By the time the Democrats’ national committeemen chose Howard Dean as their chairman this weekend, they had no choice. All the other candidates for the top DNC post had dropped out. But the meeting’s non-choice will probably prove to be a poor one.
To understand Dean’s significance in this new role, one must grasp the significance both of Dean himself and of the DNC position.
First, Dean is not the freak that many think he is. He was unfairly maligned by the Democratic establishment and the liberal media for his insurgent presidential campaign last year — which was really a campaign against them, and not against Bush.
People now point to Dean’s famous scream after the loss of the Iowa caucuses as the cause of his undoing. But in fact Dean was already doomed well before that moment of exuberance gave him his freakish place in the public mind.
Dean’s presidential candidacy was sabotaged before Iowa, by Democratic players who now openly discuss the events of last year. Dean, they came to understand, was not the man to beat Bush. One committeeman explained to me at the Washington meeting this weekend that America is a fundamentally patriotic nation, and that Democrats could not afford to field a candidate with Dean’s strident and un-nuanced anti-war rhetoric. Many felt that it almost smacked of sedition, and it wouldn’t play well with the public.
Moreover, Dean’s injudicious comments on Middle Eastern affairs and Israel alienated many Jews — a vital part of the Democrats’ traditional coalition that was being actively wooed by President Bush. Eventual nominee John Kerry presented the Jewish community with serious doubts, but Dean would probably have sent them over the edge to the Republicans.
For better or worse, the money-men and the party faithful joined forces to kill Dean’s candidacy for President before the Iowa caucuses. But in the DNC race, they could not team up effectively to stop him from becoming chairman.
The man to stop Dean should have been Martin Frost, a moderate former congressman from Texas who is still liberal enough to win support from Democratic stalwarts. But Frost could not nail down the support he needed because he is a personal enemy of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She did everything in her power to stop him, and as a result, Democrats could not unify to prevent a Dean chairmanship. Dean triumphed easily over a fractured opposition.
The Chairman’s Role
But what is expected of him now? What does a chairman actually do? Contrary to much of the media coverage on this race, the chairman does not make policy or determine the party’s direction. Even the task of party-building is mostly for state and local parties and individual candidates.
Think of Joe Andrew, Ed Gillespie, and Terry McAuliffe. If you haven’t heard of any of them, you are not alone. Today’s chairmen are not great minds or great leaders, but rather lapdogs for the party’s officeholders. They have two jobs: they raise tons of money, and they show up on television to toe the party line and attack the opposition. The chairman, then, is part fundraiser, part spokesman.
Dean is exactly the wrong man for both of these jobs, and the Democrats who don’t understand this now will understand it soon enough.
As he begins his chairmanship, Dean is already well known by American voters, but not well-liked. He has an unfavorable rating of 38 percent and a favorable rating of only 31 percent. Such a net negative rating normally signals the beginning of the end of someone’s career. In this case, it signals the beginning of a disastrous new career for Dean. By a seven-point margin, Dean will automatically discredit any point of view he voices in public. Not a good start.
Dean also faces a lose-lose decision on how to frame himself. If he tries to moderate his image, he could well disappoint his radical supporters. On the other hand, he could engage in a bloody, costly tug-of-war with other powerful Democrats over the new direction of the party. That would be even worse.
Moreover, the man has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a loose cannon, prone to do and say stupid things. His staff implicitly acknowledged this fact by hiding him from the press throughout this weekend’s events.
So much for a “party spokesman.”
In the role of fundraiser, Dean may seem impressive because of his massive Internet fund drive during the Presidential primaries. But think again. Dean’s donors last year were the hundreds of thousands of disaffected left-wingers who believed that by supporting Dean, they had a chance to re-define Democratic politics in their own image.
They were cheated. Not only did the party’s leaders squash Dean like a bug and replace him with the uninspiring John Kerry, but Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi also robbed them blind. His firm took more than $7 million of the money they had contributed over the Internet.
Now Dean — without Trippi’s brains, connections, or aptitude — will have to come back to these same contributors, hat in hand, asking for contributions to prop up the same establishment he had once threatened to destroy. Will they want to give money this time? Big question mark. As for the old-line money-men — the big players who traditionally fund the Democratic Party — they are clearly uneasy with Dean.
What does it all mean? All I know is I’ve got my “Dean for Chairman” T-shirt, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Karl Rove has one as well.
David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles