February 8, 2005
POLITICS: Chairman How
From where I sit, I think the problem for the Democrats with Howard Dean as DNC Chair isn't organization or ideology; the problem, which Jonathan Chait just nails, is the gaffes:
The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party's message - an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of "message discipline," boiling down the party's ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness.
It's a role for which Dean is particularly ill suited. During his campaign, remember, he fashioned himself a straight talker, delighting reporters by repeatedly wandering "off message." On the plus side, he won friends in the media by appearing honest and human. On the negative side, he did himself enormous damage, when, for example, he suggested that he wouldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden until he had been convicted in a court of law.
For presidential candidates, the negatives of "straight talk" usually outweigh the positives. Paul Maslin, Dean's former pollster, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly after the campaign fell apart: "Our candidate's erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down." But at least for a presidential campaign there are some positives in going off message. In a job like party chairman, a loose cannon is nothing but downside.
Read the whole thing (via Will Collier). The history of the decline of the Dean campaign is the story of Dean's gaffes - the three worst of which, at least while he was still running, were (in debatable order) (1) the bin Laden line Chait notes, (2) his grudging response to the capture of Saddam, and (3) perhaps the most damaging of all - in ways the mainstream media never quite understood but that Iowa voters, even Iowa Democrats, got: the "George Bush is not my neighbor" crack. A lot of Christians have trouble living up to that Biblical injunction, but no real Christian would make that statement, nor would any polite Midwesterner. (I'm not even getting into when he sorta-kinda endorsed the Cynthia McKinney theory that Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks) What Dean gives Republicans is the ability to dominate a news cycle with some similarly foolhardy quip and tattoo it on every Democrat in the land.
My co-worker was unclear on whether Dean chairmanship of DNC is a good or bad thing for DNC. All I had to clarify this was to assured him that Dean was Karl Rove's choice for DNC.
Sorry Crank, and all you other righties. When you care what I think about who you choose to lead YOUR Party, I'll worry about what you think of Dean leading MY Party.
The DNC called me and asked for money this weekend. I told them to give me a call back when Howard Dean is chair. I'm done with politics as usual from the Democratic leadership.
Is Dean risky? Perhaps. Do the Democrats have anything left to lose. I'd say not. Look where risk-aversion has gotten them over the last five years.
If Dean "tattoos" every Democrat in washington as anything more than a bunch of entrenched, out-of-touch career politicians who stand for nothing, do nothing, and get walked all over by republicans, we're way ahead of where we are right now.
Give 'em hell, Howard!
More like give 'em heartburn....
Yes, Mr. Furious (unfortunately living up to his name): The path to success for the Democrats is to ritualistically oppose everything Bush is for. This is a fine way to keep the "furious" base happy, not so good for pulling in new people, a tactic a minority party would do well to consider.
Who are you going to vote for: a Republican or a Democrat who acts like a Republican...?
The Democrats need to present a clear alternative to the Republicans. Make the choices clear, make the Party stand for something, and give them a reason to vote Democrat.
For too long the Democrats in Washington have been exactly that -- Democrats in Washington. The flip-floppy, alternately sucking-up to the Administration and then "voicing opposition" is a dance that has run it's course.
The Party needs to come up with a platform. Articulate it. And then stick to it. No tailoring to the audience, swinging to the middle, left or right. There will be times that will lead to dissentionin the ranks or even agreement with the republicans. But at this point the Party stands for nothing to most people.
People on all sides can lament (or celebrate) Dean if they want. Nobody else took the job away from him, that should say something.
Look, I'm not saying Dean's unfit to be DNC Chair because of his policy positions; it's open to fair debate where the Dems are better suited to move, and I agree with Mr Furious that moving left is at least a welcome break with having fuzzy positions and tacking with the wind.
The problem with Dean is more specific to him personally, and that's his mouth.