In an incisive analysis in this morning’s New York Times, Robin Toner captures the particular zeitgeist fueling the Democratic candidates and their supporters this time around.

Toner notes that the candidates as a whole are appealing “to a far more polarized, us-against-them electorate” than existed during the centrist Clinton administration and the kinder, gentler 1990’s.

And Toner points out that, even as Howard Dean was losing in Iowa and New Hampshire, he was winning in another way.

In a sense, Toner writes, all of the Democratic candidates have become Howard Dean — or at least adopted his antipathy towards the current administration, his condemnation of the Iraq occupation and his populist demand that it’s time for common folks “to take this country back” from the “special interests” and “corporate cronies” that the Democrats perceive to be running the federal government.

That’s the sort of synthesis that helps readers form a coherent overview of what to date has been a hectic and chaotic primary season.

That kind of deft, insightful “let’s-make-sense-of-all-this-static” observation is the reason that, in an age when so many don’t, we still read newspapers.

— S.L.

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.