GOVERNING VS. VENTING….The Economist this week trots out a by now familiar criticism of Democratic strategy:

The Democrats’ attacks on Mr Bush seem misguided, both in principle and tactically. And it so happens that, if they gave the matter any thought, they would find they had much better grounds than these for criticising Mr Bush.

The Economist’s Republican-friendly Lexington columnist, writing about Al From and the decline of the centrist DLC, puts it this way:

Many of Mr From’s troops think that the next election is being lost. The conversation in the corridors was all about the continuing Howard Dean insurgency?and about the party’s more general drift to the left. Many people speculated that the 2004 election could be a disaster comparable to 1988 or 1972. Given a choice between governing and venting, the Democrats are going to vent.

….The biggest reason for the party’s leftward lurch, however, lies with the anti-Bush fury in the rank and file. The party faithful fume that their cowardly leaders in Washington, who supported the Iraq war, have provided an echo, not a choice. In Mr Dean they have finally found a man to express their fury.

I’ll confess that I have a hard time knowing where to stand on all this. Democrats have tried mightily over the past year to convince the press and the public that Bush makes a habit of shading the truth and pursuing policies that aren’t justified by the facts on the ground, but without much success. So now that they’ve finally found a subject where the charge resonates, they’re supposed to stay quiet just because the war was popular with a large segment of the public? That’s reason to be careful, of course, but surely the only way to defeat a popular president is to call both his policies and his judgment into question, even if those policies are popular. Maybe over time they will become somewhat less popular, no?

On the other hand, speaking more generally, Bill Clinton didn’t win his elections by large margins, especially when you take Ross Perot’s vote sucking into account, and 9/11 has clearly moved the country rightward since then. Common sense tells you that this means anyone more liberal than Clinton is vanishingly unlikely to beat Bush.

So: I think anger is fine right now, because it’s aimed mostly at the Democratic base, the only segment of the population that’s truly paying attention to the primary race at the moment. And chipping away at George Bush’s undeserved reputation for saying what he means and meaning what he says is also fine, even if some of the criticism is trivial. Eventually perhaps the criticisms will build up and sink in.

But later on, when the rest of the country does start paying attention, our candidate is going to need to tone down the anger, which probably doesn’t play well with a lot of the voters we need, and project a much more positive, centrist vision.

If Howard Dean can do that tap dance, maybe he can win. If he can’t, then Kerry or Edwards are better picks. For now, I’m still waiting and seeing.

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