate opposition to the war in Iraq is a political dead-end. For example, Jeff Sikkenga of No Left Turns writes: “Iraq is now about finishing the job and winning the peace, not about why we went to war in the first place. In their heart of hearts, most post 9-11 Americans just don’t care: it’s enough for them that Saddam was evil and that they are safe from his future menace (not to mention menace from those who took note of his destruction).”
I’m not sure this is completely correct. I still think that the most likely way the Democrats win is if things take a turn for the worse (or perhaps don’t get any better) in Iraq. The economy seems to be doing too well for the Dems to get much mileage out it. Another terrorist attack might well cause the country to rally around President Bush. But sustained bad news from Iraq is both a distinct possibility and a distinct blow to Bush.
The Democrats have probably realized, though, that they don’t need to nominate Dean in order to profit from bad news out of Iraq. If things go badly there, Bush will be blamed regardless of who the Democratic nominee is. Thus, while passionate opposition to the war is not necessarily a liability, neither is it a requirement. Dean’s only way to leverage the issue, then, is to seek credit for being the only major candidate who opposed the war before it started. No doubt he gets some credit from many Democrats for being “right from the start” (as McGovern used to say), enough to have become a major candidate in the first place. But he can’t expect this credit to trump all other considerations, especially since most Democratic voters no doubt realize that, regardless of his Senate vote, Kerry would not have started the war had he been president.
HINDROCKET adds: That, I think, is the definitive analysis of why Howard Dean is not going to get the Democratic nomination.

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