Back From the Brink

Then again, maybe they can…

Last week saw some of the most serious Democratic infighting — and Republican glee — of the primary season, as the Democratic nominees tore into one another. There were some unfortunate noises about whose supporters would go where.

Fortunately, it looks like everyone’s back on the reservation:

DEAN: Sure, this is to all the candidates. I have repeatedly said, because we’ve got to beat George Bush, that I will vigorously support the nominee of the Democratic Party. And I will vigorously encourage all my supporters to do the same. I will campaign for the Democratic nominee of this party, should it not be me.

And I’d like to find out who on this stage agrees that they will pledge to vigorously support the Democratic nominee.



The laughter and applause came when every candidate in attendance (Clark and Sharpton were absent) raised his or her hand. You can see the video on C-Span. Sure, a hand or two may have come down pretty fast, but overall it was a wonderful moment. Dean took a chance to take a shot at another contender and turned it into a chance for Democrats to show their unity. The others rose to the occasion admirably.

This was a moment the party needed, and an attitude that all the candidates need to sustain. While moments in the debate certainly got rough, there was a renewed focus on Bush. Statements along the lines of “your plan will be better than Bush’s, BUT…” made a welcome return. Damning with faint praise (and saying someone’s better than Dubya certainly qualifies) is a quite reasonable tactic for a primary, even one of this importance. It reinforces the point that while all the candidates consider themselves better choices than the others, any of them would be better than what we’ve got.

And that is a message of overwhelming importance to all the candidates right now. Eventually, one of them will be the nominee, and the others will have to either support that nominee or find new jobs. Rove is already planning attack ads based on statements by some of the Democratic candidates, which is a bad sign. That the Republicans feel secure in publicly gloating over their opportunity to do so isn’t any better.

We have to expect the process of nominating a presidential candidate to be vigorous, even bruising at times. As many members of the current crop have mentioned, the general election is shaping up to be the most vicious, brutal campaign in recent (if not living) memory — and the Democrats haven’t even started voting in the primaries yet. Whoever carries the standard for the party is going to have to stand up to incredibly savage attacks and a singularly unfriendly media environment. That’s going to take one tough customer.

Handing the Republicans ammunition, however, is simply beyond the pale. There is quite simply no excuse for it, and it’s good to see the candidates themselves realize it (even if it took grassroots pressure to send the message). Let’s hope the fight stays relatively clean through March, because when April comes along we’ll need our hip-waders. By then, we’ll know who the Democratic nominee is — and so will Rove.

(/) Roland X

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