Kondracke: Gore, Dean Form ‘Anti-Clinton’ Party, Well Left of Center

Posted December 11, 2003 at 10:38am

“We need to remake the Democratic Party,” former Vice President Al Gore declared Tuesday in endorsing ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination. What did he mean by that?

[IMGCAP(1)] Judging by where Gore has been and where he’s heading, “remaking” the party means tearing it away from the winning formula established by his old mentor, former President Bill Clinton.

Clinton was a “new Democrat,” a “triangulator,” a centrist who could steal issues from the Republicans and appeal to Southerners and moderates as well as the traditional Democratic base vote.

Gore, too, once was a moderate, a founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and a hawk on foreign policy. He’s been moving left ever since he won the Democratic nomination in 2000, and that’s culminated now in his partnership with Dean.

Old Clinton hands think that Gore’s endorsement — in Harlem, where Clinton has his office — was also a down payment on a possible second run for president in 2008, as an opponent of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Later Tuesday in Iowa, boiling over with emotion, Gore declared that “this nation has never in our two centuries made a worse foreign policy mistake than what George W. Bush made in putting our troops into that quagmire in Iraq.

“It was a horrible misjudgment. And therefore, it is not a minor matter to me that the candidate for the nomination of my party that had the good judgment, experience and sense to feel and see and articulate the right choice was Howard Dean.”

Dean was not only different from other major 2004 candidates in opposing the war — he also differed from Sen. Clinton, who voted to authorize President Bush to go to war and then voted for the $87 billion to finance occupation and reconstruction operations in the aftermath.

The Senator appears to be setting herself up as a presidential candidate — like her husband — who can appeal to both the Democratic base that comprises 30-odd percent of the electorate and the independent 40 percent that it takes to win general elections.

Following Gore on the Harlem program, Dean made it clear that he’s mainly about solidifying the base, not reaching out to independents.

“In 2002, we lost a lot of races in the Democratic Party because we decided that we were going to go to the swing votes and we were going to try to get them and our base was going to come along later on,” Dean said.

“I think it’s important in this campaign that we recognize those people who were with us all along,” he said. “And so we made a conscious decision to start with women, to start with the African-American community, to start with the trade union movement,” as opposed to following what he said was the losing strategy of voting 85 percent of the time with Bush.

Dean has based his entire nomination strategy on being the anti-Bush, the vessel of Democratic hatred for the president. Gore, too, has steadily become more acerbic toward Bush.

In February 2002, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Bush’s State of the Union message declaring Iraq, Iran and North Korea an “axis of evil,” Gore spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and said, “there is value in calling evil by its name.”

He went on to say that, as to Iraq, “a final reckoning … should be on the table,” provided that “this time, if we resort to force, we must absolutely get it right. … Failure cannot be an option.”

Steadily, though, Gore has been more militantly against the war and against Bush, accusing him in one speech of “a systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty.”

And, in another speech, Gore said the Bush administration was “determined to use fear as a political tool to consolidate its power and escape any accountability for its use.”

At the Democratic National Convention in 2000, Gore stopped being a Clintonian centrist and became a “people versus the powerful” populist. His only nod to the center was the naming of Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) as his running mate.

Lieberman aides noted that Lieberman found out he was Gore’s choice from media reports then — just as he found out about Gore’s endorsement of Dean.

On NBC’s “Today” show, Lieberman correctly observed that “Al Gore is endorsing somebody who has taken positions that are diametrically opposite to what Al himself has said he believed over the years … strong on defense, for tax cuts and against walls of protectionism that take away jobs.”

Gore, the 2000 populist, nearly won the presidential election. Could Dean do the same, appealing only to the Democratic base vote and simply bringing more base-like voters — young, computer-savvy liberals — to the polls?

Pundits say that Dean will do more than that — that, once nominated, he’ll move to the center on budgets, defense and health care. But that’s going to be hard to do. After all, he’s declared that he will repeal all of Bush’s tax cuts, even for the middle class.

It looks to me as though the Dean-Gore party is stuck far to the left side of the political spectrum and that it will take Hillary Clinton, of all people, to drag it back to the center.