The breathless tone of Samantha M. Shapiro’s New York Times Magazine cover story on the Dean Campaign, “The Dean Swarm,” suggests that Ms. Shapiro hasn’t covered many presidential campaigns. Either that, or the arrogance of the Dean Campaign is equal to the arrogance of its candidate.
Every presidential campaign of each party draws a huge host of true believers from a variety of walks of life. They join up, often for odd reasons, and form intense attachments because presidential campaigns are intense adventures, especially if the volunteers are young. For most of them, it will be their first dive into the passions of electoral politics. As in every other campaign before this one, they will believe they have stumbled on a new, strikingly unique group energy. Over at Bush-Cheney HQ, the young staff and volunteers think the same thing.
The Dean Campaign is the Ford Campaign with e-mail, instant messaging and cell phones. That so many of its volunteers don’t know it underscores why it is a doomed campaign: It lacks seriousness about politics and the realities of politics. My favorite line: “Many Dean supporters objected not just to the war in Iraq itself, but also to the Bush administration’s failure to even maintain the appearance of listening to the massive protests and U.N. resolutions.”
Put aside that there were no resolutions other than 1441 to “not listen to,” and focus on the idea that “massive protests” of a few ten thousands are not really massive protests at all, and that A.N.S.W.E.R. is a splinter off a very small branch of American public opinion. Can an entire campaign have megalomania? It appears so.
The Dean folk brag on their Internet-fueled fund-raising: “Dean has raised $25 million through small checks – the average donation is $77 – and those checks have placed Dean at the top of the Democratic fund-raising pack.” President Bush topped $115 million this past week, raising it in a third the time that Dean banked his $25 million.
If the Dean people think these funds are all coming from millionaires, or in $2,000 increments, they are kidding themselves again. The rank-and-file that will walk and talk and, yes, text-message and blog for Bush are vastly greater in number than those at work for Dean. No one seems to be aware of this in the Dean effort, which is great for Republicans.
Dean isn’t very original and neither is his campaign. Dean’s a mixture of Henry Wallace and George McGovern – a radical with big pipes and what appears to his followers to be momentum. But as my pal Charlie said to me at a party last night: “Look at the campuses. There aren’t any protests. Nobody’s falling for this stuff.”
Charlie’s right. The Dean people are too young to know what a real “movement” looks like. This is a nice campaign, one likely to capture the nomination and get swept aside in a landslide for an incumbent president backed by a booming economy, significant legislative achievements, and a serious commitment to national security.
At the close of business in November, these warriors of December 2003 will look at each other with blank or dazed expressions. They never saw it coming. Because they never read a book on campaigns past.