Twice I have underestimated Howard Dean. I never thought he’d be competitive in the democratic primaries and, not learning my lesson, I foolishly predicted he would never get the top job at the Democratic National Committee. So I won’t blame you if you stop reading my latest thoughts about Dean.
The Governor is a driven man who brings a sense of certainty to a party in trouble. The Democrats are waffling around all over the place. The left-wing of the party got battered by the successful Iraqi election, a beating that caused Ted Kennedy to skip the State of the Union address. The uber-liberal faction of the Democratic party simply has no traction whatsoever in the court of public opinion.
Moderate democrats are in much better shape, which is why you are seeing Hillary Clinton running to the center. Senator Clinton now says she understands and respects those who oppose abortion, and she’s demanding tough action on national security problems. No more touchy-feely for Mrs. Clinton, no way. She’s now tough on the bad guys and understanding of those with whom she disagrees.
Not so Howard Dean. He remains a defiant guy. At a meeting for democrats on January 29th, he made things quite clear by saying “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.”
On Fox News two weeks earlier, Dean, with apologies to Richard Nixon, again made things perfectly clear: “There’s nothing I admire about the Republicans. They can’t manage money. They’ve gotten us into a war without telling us why we’re there.”
This kind of in-your-face condemnation of Republicans is soothing for many hardcore Democrats who are beyond furious that the GOP is running things. Dean’s denunciation of all things right, as in right-wing, gets juices flowing on the left. Thus, the Governor has become the second most powerful Democrat in country behind Senator Clinton.
By most accounts, Hillary and Bill Clinton aren’t real thrilled with Dean. In order to win the presidency, Mrs. Clinton has to sway some traditional voters to her side. A bomb-throwing, left-leaning DNC chief does Hillary no good at all.
Dean is a tremendous fundraiser, but Hillary doesn’t need the bucks. She will raise an enormous amount of money with or without Dean. So the bottom line is that Governor Dean brings nothing but potential grief to Mrs. Clinton.
On the other side, those hateful Republicans love Dean as head of the DNC. They can put him into the Michael Moore category and demonize him all day long. The truth is that Howard Dean is not a flaming left-winger, but many of his supporters are, and Dean has embraced them. Also, the more successful President Bush is in Iraq, the worse Dean will look and, by extension, so will most Democrats including Hillary. So why did the party turn to a man with so many negatives?
The answer is that Dean can fire people up. And that’s no small feat in Democratic circles. John Kerry was the ultimate party pooper. He had all kinds of trouble getting folks, including the Democratic choir, to sing along. Stodgy is probably the best word for Kerry. The Dems badly need charisma, and Dean has it.
But all in all, Howard Dean will probably hurt his party. He is generally intolerant of red state values, and Republicans will seize upon this to serve up Dean, Hillary and liberal extremism in one puffed-up souffl�. And that will certainly be a tasty dish for the party in power.