Round 1 is over. The unstoppable, win-win-win bluster of our favored tough guy detonated back on him. The Iowa voters, in the end, decided they didn't really fancy it. The tough guy warfare ended up taking Dean down a notch and made him the laughingstock of talk radio everywhere with the "Dean Scream." Gebhardt went down with him as Democrats proved again that our status as fighters is NOT our highest priority or value. Would Dean meet the same fate when slugging it out with Bush, who does, after all, have a bigger warchest and the incumbent's advantage? Trading punch for punch with him may not be the winning strategy since the potential for backfire is enormous.
As the illusion of "we need the toughest guy to win" dissolves, many Dean supporters are looking around, wondering if it is time to get behind someone else. Is the damage already irreparable? I've watched this development with a mixture of compassion and hope. Compassion because I know that Dean stands for a lot of positive things and that the feeding frenzy now descending upon him runs the risk of obscuring the extraordinary ways that he has already galvanized positive change. But also hope, because I see a real opportunity for the party as a whole to take off its blinders and see that a slug-fest with Bush may not be the best strategy in 2004.
Creating a winning alternative to Bush is about honoring and celebrating the very virtues that are at the core of the Democrat party and the large mass of progressives who no longer identify with it. It is a philosophy of hope and progress. It is a bold, leading forward into our future. Republicans rule by fear, Democrats lead with hope. Conservatives cling to the past, progressives lean into the future. The visionary torch of the future is what we need more than a burly fighter.
The real problem with the Democrat party, in my opinion, is that it has begun collapsing rightward and "toughening up" out of the inferiority complex created from being out of power at the moment. However, this chisels away at its most enthusiastic and passionate base, the progressive, activist faction that works for our continued evolution as a society.
The Democratic party is most authentic when it positions itself as the party of hope and the future. When it begins to try to imitate the tough-guy, macho rhetoric of the Republicans, it ends up out of integrity with its very raison d'etre - to draw our society forward.
I'm thus quite glad that the illusion of needing to meet and match W on his own turf is starting to dissolve this week and opening the door to a more sensible strategy that is more likely to win.
The winning strategy, I believe, is to choose a candidate who presents the strongest contrast to Bush. Not to be simply anti-Bush, as Dean is, but to stand for an entire platform that is in stark contrast to the welfare-for-the-rich, military build-up, lies, and unilateral aggression that we've been seeing for the last four years. The task is to heighten the difference rather than erase it.
That means using truth more than advertising spin. It means championing those penalized most by Bush's regime. It means being willing to cut the Defense budget and strongly commit America to a path beyond perpetual warfare.
I submit that the candidate who has the MOST viable platform on which to stand to defeat Bush is Dennis Kucinich. Some reasons, in no particular order:
1. Dennis is one of the most optimistic people you could meet and he is focused on inspiring people about what is possible for this country. He carries a strong visionary torch that leads many to liken him to Martin Luther King.
2. Dennis is very committed to being a truth-teller. Ethicists rank him consistently high on integrity. Since one of Bush's Achilles Heels is the way his administration has systematically lied to the country, a strong contrast on integrity is key for the winning ticket.
3. Dennis is extraordinarily intelligent, quick, and funny in debates. He also knows his policies inside and out. He would clearly outclass Bush in a face-to-face match up.
4. Dennis takes a positive stand for peace, a stark contrast to the perpetual war we face now. Unlike the other candidates, he has a plan for getting out of Iraq immediately and moving forward a peace-driven agenda that revives America's standing in the world.
5. Dennis is deeply, authentically spiritual in a way that reaches across religious lines and truly honors people as part of the same global family.
6. Dennis is a strong advocate for universal health care and has a plan to implement it. The vast majority of Americans in recent polls (ranging from 60 -80%) now back this.
7. Dennis has fought corporate misdeeds in a public way, paid a heavy price, and then was ultimately redeemed, which makes him a fearless reformer in that arena.
