February 06, 2005

Choosing Howard Dean

David Brooks "congratulates" the Democrats on their nearly-certain choice of Howard Dean to chair the DNC, and blames Dean's mystifying ascendancy on what what he calls the "university town elite."

Howard Dean may not be as liberal as he appeared in the primaries, but in 1,001 ways - from his secularism to his stridency - he embodies the newly dominant educated class, which is large, self-contained and assertive.

Thanks to this newly dominant group, the Democrats are sure to carry Berkeley for decades to come.

Many Republicans besides Brooks, including Tom DeLay, seem to share this opinion of Dean:
"After 10 years, you wonder if Democrats are running out of ways to say no," said Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader. "But then again, if they make Howard Dean the party chairman, I guess you could scream it."

Stupidity, the saying goes, is continuing to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Despite this Republican hooting from the sidelines, the Democrats are making a smart choice in the wake of yet another national electoral defeat at the hands of George W. Bush. The reasons are below the fold.

Applied to the Democrats, it would be stupid for them to continue to follow the lead of the party's entrenched leaders in Washington, many of whom are now opposing Howard Dean for many of the reasons Brooks mentions. What results have these leaders produced? Cave-ins on tax cuts. Cave-ins on the invasion of foreign countries. Too little resistance to the worst of the abuses in the "war on terror."

Most importantly, what electoral results have the entrenched Democratic leaders produced? A second term for one of the most radically right-wing presidents ever, and virtually unprecedented Republican control of all three branches of the national government.

You can't argue with results. The national Democratic leadership hasn't produced many (any?) good ones. The "centrist" Democrats--i.e. those who claim credit for Clinton and paint his Presidency as a golden age for the Democrats--are as responsible for the successes of George W. Bush as Karl Rove is. Their eagerness to move to the "center" (i.e., rightward) shares responsibility with Rove's audacity and aggressiveness for creating a climate wherein Bush's radicalism seems reasonable. Howard Dean only looks like an extremist in an environment completely dominated by the extreme right wing.

Anyone who scours our recent history for signs of Democratic life finds two small successes--one of them due in large part to Howard Dean, and the other something that Dean has vowed to encourage and support.

The first success is the mobilization of individual donors and voters. The Dean campaign showed the Democrats how to raise staggering amounts of money in small sums from many people, and energized the grass-roots of the party after years of condescending neglect from the Clintonistas. Brooks chooses to dismiss these small donors as the "university-town elite," but that's disingenuous. It was thanks in large part to the energy of Howard Dean's primary campaign that the national campaign was even close.

The second success is the election of Democrats to important state and local office. Many "red states" like Colorado are actually less red now than they were before the 2004 elections. Democratic candidates at this level didn't get elected by parroting the message of the party elite in Washington; they kept the focus on local issues and convinced voters that their ideas were superior to their Republican opponents.

Given these failures at the national level and successes at the state level, it's not surprising that the state Democratic Party chairs would like a bit of recognition. More than that, the state chairs have powerful arguments for why they should have more control of money and resources within the party. Howard Dean has campaigned for exactly this, and as a result he is likely to be the next chairman of the national party. (See this article, via Will Baude.)

It's interesting that Tom DeLay isn't the only House Leader dissing Howard Dean. Nancy Pelosi is too, championing Tim Roemer (wtf?) instead. Pelosi's been one of the more vigorous opponents of Bush's policies, but she's wrong about Howard Dean. Despite what the Republicans are saying, the Democrats are doing the smart thing.

Posted by Carey at February 6, 2005 10:20 AM

I don't know whether this is relevant (not claiming to be an expert on US politics) but I wonder whether there can be any correlation drawn between the passion of these individual Democrat supporters, and the passion of Republican supporters such as the NRA? After all, in a system where voting is voluntary, passionate supporters make a huge difference.

Posted by: sarni at February 8, 2005 08:17 AM