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The DNC Chair Race

Kevin Drum thinks Howard Dean should be the next DNC Chairman. I disagree. Like Joe Trippi, I like Simon Rosenberg.

First off, Dean. I like Howard Dean. I liked Howard Dean before most people had ever heard of him. I liked Howard Dean before it was clear that he would oppose the Iraq War authorizing resolution and before it was clear that the other Democratic contenders would support it. I've defended Dean in the past against his more over-the-top accusers, will probably do so again in one section of a piece currently projected for the March Prospect, and if he wins will dutifully defend him against the inevitable wild-eyed accusations. But I don't think he's the right man for the job. The nub of the problem comes in Kevin's assertion that "Despite his reputation, his policy preferences are pretty centrist. That means he can appeal to both the reformist wing of the party and the DLC wing."

There's two problems here. First off, a substantive moderate with an image as a radical is the reverse of what you want. Check out Sara Posner's article about progressive radio host Ed Schultz. The point is that what's good about Schultz (if the story's accurate, I've never heard the show) is that he's able to wrap substantive liberalism (except on gun control) in a package that plays against negative liberal stereotypes and allows him to go after the right full-tilt without constantly trimming and apologizing. Dean is basically the reverse. That's fine in a state like Vermont (and many other parts of the country) where what might call "lifestyle liberalism" is a very large demographic element, but it's not right for the country as a whole. Substantive policy moderation doesn't cut nearly enough ice with the voters to make up for it.

Beyond this, there's simply too much bad blood between Dean and other important people in the party. Many centrist Democrats (and, frankly, non-centrist Democrats) are simply bitter about Dean's over-the-top "Republican-lite" rhetoric. Dean, too, is bitter about the over-the-top "Mondale-McGovernism" rhetoric that was directed at him. Neither side is blameless in this, and I don't really care to adjudicate who's more in the wrong. But that's the reality. The party could use a shake-up, but it certainly doesn't need a bitter, emotion-laden pissing match. Nor (as Markos is constantly pointing out, though I believe he's supporting Dean and drawing the wrong conclusion from this) does it need a grand ideological battle. A Dean Chairmanship will give us a pissing match that will be coded as -- and may well develop into -- a confused ideological struggle. The sort of shakeup we need is really about process, personnel, and other basically non-ideological matters.

This brings me to Rosenberg. I'll admit to being attracted to his candidacy in part because he's one of only two candidates in the race (Dean being the other) I've ever spoken to, and certainly the only one who would recognize me. On the other hand, along with bias, this gives me some actual insight into the situation.

Simon's an impressive guy, personally, and I definitely get the sense that he gets it. But what does he "get?" He gets that the party needs a third way between the faction that says "everything's fine, we just need better ads" and the faction that says, "the sky is falling and we must surrender massively on all fronts." He gets, in other words, the right kind of shakeup for today's Democrats. Something aimed at breaking the stranglehold on progressive politics held by a smallish number of aging baby boomers who, despite many virtues, have basically been failing for decades. He gets that we need to build a real political party, and not just a collection of various groups that barely speak to one another and are basically unable to articulate a message -- an ideology -- that draws different progressive together into a communicable worldview. He gets that Democrats can't just live off the fumes of past successes or simply try to co-opt the ideas of the other side.

So I'll try and bring this sermon to an end, but basically I think he offers most of what people are hoping to see from a Dean Chairmanship -- new energy, a willingness to take risks, a desire to change things -- without a lot of the undesirable baggage.

January 12, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Don't think I don't know where you live young man.

Posted by: Howard Dean | Jan 12, 2005 12:34:59 AM

I think the DLC gets a bad rap and would like the Democrats to project a moderate image (think Bill Clinton as opposed to, say, Ted Kennedy), but why not throw a bone to the base? If the DNC chair position doesn't really have that huge an impact, he couldn't do any damage if he did something bad, and with fundraising and so forth, he's already shown that he can do good things.

Posted by: Brian | Jan 12, 2005 12:38:48 AM

I also kinda like Dean, personally, but I'm also really hoping that he loses, mainly because the hard-core Deaniacs have turned into a freakin' personality cult. The knives are really out for Rosenberg and Trippi over at the Kos and MyDD boards, never mind that all of those guys are pretty close to one another on substance, or that Trippi was more responsible for all the "netroots" stuff than Dean, or that Kos himself says he'd be okay with Rosenberg. Now, suddenly, Trippi is a backstabber and Rosenberg is a stooge for the great boogieman DLC. These guys are just plain nuts.

Posted by: JP | Jan 12, 2005 12:48:24 AM

Trippi's endorsement of Rosenberg is so potentially harmful to the man's run for DNC chief I think Trippi he must still be working for Dean. The DFA types hate Trippi because he was involved in the approval of Dean's expensive and utterly unproductive TV buys, because he and Dean had a falling out, because he's said some unkind things about the whole experience, often statements whose very factual nature Dean and his supporters believe to be groundless (false cheapshots). Today's statement, on the day Dean announced, looks like the first shot in a totally wasteful pissing contest. It doesn't contribute at all to party unity and it needlessly aggrivates the Deaniacs. That's not a bad thing if there's a good reason for it, but Jesus, let's anger the activist base for things that are worth it! Rosenberg looks bad going along with the endorsement in this manner. It's not only bad form, but it brings up Trippi's unfortunate post Iowa history. I was not a fan of Dean, but he's behaved more honorably than Trippi since.

