ELECTING DEAN….John Judis (channeled via Josh Marshall) and Atrios are having a disagreement about Howard Dean’s electability. Here’s Judis:

The only thing I’m semi-certain about is Dean’s lack of electability in November….The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace)….I fear a cataclysm in the fall if the Democrats nominate Dean.

Atrios responds:

Other than the fundraising, which, you know, is a good thing, all the candidates will face the war and economy issues. Judis has made an argument why no Dem can win. If a million roses bloom in Baghdad and the economy is booming, there’s a reasonable chance he’s right – but I have no idea why this is an issue specific to Dean. Or any other candidate.

I’m really getting sick of the Old Left and the Old Right trying to have a Vietnam-era rematch. The Old Right want to prove we should’ve won in Vietnam, and the Old Left want to redo the ’72 election. Stop letting your personal demons dictate how you play electoral and geopolitical chess. Sheesh.

As several people have pointed out, Dean is polling as well or better than other Democratic candidates in hypothetical head-to-head matchups against Bush, so why does the “Dean is unelectable” meme have so much currency? Is it just the Democratic establishment refusing to accept an outsider?

Maybe. But looking at the matchup numbers right now is meaningless. Anyone can look good when there’s no competition, but starting around April (at a guess) George Bush and Karl Rove are going to start unloading their $200 million warchest against whoever the Democratic nominee is. I don’t especially buy into the theory that Rove is an unbeatable political supergenius ? a few hundred votes in Florida and he’d be lying in a gutter somewhere in Austin ? but he is good at what he does and $200 million goes a long way toward turning good into brilliant.

So while I realize that obsessing about Dean’s electability can become a self-fulfilling prophecy ? and it’s also the fastest way I know to start a comment war ? I have to say it: I think Dean is unelectable. Without going into tedious detail, just try to imagine that it’s April and the $200 million attack machine has geared up. And think about what the ads are going to look like, especially to moderates who aren’t true believers in the Dean phenomenon already. (Go ahead: use your imagination. And try to be brutally realistic.) To me, they look devastating. I know it’s not fair, but this election isn’t going to have anything to do with fairness.

And if you want one single thing to chew on, it’s this: national security is going to be the main theme of the election. I don’t care if we like it or not, the Republicans are the ones with the money and the bully pulpit and they’re going to hammer on it. And while I know that a lot of liberals think that anti-war sentiment is going to wash over the country in a great wave, it’s just not realistic to think that’s going to happen. Really, it’s not.

I happen to think Wes Clark is a better potential president than Howard Dean anyway, but electability is a key factor too. It’s vitally important to get rid of George Bush and his insanely incompetent crew of ideologues before they do any more damage, and I don’t think Dean can do it. Clark can.

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