Friday, July 11, 2003

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John B. Judis, Meet Leon Trotsky

In Salon today, John Judis argues that Howard Dean would get mauled if he became the Democratic nominee:

To put it in regional terms: Dean, a culturally libertarian New Englander who opposed the war, could virtually forget about winning any Southern or border states. Southerners are willing to support a Southern Democrat like Clinton with whom they can identify, but they will not vote for a Dukakis or Dean. Dean would not simply get trounced in the South: His candidacy would allow Bush to take the entire South for granted and move all his resources into states like Michigan and Pennsylvania that the Democrats have to win. In the end, Dean would be lucky to hold on to Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, D.C., Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington.

Wouldn't the other candidates do just as poorly? If Bush's popularity remains high, they might also be trounced. If, however, the economy continues to falter, and if Americans become skeptical about the benefits of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a Democrat could defeat Bush -- though only if the election pivots on Bush's successes and failures and not on the qualifications of his Democratic opponent. The Democrats would be much better off in that case with a blander, more faceless, less exciting Kerry, Gephardt or even Lieberman (perhaps with Edwards, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, or retired Gen. Wesley Clark as running mate) than they would be with a fiery, controversial Dean.

Is Judis correct? Possibly, but that's not what interests me. What's puzzling about the essay is that Judis argued last year, in The Emerging Democratic Majority with Ruy Teixeira, that over the next decade the same demographic groups that are pushing Dean forward will make the Democrats the majority party (click here for their web site)

How does Judis reconciles this argument with what he says about Dean in Salon? Frankly, it's not clear to me that he does. Here's the key graf on this:

As the proportion of professionals in the workforce grows -- driven by the transition from an industrial to a postindustrial capitalism -- a candidate like Dean may eventually command a majority of the national electorate. Positions that now seem maverick -- like Dean's support for civil unions -- will eventually become mainstream, as women's rights and support for environmental protection have become. If Dean himself can gather a modicum of support from blue-collar and minority Democrats, he might even be able to win the Democratic nomination for president and face George W. Bush in the general election. The Democratic field this year is pretty mediocre. But if that does happen, it could lead to a long and unhappy fall for Democrats. Some of the factors that make Dean attractive to Democrats will not endear him to independent and Republican voters.

The implicit argument seems to be that the emerging Democratic majority is still emerging, and until that happens, someone of Dean's ilk will fare poorly in a national election. Wait until 2008, or 2012, and things will be different.

Maybe that's a correct assessment (although David Brooks makes a different demographic prediction). However, I kept flashing back to what one of Trotsky's biographers once said: "Proof of Trotsky's farsightedness is that none of his predictions have come true yet."

posted by Dan on 07.11.03 at 11:54 AM