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Good Dean, Bad Klein

Ezra Klein is so wrong it's hard to believe. I was deeply, deeply skeptical of Howard Dean's campaign for DNC Chair since I assumed he wasn't genuinely interested in doing the actual job and would, instead, try to use the position as a method for elbowing the Party's elected officials out of the limelight, dragging Democrats' public image down, and neglecting his actual duties. In fact, he's done no such thing. He's very wisely focused on the Chairman's role as leader of the party apparat and seems to be working on making it more effective. Meanwhile, he's letting the electeds do their jobs, and -- or so it seems to me -- the Democrats have been much more effective qua opposition party since January '05 than they were before, even though they have fewer seats to work with.

Ezra's theory that Dean has "facility in front of the cameras" that Dean should be "aggressive with the national press" in trying to exploit is insane. Dean has no such facility. If he "explode[s] onto the scene in a week or two" Karl Rove will wet his pants, and the faltering Republican agenda may get a second wind. Considering the very bad circumstances the Dems found themselves in after the election (no control of anything, Senate leadership decapitated, lost seats all around, etc.) things are going quite well so far. The last thing in the world we need are more "Democrats divided" stories provoked by Dean trying to take a higher public profile. He's handling things exactly right at this point, and he should continue to focus on grassroots stuff, organizational stuff, fundraising stuff, etc., and not try to set himself up as a rival center of message-creation.

March 28, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

As long as Dean is so firmly identified with the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" he will, for all his effectiveness, be more of an albatross than a Messiah. A media-savvy party does not permit the good doctor to encamp as its Rasputin, regardless of how good he is at details.

Posted by: Troilus | Mar 28, 2005 2:04:38 PM

Agreed. Speak softly and carry a big database, I say.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 28, 2005 2:10:58 PM

"I was deeply, deeply skeptical of Howard Dean's campaign for DNC Chair since I assumed he wasn't genuinely interested in doing the actual job and would, instead, try to use the position as a method for elbowing the Party's elected officials out of the limelight, dragging Democrats' public image down, and neglecting his actual duties."

I think you watch too much CNN.

Posted by: Rick | Mar 28, 2005 2:12:07 PM

I have heard accounts of Dean statements since he became head of DNC that were really good. While generally it's probably best he keep a low profile to dispel any notion he's just prepping to run again, I think a higher issue-oriented profile would be all right too.

Aside from that Iowa thing (a momentary lapse), I don't think he was ever as strident as you seem to think. And his other so-called gaffe -- the suggestion that guys with pick-ups and Confederate flags ought to be Democrats -- was right on the mark. So are people still pissed off that he was right about Iraq and they weren't? If so, they ought to be ashamed.

Posted by: David in NY | Mar 28, 2005 2:23:12 PM

and not try to set himself up as a rival center of message-creation.

(1) Have you noticed that the chairs of the RNC are likewise invisible to the press? Mehlman (and Gillespie before him) has never been in front of the cameras; he might say someting off-message. And if the RNC chair ever did speak up, I predict the Republicans would lose the next election.

(2) Remind me again, what off-message things Dr. Dean will be likely to say? That the Democratic party shouldn't be on the side of the credit card companies against struggling middle-class Americans? That the Democratic party shouldn't let a torture enabler become Attorney General? Hell, I'm still waiting for a general on-message Democratic party to show up. Social Security has been promising, but is some prominent Democrat still going to publically slip in the bipartisanship shiv?

(3) Once he was no longer a Presidential candidate, Dr. Dean appeared several times on television. When was he screaming and biting the heads off of puppies? Ironically, his "controversial" status probably gained him more screen time. If he were elbowing out of the way all of those eloquent elected Democrats lined up to appear on Sunday morning TV, I'd get upset.

(4) Unless the Democrat who is speaking to the media is rah-rah about Republican talking points, he or she gets labeled a bomb-thrower anyway. They've smeared Barbara Boxer, for God's sake. They attempted a preemptive strike against Mr. Rogers a.k.a. Senator Reid. They'll tar anybody.

That said, I guess I am glad that he's not out publically second-guessing the party leadership just yet. Which probably was primarily your point. :-) But given that his chairmanship is largely the result of his connection to the grassroots, I think that the leadership ignores his ideas at their peril. If he could have input into what the Democratic party's message really is, and all the party principals presented a united front on it, I think he would be an excellent public spokesman. He's tarnished goods primarily because of the scream, yet by 2006 more people just might feel like screaming.

Posted by: mds | Mar 28, 2005 2:26:49 PM

Matt, although I am inclined to agree that Dean is probably most effective right now in sticking to the work in the trenches, I don't see why you think that Dean's speaking out would divide the Democrats. Dean's views on just about everything - health care, Social Security, immigration, cultural issues - are mainstream Democratic stuff. We're not talking about him running a campaign, but just speaking out selectively on several issues of national concern. Dean is a lieable fellow, articulates the Democratic position with energy and good cheer, and conveys an unapologetic spirit of can-do confidence - something the Democrats as a party still sorely need.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Mar 28, 2005 2:31:55 PM

mds, with all due respect, Gillespie and Mehlman do emerge from time to time to talk to Little Russ on Sundays. But generally speaking, you're right.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 28, 2005 2:40:18 PM

mds, with all due respect, Gillespie and Mehlman do emerge from time to time to talk to Little Russ on Sundays.

