Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 19, 2004
POLITICS: The Dean Delusion

As Howard Dean exits stage left, it's worth looking back at Clay Shirky's widely-linked analysis of what went wrong:

[T]he hard thing to explain is not how the Dean campaign blew such a huge lead, but rather why we ever thought that lead actually existed. Dean's campaign didn't just fail, it dissolved on contact with reality.

The answer, I think, is that we talked ourselves, but not the voters, into believing. And I think the way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived.

* * *

The moment for me, and I think for many of us, when we realized that Dean was sunk was on Wednesday after New Hampshire, when the press reported that he'd spent most of his $45 million war chest already. The obvious question, "How did he think he could do the rest of the campaign on a few million dollars?" has an obvious answer: "He thought he'd raise more, when Iowa and New Hampshire anointed him frontrunner."

This was a fatal flaw in the campaign - they believed their own press. Dean was so out of touch that he had not prepared a concession speech in Iowa, a state where his third place finish was so bad that if he'd gotten every single Gephardt vote as well, he would still have been in third place, and would still have been double digits behind Kerry.

This is the question within the question. Out here, we had an excuse (albeit a flimsy one) for believing Dean was the frontrunner: it's what we read in the papers. But campaigns don't just use the pollsters, their field operations also keep their own numbers. And for Dean to blow all his cash and then not even prepare for anything other than victory means their internal numbers predicted certain victory as well.

The irony here is rich: Dean spent much of his campaign blasting Bush for relying on faulty intelligence to make decisions and for failing to plan ahead for postwar Iraq. Moreover, his party has hung a lot of importance on corporate scandals and the burst of the tech bubble, both of which were grounded in some way in wildly optimistic overestimates of profitability. And after all that, it turns out that Dean himself was the one who was guilty of the very things he charged the president with: he fell for bad information and didn't have a contingency plan in place if things went badly.

Of course, there's a counter to all this: that Dean's implosion was all about Dean's own statements piling up against him, while events outside his control (i.e., the capture of Saddam) worked to undercut the thrust of his case. And you can argue that, given what a longshot Dean was to start with, it made eminent sense for Dean to pursue a high-risk, no-fallback-position strategy aimed at crushing the opposition in the first two contests (in fact, John Kerry has succeeded by pursuing the same strategy). But the fact is, Dean believed his own BS, and he paid for it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:47 PM | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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