George Will

Dean's conceit that he represents ``the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" is a reprise of what Harry Truman supposedly said (apocrypha encrusts his legend; the Truman presidential library cannot confirm this aphorism) to disparage Democrats who were insufficiently combative: Give people a choice between a Republican and a Republican and they will pick the Republican every time. Dean's mantra also echoes Barry Goldwater's boast that he offered ``a choice, not an echo."

Dean knows that he must strike early in the process, for two reasons. First, early on, the ideologically high-octane activists are apt to be a larger proportion of participants in the nominating process than later on. Second, there might not be a later on.

Given the compression of the nomination process, the Democratic nominee probably will be known seven months from now. In 2000, when Bush lost New Hampshire to John McCain, he immediately fell behind McCain in South Carolina. But Bush had 18 days to overtake McCain before South Carolina voted. This year South Carolina votes seven days after New Hampshire. If Dean wins Iowa and New Hampshire, the wave of free media on which he will be surfing could flood South Carolina.

To those who call him ``polarizing," Dean can respond: How do you polarize a polarized electorate? Some in the White House believe that true independents -- those whose votes really are up for grabs, as distinguished from those who call themselves independents but almost always vote one way -- are only about 7 percent of the electorate.

If so, the 2004 election, even more than most elections, will turn on the parties' abilities to turn out their committed supporters. And some in the White House say they are beginning to worry about Dean because he understands that venting may be a practical precursor to governing: Venting energizes the party's base.

That is why some in the White House say they worry that Dean might be an especially dangerous opponent. But, then, Brer Rabbit said, ``Please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in that briar patch."


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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