Monday, April 25, 2005

Ronald Brownstein Once Predicted Dean Would Win

Ronald Brownstein, a political writer for the Los Angeles Times, remains just as starry-eyed as he was early in 2004, when he predicted that Howard Dean would win the Democratic presidential nomination, even if he lost the Iowa Caucuses.

Brownstein writes a fairly uninteresting column once a week for the Times. Steve Lopez, he is not. Hell, he's not a George Skelton either.

He's been a political writer for a long time now, and occasionally he does have good judgment. The night before the 2004 election, he hinted that George W. Bush would probably win.

But often he wildly overestimates the power of liberal ideas in the current American political spectrum. He's inclined to believe the Internet has changed everything politically, or, if it hasn't, it's about to.

Brownstein is back in the old rut this morning, April 25, saying the Internet could generate a potent Third Party movement in this country, and fairly soon.

He cites Dean's success in raising money on the Internet, and he quotes Dean's old campaign manager, Joe Trippi, as saying that maybe next time, it will be able to ignite a voter's surge for a Third Party.

Well, I confess that as a Times political writer I occasionally indulged in Third Party fantasties as well. Once I went up to Oregon to interview a former governor who had Third Party thoughts. Of course, nothing came of them. The Third Parties in American history have sometimes had men of talent as their candidates, like the socialist Norman Thomas, but usually they were well out of the political mainstream. Henry Wallace comes to mind as a Third Party candidate who did far less well than predicted in 1948. Even George Wallace fell short of his potential.

The two-party system has, in fact, often proved to have resilience in the nation, in part, as Brownstein to his credit does mention this morning, because the electoral college voting system tends to keep Third Parties from assembling the critical mass necessary to win.

What usually happens is that when one party takes a bath, as the Democrats did last year, it develops new faces, or the political situation changes, and the party in power falters.

We saw that after the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Some predicted the demise of the Republican party after Lyndon Johnson won so handily, and Goldwater carried only the Deep South and Arizona. But then Johnson sent a half a million troops to Vietnam, and Reagan emerged as a new face in the Republican party. The very next election, the old Republican standby, Richard M. Nixon, won the presidency, and Reagan was already governor of California, in waiting for the presidency.

No, Brownstein is not apt to be right with his Third Party prediction. And, in his career at the L.A. Times, he hasn't even been right in predicting developments at the paper. He was one of the few members of the Washington bureau who wouldn't sign the petition questioning the policies of CEO Mark Willes shortly before Willes had the paper sold out from underneath him to the Tribune Co.

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