my pissant two cents

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

the gauntlet is thrown

although he didn't come right out and say it, former vermont governor howard dean made his intentions known today; he wants to lead the democratic party out of its doldrums and into a successful future.

in a speech at george washington university, dean spoke out about the future of the democratic party, and what it needs to do to build on its success, learn from its failure, and lead into the future. in short, he staked his claim to the party chairmanship. and he did so in a fantastic fashion. had he had half of dean's gift for firing up a crowd, john kerry would be picking his secretary of agriculture today. but that's another story....

and more power to howard dean, i say. the man can flat-out go. snake-handling tent preachers have nothing on the good doctor in the field of rhetoric. give yourself a treat and read a transcript of his statement. (check it out at

in case you don't want to look at it, here's a summary: the republicans have failed, and the democrats have failed to call them on it. democratic ideals resonate with middle america-- even red state america-- if democrats make the effort to speak directly and candidly about the party's goals. when democrats try to act like republicans, they lose. when democrats try to be everything to everyone, they lose. when democrats work with grassroots movements, they win.

and, most importantly is this, for which paraphrase will not suffice: "the way we will rebuild the democratic party is not from consultants down, but from the ground up."

if that doesn't set your progressive blood at least on simmer, you are either dead or karl rove. who is not dead. he's the undead.

dean spoke specifically about committing to every voter in every precinct. that's a mighty highfalutin goal. but nevertheless, it's a good idea. it's a small-ball way to win. the democrats have long relied on the late-inning home run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. but lately, mighty casey hasn't gotten the bat off his shoulder, outside of john kerry's warning track power. what dean advocates is building support from the lowest levels of government, like city councils and school baords.

this is nothing new. the right made this move 15 years ago. when the religious right helped put bush 1 into office in 1989, and he failed to kowtow to their agenda, they moved to build a wide base at lower levels of government and percolate their influence upward. it worked.

(aside: i once interviewed a school board member in queens, a right-wing aparatchik with no children, who strove zealously to change the history curriculum to include books like the wonderfully alliterative columbus and cortez, crusaders for christ. it stood for the proposition that killing those indigenous people who weren't coerced into loving jesus did their savage souls a favor.)

no less a light than eleanor clift, newsweek's liberal pundit who regularly gets things right (which marginalizes her far more severely than her politics), is in favor of a dean chairmanship of the d.n.c. like a lot of people, she blames the washington insiders who guided kerry's campaign for the loss. like a lot of people, she took a shine to dean's plain-spoken criticism of bush and his stupid, stupid war. but she's got a good view of the chess match that's playing out behind the scenes.

others, like hans nichols of the hill, the ultra-insider political newsletter, have contingencied the issue to death. there are plenty of people willing to take the party chair, but what will they do with it? according to nichols, the fight will come down to dean and whomever the party bosses can get to run against him. a likely candidate is longtime democratic operative and former clinton staffer harold ickes, who has had his fingers in many pies over the years. nichols argues that a dean/ickes fight opens the door for a darkhorse candidate, one who can satisfy the middle-ground delegates on the committee.

strangely enough, dean's colleagues among the governors of the several states have not come out to back him. as i pointed out last week, they have called for a more moderate, republican-lite leader for the party. their alignment with the democratic leadership council and others looking to box out the left wing of the party could kill dean's run as effectively as they killed his presidential campaign.

should the democrats succeed in keeping dean out of the party machinery, they may very well be signing their death warrant. the democrats' failure is a long-running slide, clinton notwithstanding. (but then, clinton was a republican in all but social issues-- pro-business, pro-nafta, pro-welfare "reform" is the clinton legacy.) it's like getting devoured by a caterpillar. the first thousand bites or so don't really matter, but eventually you're dead.

the democrats need a leader to take up the fight and take it to the republicans' door. if howard dean can't be that leader, the democrats desperately need to find someone who can.


  • go Dean go--he was lambasted for his comment that Southern guys driving pickups with Confederate flags on their bumpers should be targets of the Democrats, and this most recent election proved his point. He also was called an idiot because he said Saddam Hussein's capture didn't make Americans any safer--again, he was correct. He's got skills to really fire up grass roots organizations, and would make a great DNC chair.

    By Blogger geoff, at 5:25 PM  

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