I too liked Rosenberg out of the lot, but this is not a good sign for his leadership ability. He loses left wing cred by taking at shot at Dean, and centrist cred by featuring Dean's campaign manager in a testimonial. Being sandwiched between Dean and Roemer has its advantages. Rosenberg's association with NDN and his support for Iraq please the center, and his emphasis on reform finds common cause on the left. He had by far the strongest claim to pan-party unity. But this alienates both sides. It is not an auspicious step for anyone involved.

Posted by: SamAm | Jan 12, 2005 12:59:44 AM

Soon Dean will become inevitable. Then something will happen, and it will be inevitable that he falters. And then he will become inevitable again.

Posted by: jerry | Jan 12, 2005 1:03:39 AM

I hope we can get past this "Deaniac" garbage. I supported Dean for Prez. I now think he wasn't the best candidate. But his basic message was spot on. I saw him 2 weeks ago on Russert and I wanted to stand up and cheer. This is a guy who isn't afraid to be a Democrat. He knows how to frame the message. Give him the wheel. Can we do worse?

Posted by: pdxmike | Jan 12, 2005 1:06:10 AM

http://www.bigeddieradio.com/

He streams. You should listen to Ed, he's execellent.

Unlike Air America's Mike Molloy and Randi Rhodes, he's a very positive voice to listen to. He's smart and he'll be on O'Reilly uh, sometime this week (? I'm not sure of the date.)

Posted by: jerry | Jan 12, 2005 1:07:53 AM

Your point about the bad blood between Dean and the regulars is well taken. I don't think it disqualifies him, but it's a good point.

But I disagree about the problem of Dean being a moderate with a radical image. You're right that that's a bad combination in a candidate, but I don't think it's so bad in an DNC chair. In fact, I think it's the right combination: someone who won't get bent out of shape over substantive ideology issues but who will speak out forcefully and represent the party as an agent of change.

And while I don't have anything against Rosenberg, my main attraction to Dean comes from the simple fact that he's famous and has a loyal following he can build on. You just can't buy that, and Dean's the only one who has it. We need more high profile leaders in the party, guys who can go on TV and shake things up, and Dean is one of the few we've got. We should use him.

Posted by: Kevin Drum | Jan 12, 2005 1:09:03 AM

First off, a substantive moderate with an image as a radical is the reverse of what you want.

It doesn't matter what his image is; the Republican Slime Machine will turn him into a psychotic moonbat within weeks. Let's at least get a guy who's seen it before and knows it for what it is.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Jan 12, 2005 1:14:31 AM

Sarah Posner's article is accurate. Enjoy Schultz when he comes on your dial next week.

Posted by: jerry | Jan 12, 2005 1:17:16 AM

It doesn't matter what his image is; the Republican Slime Machine will turn him into a psychotic moonbat within weeks. Let's at least get a guy who's seen it before and knows it for what it is.

True, but if it's anyone other than Dean, it's unlikely that anyone will care. I mean, seriously, how many people can even name the last DNC head?

With Dean it would be different, because he's already a (somewhat) well-known personality. People might notice. (Although I still doubt anyone outside of political junkies will care. But you never know.)

Posted by: Royko | Jan 12, 2005 1:33:21 AM

Doesn't matter who is the DNC chair. This whole fish is rotten from head to tail.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 12, 2005 3:05:10 AM

I find Matt's case extremely persuasive. The DNC chair is just not the place for fame and public fire-breathing. It's the place for smart, strategic action, without the distraction of being high-profile and a constant target.

I agree that we should use Dean. Just not there.

Posted by: Realish | Jan 12, 2005 3:06:20 AM

"Doesn't matter who is the DNC chair. This whole fish is rotten from head to tail."

Party-pooper. We will know for certain in the next six months or so. If they can't save SS, they are utterly worthless.

Martin Frost has been my Congressman for decades, but I go with Rosenberg on the recommendation of the BOP crew. And because we need Frost in Texas.
And incidentally, that Marty wants to stick around Washington handing out money instead of working grass roots in the possible swing state shows that Abb1 may be right.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 12, 2005 3:15:11 AM

Matt writes:

"First off, a substantive moderate with an image as a radical is the reverse of what you want."

Yes.

I'd add that the Tsongas-ite New England image of fiscal rectitude and social liberalism is electoral poison, and again the reverse of what you want.

"Many centrist Democrats (and, frankly, non-centrist Democrats) are simply bitter about Dean's over-the-top "Republican-lite" rhetoric."

Yes again.

If you spend a year trashing the Party, you shouldn't be rewarded.

-----

SamAm writes:

"Trippi's endorsement of Rosenberg is so potentially harmful to the man's run for DNC chief I think Trippi must still be working for Dean."

Heh. It's an evergreen truth that wherever Trippi stands inside the Party, the proper course lies on the other side. You can set your watch by this.

-----

Kevin Drum writes:

"my main attraction to Dean comes from the simple fact that he's famous and has a loyal following he can build on."

Why not Michael Moore for DNC head in that case?

The Party's main problem is not in turning out the social liberal base, it's in turning off everyone else. Dean is part of the problem, not the solution.

-----

Despite Trippi's endorsement, I'd have no problem with Rosenberg.

But there are better options out there. Marty Frost would be a better face for the Party. A two headed chair, with Wellington Webb, along with Rosenberg or Ickes, would make even more sense.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 12, 2005 5:56:50 AM

I'd add one final note:

The salient division in American politics is not ideological, it's regional.

The lefty blogosphere seems completely clueless about this fact.

The Democratic Party is too tied to the Northeast in the popular image, and broadening the Party's appeal to regions beyond the current blue state ghetto of the Northern coasts and great lakes is Job #1.

In the same way it'll be imperative in 2008 to nominate Edwards, Warner, or Richardson, it's imperative now to not formally install Dean as the Party's face.

And FWIW, Job #2 is uniting and organizing the Party around economic liberalism instead of around social liberalism. Dean sends the absolute wrong message on this count as well.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 12, 2005 6:20:43 AM

uniting and organizing the Party around economic liberalism instead of around social liberalism

This I agree with. But who in 'the Party' is interested in economic liberalism? Most of them are cadillac liberals clamoring for lesbian rights. The rest are godly people caring about the poor. Neither have anything to do with economic progressivism.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 12, 2005 6:37:07 AM

"This I agree with. But who in 'the Party' is interested in economic liberalism? Most of them are cadillac liberals clamoring for lesbian rights. The rest are godly people caring about the poor."

Check out the rhetoric from John Edwards during the primaries.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 12, 2005 6:55:03 AM

How many losing campaigns has Mr. Trippi run?

Posted by: kpinvt | Jan 12, 2005 8:24:58 AM

I'll admit to being attracted to his candidacy in part because he's one of only two candidates in the race (Dean being the other) I've ever spoken to, and certainly the only one who would recognize me.

That is an embarassing comment, and one that might be interpreted to be totally unethical, considering you are a journalist, and benefit from access.

Posted by: john john | Jan 12, 2005 8:34:36 AM

And because we need Frost in Texas.
And incidentally, that Marty wants to stick around Washington handing out money instead of working grass roots in the possible swing state

Bob, you're not suggesting that Texas is a possible swing state are you? I'm just unsure what you mean.

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Jan 12, 2005 10:38:55 AM

I just took at look at the "Restoring America's Promise" ad campaign produced by the NDN (www.newdem.org) under Rosenberg and was very unimpressed. NDN describes them as "innovative." I thought they were about as hackneyed, formulaic, and bland as a political ad can be. Without speaking to any of Rosenberg's other attributes, these ads suggest a political appeal that is just more of the same old mush.

Posted by: Ken Dow | Jan 12, 2005 11:26:38 AM

If you spend a year trashing the Party, you shouldn't be rewarded.

Dean didn't trash 'the party'. He trashed the party's Vichy leadership, which rightly deserves to be called out on their self-centered, short-sighted incompetence.

These accomodationists are the ones who have trashed the party. And after such a disasterous run of 'leadership', why on earth should THEY be rewarded?

Posted by: Night Owl | Jan 12, 2005 11:33:15 AM

Hey, I'm for Rosenberg, since he's stated his support for the Iraq war, and since furthermore he says that our war on terror is a war with radical Islam. Of course, for the very same reasons, I voted for George Bush for President, and I'd like to see the Democrats support his policies.

Posted by: George | Jan 12, 2005 11:50:10 AM

I too am offended by the cultish behavior of Dean supporters. I worked very hard and contributed more than I could afford trying to get Dean elected, but was almost instantly deemed to be out of it when I pushed our local group to enthusiastically support Kerry once Dean dropped out. A core group of those who continued to try to get convention votes for Dean after he dropped out have now given up on ever electing Dean as president, just because he wants to be DNC chair. My reasons for opposing Dean as chairman are two: I still want him available to run in 2008, and I don't believe he has the characteristics needed for a DNC chair. That position needs to be filled by a man who can organize, who can direct a large group of subordinates, who can appeal to the insiders, the big donors, as well as to the grassroots.

To my utter disappointment, after signing on as a supporter of Rosenberg, the first email I get from him is a plea for money. And, I was so sure he understood that the grassroots need to be viewed as much more than an ATM. His first email should have been an appeal to contact specific local DNC members and courteously ask for their support, just as he does in his website. Some day someone will come along who gets it.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Jan 12, 2005 11:54:52 AM

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