The Dean dilemma was spelled out to me by a sage Democratic practitioner whose views I have sought since 1968. He has felt for months that the former Vermont governor faces horrendous defeat against President Bush. Last week, this party loyalist told me he felt Dean will be nominated unless an act of intervention stops him. He added that he is sure Dean can be stopped but at the cost of unacceptable carnage. Implicitly and reluctantly, therefore, he is swallowing Dean.
The hope inside the Democratic establishment has been that once Dean perceived himself on the road to the nomination, he would pivot sharply toward the center. He may be unable to perform or even attempt this maneuver. He is no ideologue, but he has not outgrown being the smart-aleck kid from Park Avenue with a hard edge. The Democratic savants I have contacted can only shake their heads over his stubborn insistence that Saddam Hussein's capture has not made the country safer.
Most Americans and, indeed, most Democrats are hardly aware of Howard Dean's existence. The national polls that have propelled him well ahead of any other candidate still give him support from only one of four Democrats (slipping slightly after Hussein's capture). He runs far behind Bush in any one-on-one poll.