David Tell of the Weekly Standard reports his impressions of the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls after their audition before the AFL-CIO. I found Tell’s discussion of Howard Dean to be particularly interesting. Tell says he concluded back in March that Dean could be nominated and elected. He adds, “I haven’t changed my mind, exactly. But I am struck, reading the recent transcripts and watching last week’s debate, by the extent to which Howard Dean has changed his mien: He is running as if he’s convinced the race is already his to lose–subdued and cautious on the issues, openly hard-eyed and practical about the political nuts and bolts. “The real question here tonight,” he told the union folks in Chicago, “is which one of us can beat George Bush.” I can, was his answer, which was hardly a surprise. I’ve raised a ton of money, was his basic explanation, and I wasn’t surprised he found it a convincing one, either. But I’m surprised he’d say so out loud. Keeping this calculating aspect of his talent and personality hidden was one of the biggest reasons he’d become a plausible front-runner in the first place.”
The “calculating aspect” is, of course, Dean’s predominant one. He has wisely calculated that an angry candidate is precisely what the Democrats don’t need this year. The base is angry enough to vote for anyone the Democrats put up. The rest of the country isn’t angry at all, and a candidate who is angry will appear at least slightly ridiculous. But why is Dean shedding his anger this early, months before the first Democrat casts a vote? My guess is that he has taken the measure of his Democratic opponents and concluded that he only needs to be but so angry to defeat them. Dean has pulled no worse than even with his major rivals and figures that, from now on, he can outdistance them on merit and without a great display of emotion.
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