Conventional Distortion

David Broder, alternatively heralded as the Dean of the Washington Press Corps or the Standard Bearer of Conventional Wisdom, is really stretching logic in his column in today’s Washington Post. It’s not quite an attack on Dean, but it’s a clearly intentional distortion of facts that’s fairly obviously intended to belittle Howard Dean’s support and advance GOP strategy.

First, Broder comments on Dean’s prodigious lead in New Hampshire (38% Dean, 21% Kerry, 11% Clark), and then adds this:

By contrast, Dean was essentially tied with Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri among prospective Iowa caucus-goers.

Is that really such a contrast? Iowa is tailor-made for Dick Gephardt (he has the backing of Iowa unions, has long professed his love of ethanol, is from a neighboring state, and won the Iowa caucus when he ran in 1988). Sure, Dean also supports ethanol, but I doubt that Dean ever addressed the issue until this year (you can’t win in Iowa if you’re not big on ethanol, which in no small part explains Lieberman and Clark skipping Iowa). The point: being tied with Gephardt in Iowa is quite an accomplishment for a governor from the Northeast. But this point is minor in comparison to Broder’s next bit of silly reasoning:

Since Dean has emphasized his early opposition to the war in Iraq as his calling card in the race, it is easy to assume that his antiwar stand and his criticism of Lieberman, Gephardt, Kerry and Edwards for supporting the resolution authorizing the use of force must account for his strong showing — especially in New Hampshire.


[snip–Broder talking about how New Hampshire is not a pacifist hippy commune]

The fact that Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire are not reflexively opposed to our involvement in Iraq is underlined by the poll finding that, by a margin of 54 percent to 38 percent, they favor a nominee who “reluctantly supports” Bush’s $87 billion aid request over one who opposes it — while Iowa and South Carolina voters lean slightly the other way.

If it’s not his early antiwar stand that is powering Dean, what explains his lead in the Jan. 27 primary? The Democracy Corps poll strongly suggests it is the fact that the New Hampshire primary electorate — including many of those independents — is overwhelmingly liberal on social issues on which Dean has identified himself. By a margin of 76 percent to 18 percent, they favor civil unions giving gay couples the same legal rights as married couples. Dean signed the first such law as governor of Vermont. Two-thirds of those likely to vote in New Hampshire also approve of gay marriage.


In short, it is cultural forces — far more than anything else — that explain Dean’s appeal in New Hampshire, forces that may tug the other way when the race moves to more typical battleground states.

Get it? New Hampshire voters like Dean in spite of his Iraq position! Broder intentionally conflates Dean’s pre-war opposition with “reflexive opposition to our involvement in Iraq.” Wrong. That’s Dennis Kucinic’s view, not Dean’s. Broder says that New Hampshirites’ views on Iraq differ from Dean’s, but let’s listen to Howard Dean, in his own words:

DEAN: We have no choice [but to approve the $87 billion for Iraq], but it has to be financed by getting rid of all the president’s tax cuts. Even though I did not support the war in the beginning, I think we have to support our troops. The $87 billion ought to come from the excessive and extraordinary tax cuts that this president foisted upon us, that mainly went to people like Ken Lay who ran Enron.

That sounds a lot like, perhaps even exactly like, “reluctant support” to me.

Broder wants you to think New Hampshirites like Dean primarily because he is in favor of gay marriage. Why would Broder bend, stretch, and distort to make such a point? Apparently, because the GOP wants him to. From Saturday’s Washington Post:

Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are making plans to turn gay marriage into a major issue in next year’s elections … Party strategists said the issue could be a bonanza for mobilizing conservatives to fund campaigns and turn out to vote, particularly in the South.

Note that I agree with Atrios, that this position may cost the Democratic candidate some votes, but that they “can’t out-gaybait the Republicans” and that they should therefore “Do the right thing, and explain why.” My point is that for Broder to claim that this issue is the source of Dean’s support is, at best, feebleminded.


P.S. Speaking of Dean’s avowed support for ethanol subsidies, Matt Y. has an interesting take on Dean’s free trade views: Dean is a free-trader at heart, as evidenced by his record, but he’s paying lip service to protectionist sentiment to keep Gephardt from getting the still-open AFL-CIO endorsement. Matt might be right–Dean just needs to stall till Gephardt drops out. Assuming the field narrows to Dean, Clark, Lieberman, and Kerry, Dean is surely the front-runner for the endorsement.