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Saturday, January 24, 2004

DPR at 9:14 AM [url]:

Dean's Scream

Pardon me for being political here.

Nearly all of the primary coverage these days is talking "inside baseball". Who cares?
The campaign strategy of each candidate is fascinating stuff, but it has darn little to do with what really ought to matter - the candidates' leadership skills and their approach to substantive issues are what really ought to matter.

I heard the "Dean scream" (who hasn't, given the media's treatment of it, calling him "looney" and "overemotional") and thought - this guy is a real person with real feelings. He shares them openly with his team, and sometimes isn't perfectly composed. He's what people told Al Gore to be... Joe Trippi could be Karl Rove for all I know, but unlike Karl's Svengali-for-Bush role, Dean clearly is not just playing it by Trippi's script. So many seem to assume that the measure of a candidate is how he reacts to the polls or performs the role scripted by his team.

I heard Kerry interviewed after the State of the Union on TV, and he was calm, comfortable, and completely artificial. The Stepford candidate with all the right moves programmed in. He's everything one should expect from a candidate - except he has no leadership qualities. He doesn't inspire anyone to "follow him just to find out what he's gonna do." (that's a rough quote from a Colin Powell speech that I really like, about the measure of a real leader.)

Frankly, Wes Clark is a hothouse plant, and it shows. His entire life has been cloistered in the priviliged elite called the career military officer corps. I have some familiarity with that group, having lived on the edge of that world for a large part of my life. They are *clueless* about how life is lived outside the Fortress, and don't understand that the rest of us don't exist for hierarchy, status, and the organization (well, except for a few remaining IBM lifers in its executive suite). He may be brilliant, and even have great ideas, but what does he know about communities where the people you govern don't have a protocol that defines who salutes whom first based on how many stripes you are wearing?

We are, after all, looking to elect a democratic (small d) *leader*. Not just someone glib who says the right things and makes us feel comfortable. A great leader often makes people just a little bit UNcomfortable - he challenges people to do better, makes them curious, makes them eager to join in.

I'm still uncertain about who understands the new democracy, the new politics. But the core of the new politics and democracy still needs to mobilize people, to motivate them, to get them to join together. I see Dean and Edwards as the only guys who have a shot among the current crop. These guys have the human qualities of leaders, and it shows.

[caveat: I accepted an invitation to be on Dean's Network Advisory Network, on the condition that I was not declaring my support for Dean, just my willingness to provide input. I think he's listening. A candidate who listens, not just to me, but to many, many others with something to offer - and then leads from that base, that's something we need more of.]

[caveat 2: John Kerry's staff acknowledged, after his Iraq vote, that he was NOT listening to his constituents, who overwhelmingly opposed his vote, and they acknowledged that he knew it. Others have added that the reason he was not listening was that he was already planning his presidential bid, and made the calculation that seeming "safe" and not "radical" mattered more to him than his constituents' concerns. It made me very angry, because it highlighted his weakness as a leader: That's not leadership. That's ambition without leadership. Ambition helps motivate a leader, but ambition is also the fuel for tyrants and dictators. What makes the difference is not the level of ambition, but how they transform that ambition through their own connections to the people they lead]

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