8. Dennis' Horatio Alger story of starting in abject poverty to run for the President of the United is the ultimate American dream, a stark contrast to the aristrocratic privileges of Bush (as well as Kerry and Dean)
9. Dennis' base of support spans a very wide political spectrum. Large numbers of Greens are re-registering as Democrats in order to vote for him and his base is strong with unions and Reagan Democrats, who respect his integrity, honesty, and blue-collar roots. He now wins with 75% of the vote in what was a heavily Republican Ohio district.
10. Dennis has a campaign that is running in 50 states with a reasonably-sized fundraising effort of almost $10M, despite an almost complete media blackout. His core supporters are passionate and loyal rather than people trying to merely back "the winner."
11. Dennis has a special appeal to artists of all persuasions: musicians, writers, graphic designers, speakers, Flash animators, visual artists. This can become a powerful asset for the Democratic campaign, which will have to draw heavily on alternative sources of media coverage to compensate for Bush's deluge of ads from his $200M warchest. Artists can lend extraordinary power to a campaign and help drive the Internet marketing as well as events that build a sense of a movement.
12. Dennis is quite a fighter, but in his own, unique, respectful way. He has a fearlessness about him, a willingness to speak and lead boldly, to speak the truth that others are afraid to voice. And yet he manages to do so with real respect for whomever he is challenging. THAT is the kind of warrior that we need, not one who matches Bush in muscle but who outperforms him with boldness and fearlessness. That's a different kind of warrior spirit, that goes beyond having a military uniform in the closet.
The only real issue with Dennis' campaign at the moment is the pervasive myth that he is not electable and thus many of his actual, authentic supporters are working on other campaigns. I believe that this myth has been subtly encouraged and perpetuated by precisely the same forces that have the most invested in the status quo. Because if you really step back and see who has a) the most experience at all levels of government and b) the most powerfully contrasting platform, character, and ideology to Bush, it is clearly Dennis. His positions are probably very close to your own
If you don't believe me, take a five-minute test yourself. Most forward-looking progressives I know, when they take it, come out the most aligned with Dennis of any of the candidates. http://www.presidentmatch.com
Instead of saying, "He's not electable," try saying, "Wow, here's a man I can get passionate about since he is offering policies that reflect my authentic views!" When you get passionate, that affects others and ripples outwards. And it's a hell of a lot more fun to be behind someone who actually inspires you as a human being. There's a joy and excitement and sense of destiny in it that goes far beyond being on the team of whomever happens to be winning in the polls at the moment.
I don't fault anyone for the choices they've made or the candidates they've backed until now. We can all dance with others. But when it comes time to choose someone to come home to, someone we really love and are inspired by, I think we're far better off choosing a man who can carry the visionary torch of America forward, out of the haze of lies, war, and greed. There is still plenty of time for the masses to shift to his campaign. In fact, he and Clinton are at similar places in the primary race at the same moment. Clinton was out last "winner" and I believe that Dennis can be our next.
In a democracy, we don't have to have the biggest muscles to win. Truthpower can win the hearts and minds of the masses far more than bluster and advertising spin. Backing a man who stands with extraordinary truth and a passionate belief in our capacity to grow still further as a country may be the best strategy against Bush after all.
For more information about the Kucinich campaign, see: http://www.kucinich.us
Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit (New World Library, 2002), and founder of the Radical Spirit Community. Stephen directed and helped to create the Esalen Institute's Center for Theory & Research, a think tank for leading scholars, researchers, and teachers to explore human potential frontiers. Currently, he serves as the marketing manager for an HR software company called Enwisen, campaigns for Dennis Kucinich and runs workshops. Stephen is developing several new books, including a companion volume to Radical Spirit entitled Radical Spirit in Action, a memoir set in India called In Kali's Garden, a collection of poetry and a novel. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human biology and holds a master's in East-West psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in Op Ed News.