I haven't decided whom to support yet in 2004, but Howard Dean sure pisses off the right people, don't he? Dean is the principal example that truth-tellers tend to be a very unpopular sort, at least at first. He's not even close to being as liberal as McGovern was in 1972 (he's not even close to Gore in 2000), he's much closer to the center on most issues than the incumbent President, but he has incurred a level of irrational hatred not seen in American politics since, well, Bill Clinton. The statements that have gotten him into trouble recently (that even Osama is entitled to the presumption of innocence, that the capture of Hussein hasn't made America more safe from terrorism, etc.) are attacked not because they are false (I mean, we're still in an Orange terror alert, and now we're supposed to be paranoid of men with almanacs) but because, regrettably, they are true.
It would feel great to capture OBL alive, then whack him; after all, he has admitted to planning 9/11. But Dean, ironically for someone who is the first major Presidential frontrunner since Reagan to be neither an attorney nor a businessman, knows that false confessions are a dime a dozen in our legal system, and that a fair trial is the only way to establish an accurate historical record of the most grievous injury suffered by our nation in decades. And even supporters of the Iraqi adventure now concede that it had only an incidental relationship to the "war" on terrorism; the justifications we now hear have to do with what a bad actor Saddam Hussein was, which wasn't the argument we were using when trying to bully our allies into this war.
Increasingly, political correctness (or to use the term popular with chickenbloggers, "anti-idiotarianism") has become a weapon used by the right to marginalize dissenting voices. As it did when that same weapon was utilized against conservative student groups and newspapers, though, it has not silenced those voices but given them strength, a feeling that blunt, unpopular truths carry enormous power.
As I said, I don't know if I will vote for Dean in the California primary, which is only about ten weeks away. The anger he has used so effectively to rally the ideologues behind his banner will not help him in the general election (just as it didn't help Barry Goldwater in 1964), but it may well be what the Party needs in the long run. Since 1980, the Democrats have acted in much the same way the Los Angeles Dodgers have the last 25 years, not taking risks and attempting to muzzle anything that sounds remotely unpopular. As with the Dodgers, their occasional successes on the field obscure the fact that the world has changed; the Republicans control politics at every level, from the government to the judiciary to the media, and the old way of doing things doesn't work. In that sense, Tom DeLay is the Billy Beane of politics, someone who has an edge on the rest of us because he knows a new way of doing things that works, and who also knows that the other side hasn't caught on yet.
Clinton, G-- bless him, used a very effective strategy in uniting the base while picking off centrist, and even some right-leaning, voters, but it all but killed the Democrats down-ticket. Dean is popular with Democrats precisely because he understands that attempting to compromise with a foe that wants to fight an all-out war isn't moderation, it's appeasement. Win or lose come November, 2004, he may be the person to start the rebuilding process that has been delayed for too long.