Since the surprises of the Iowa caucus, positivity is getting some positive press. After his shocking second-place showing, Sen. John Edwards told supporters “America was not built by cynics, America was built by optimists.” Corny, but nice to hear nonetheless. That night on CNN, James Carville apparently praised Edwards as the best stump speaker he’s ever seen, including Bill Clinton. (That was shortly before right-wing pundit and personality Ben Stein called Edwards “The Breck Girl.”)

Howard Dean has a hard time being positive. Or maybe a hard time not being negative. Or maybe he’s just a man of his time and the mobilized base up til now has been the bitter base, the people who didn’t want a war, don’t like the feeling they’re being watched and don’t think the man in the White House is their duly elected leader. Whatever the history, Dean is now facing the cost of his one-note campaign. I’ve been concerned since I saw him live that, in the end, people won’t vote against something – they need to vote for something, no matter how angry they are. In her column last week, Maureen Dowd said “a race rooted mainly in attacking the president may not take Dr. Dean far enough.”

Contrast this with Al Gore’s speech last week here in New York. The press will tell you it was an attack on the president, and it was that. But it was also a tour-de-force of compelling details on the realities of global warming. Gore was able to strike a positive tone that I hadn’t heard from any of the Democratic hopefuls. “We are a can-do nation,” he said.

We brought down communism. We won wars in Europe and the Pacific simulatneously. We enacted the Marshall Plan, found a cure for polio, put men on the moon.
When we set our sights on a visionary goal and we are unified with leadership in pursuing it, there is virtually nothing we cannot accomplish.

It will be interesting to see if anyone in the presidential race can muster this kind of message.