January 28, 2004

Watching C-SPAN So You Don’t Have To

There was a lot of blood in New England this week, but you wouldn't know from the C-SPAN coverage of Campaign '04. The Democratic primary endured another high-profile orgy of retail politics in New Hampshire, as last week's Iowa upset by Big John Kerry gave way to another Kerry win, albeit with a reshuffled deck of also-rans in the winter snows underneath him. The numbers went like this: Kerry 39%, Dean 26%, Clark 14%, Edwards 13%, Lieberman 9%, Kucinich 2%.

Kerry's double-digit stompilation of Howard Dean may have sealed the Doctor's fate, but Dean has so far refused to drop out, and is still making noise about a turnaround on Super Tuesday. All the projection in the world won't help him now, though- initial polling pointed to a finish like this, but a delusional few still held out hope that Dean could close the gap to single digits and force Kerry to feign breaking a sweat. Deaniac desires were ultimately dashed, however, and the Doctor's supporters are now fanning out across the land, looking for someone to blame besides themselves and their candidate.

The real fight in New Hampshire was on the undercard, between John Edwards (coming in off a 2nd place finish in Iowa), Wesley Clark, and Joe Lieberman (both of whom skipped Iowa to concentrate their efforts here). The Carolina senator held his own for most of the night, but when the final numbers rolled in they favored the general, and Edwards was pummeled by the hated and feared "electability" meme. The exact meaning of that term has been slowly coagulating into a definition resembling militarized self-righteousness, as if voters seem to believe that the best way to take on George Bush is to offer up a candidate who actually saw combat.

This seemed a bit oversimplified to my elitist liberal brain, so Brian and I argued briefly over the quantity of bullshit coursing through the bowels of "electability," and my genius guitarist observed that perception, in this case "perceived electability," holds a voodoo-like sway over so-called "Flyover Country." We sneered in unison at our own cleverness, and finished our conversation beating up on Joe Lieberman.

"He's behaving like a crazy old lady," laughed Brian, phoning it in from San Francisco, "like some inverted, Faulknerian she-troll that keeps a decaying corpse of Scoop Jackson in her attic."

"Totally," I replied. "Only in the world of Lieberman-gothic would we ever hear a crime against English like the word 'Joementum."

After we hung up I pondered some more confusing minutiae. For instance, throughout the week Kerry kept insisting that he was not the frontrunner and kept campaigning like he was fifteen points down, as if he could almost smell the inevitable media barbs that always aim for Number One. Kerry further insulated himself behind a phalanx of veterans, who manned the phone banks on his behalf, repeating to anyone within earshot that "outsider anger" was a losing formula that would drag the party back into the wilderness of defeat.

There seemed to be something to that, of course, what with Dean's pathetic finish in the face of the Kerry campaign's last-minute push in Manchester. The senator's victory speech slipped into incoherence far less so than after Iowa, and according to the babbling dingbats on CNN, he will now seek to replenish his weary, but winning, organization with an injection of cash. New England is Kerry's home turf, and it will look like a blissful winter wonderland compared to the wholesale-hell he'll have to deal with come Super Tuesday. February 3 is still make-or-break time for everyone left standing, winners included.

No one is counting on that more than Howard Dean. Back in the ditch of his own making, the Doctor did penance for his bronze finish in Iowa by squirming his way through a wretched interview with Diane Sawyer, who honed in like a vulture on Dean's media-exaggerated temper, asking multiple inane questions of Dean and his wife Judy. It was an excruciatingly dull piece of television, and it should be an insult to women everywhere that Dean's numbers in that demographic seemingly rose on the merits of Sawyer's dumb fixations alone. Once free of the studio, the Doctor calmly outlined his stump speech at a “Women For Dean” rally: condensed by a spokesman to "universal healthcare, responsible foreign policy, better environmental policy, and reigning in the president’s failed economic plan." Dean made several other squeamish, supposedly “kinder, gentler” appearances like this during the week, which only made him look like a craven sucker once the final tally came in.

Dean's other bugaboo is the evaporation of his 2003 surge, which is now basically worthless after every other candidate overtook him in anti-war fervor. They're all wanking furiously, though; if Democratic primary voters really believe that the best way to fix Iraq is through a "responsible" war effort short of anything but full withdrawal, they deserve these jokers. Cleaning up after George Bush's utter stupidity won't be a glamorous job, gentlemen, but those Democrats feeling duped at their willingness to give Bush the benefit of the doubt are now aligning with the candidates who apparently feel the same way- Kerry and Edwards. Dean’s problem now: if the Vermont governor can’t win next door, where can he win? Dean has to pick up one or maybe two wins next week, or all the money in the world won’t push him into March.

The show position ended up being such a collection of mediocrity that I can't even expend worthy vomit on it. Wesley Clark had NH to himself during the Iowa caucases, but his brutal hazing began swiftly, and he barely held on to a 3rd place finish. John Edwards, whose campaign visibly gathered steam all week, is set to bounce form here to South Carolina, and will give Clark a few cheap migraines down there. Clark’s problem is based on the fact that all the reasons to like him are shared with another candidate: Southerner? So is Edwards. Strong on national security? So is Kerry. "Outsider?" So is Dean. Clark insists that he can yoke gullible conservative voters, but theoretically so can Lieberman. If voters like any of those reasons, so far they’ve shown a modicum of cerebral forethought and chosen the other guy, not the General.

Joe Lieberman predictably failed to make a decent showing for all his time spent in NH, and if he stays in the race til next week he may win in Delaware (where he’s been polling well) but is toast on the national stage. Speaking of burn-outs- in the concurrent Republican NH primary, Bush won, of course, but the striking thing was how many Republicans wrote in their choices, and those choices happened to be any one of the top 5 Democrats. Kerry, Dean, Edwards, Clark, and Lieberman all scored at least 100-500 write-in votes from NH Republicans. Chimpy McFlightsuit has been having trouble with both the "moderate" and “independent” Republicans (who apparently enjoy yanking Bush's chain) and this is now borne out (admittedly on a small scale) in his first primary.

If you can take even more cynicism, try this: the two guys who have done well in the past 2 weeks are “Washington insiders” Kerry and Edwards, to the point where speculation has begun centering on a Kerry/Edwards ticket. At this point, after only 2 contests, that sounds absurd, because the February calendar isn’t exactly merciless:

Feb. 3: AZ, DE, MO, NM, ND, OK, SC
Feb 7: MI, WA
Feb 8: ME
Feb 10: VA, TN
Feb 14: Wash DC, NV
Feb 17: WI
Feb 24: ID, UT, HI

So, retail campaigns will be horribly fucked as the campaign devolves into a mass-media blitz, especially next week. The dropouts will fall soon, and fall hard. Splatter is inevitable, gang. Stay tuned.

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