You know, I really, really need to give up the sarcasm. I hate using "emotion tags" (and am only occasionally moved to use emoticons), but I keep getting bitten in comment threads by misreading of a selectively sarcastic remark. At Matt's place, I think comments are more generally taken at face value, in good faith, and that's where I get into trouble. So no more sarcasm on Matt's threads, I promise.

What? No, my fingers aren't crossed; they're always bent that way.

Posted by: mds | Mar 28, 2005 2:55:46 PM

You are right to say the Dems should be organizing which is counter to Will Rogers’ assessment of the Party, but it’s a good thought. The Republicans won. They’ve got control of the government and letting them run amok with it may be the best strategy -- if we are organized for the next election. The excessive flexing of their power and control in passing a bill that dealt with only one tragically hopeless person is an example. Some more action like that and we could win with Dizzy Dean as chairman and he’s dead.

As I’ve written before in Democrats Mission Accomplish: You Loose right after the election, people have left the party because they believe the Republicans represent their interest best. Sons and daughters of those old line democrats who fought the good fight for decent wages and working conditions have reap the rewards that victory brought – and they became good Republicans, clinging to new possessions like anyone else would who thought they had something worth holding onto and would not support anyone fighting for some other person’s right to a piece of the American pie.

Hopefully, the electorate has given the Republicans enough rope to hang themselves and time is on our side. Those new found Republican (children from old Democratic families) may learn that there are worse elected officals than some one who wants all Americans to have the same rights. We can only pray for them – and organize.
Democrats organizing! Will Rogers would be shocked and awed.

Posted by: scou29c | Mar 28, 2005 3:09:43 PM

Just curious, but are there 0, 1, or 2 typos in the title "Democrats Mission Accomplish: You Loose?" One possible typo is in writing Accomplish instead of Accomplished. The other is in writing Loose instead of Lose. The latter, admittedly, might not be a typo if making people more limber and flexible were part of the Democratic agenda.

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf | Mar 28, 2005 3:33:45 PM

Ethical Werewolf,
Thank you, I truly need an editor or peer review.

Posted by: scou29c | Mar 28, 2005 3:42:43 PM

The Good Technocrat

Klein right; MY wrong

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 28, 2005 3:56:15 PM

What mds first said.

Sheesh Matt, stop internalizing all of those talking points. Howard's not some crazy lefty.

Posted by: Sharon | Mar 28, 2005 3:58:20 PM

Matt's more or less right, but Ezra's point is not totally without merit. See mds above (the sarcastic part). The RNC Chair has frequently functioned as an attack dog, and been very effective in that role. Why can't the DNC Chair take on the attack dog role? I would argue it's because any attempt by anyone to take on the high-profile Dem attack dog role provokes "Democrats divided" stories. The obstruction to Dean being effective in the role Ezra envisions for him is an obstruction to the Democratic Party having any effective attack dogs. Indeed, it's the reason the Democratic Party has none and has not had any in recent memory.

Posted by: blegh | Mar 28, 2005 4:07:58 PM

Sheesh Matt, stop internalizing all of those talking points. Howard's not some crazy lefty.

This is interesting, because Matt said nothing like that. He said that Dean is prone to fucking up in public, which is true. He said he is a key symbol in intra-party tensions, which is true whether or not he should be, and is perpetuated by many who love him and many who hate him.

Posted by: Toadmonster | Mar 28, 2005 4:18:17 PM

You can't trust that Howard Dean! He's craaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy!

Posted by: Oh Snap! | Mar 28, 2005 4:47:31 PM

No, Toadmonster, I don't think you're right. As I noted above, Dean is known for, as you so delicately put it, "fucking up" in public, exactly once. What he's really known for is opposition to the Iraq war. What I worry is that a lot of Democrats-who-shall-remain-nameless still resent that he was right to oppose the war, and will try to undercut him. And that's what I see Matt's post as doing. Cut it out, I say.

Posted by: David in NY | Mar 28, 2005 4:50:39 PM

for young master yglesias to write this:

"I was deeply, deeply skeptical of Howard Dean's campaign for DNC Chair since I assumed he wasn't genuinely interested in doing the actual job and would, instead, try to use the position as a method for elbowing the Party's elected officials out of the limelight, dragging Democrats' public image down, and neglecting his actual duties"

shows he wasn't paying attention at all to Dr. Dean's campaign. His ENTIRE campaign was about reforming the dem party.

Posted by: slc | Mar 28, 2005 5:31:55 PM

Your post is exactly why the Democrats continue to lose elections. We, because of thinkers like you, stand for nothing, think politics is a game, & try hard to become Rethuglian-lite. St. Joe, indeed.

Posted by: Rick -enn | Mar 28, 2005 6:10:20 PM

Sheesh, Matt, you had to go and wake up the personality cult. Don't you realize you're not allowed to write a post that just offhandedly compliments Dean's work? If you're not going to rattle off the entire party line of "HOWARD DEAN WAS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING HE EVER SAID EVER AND HE'S FROM THE DEMOCRATIC WING OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND EVERYBODY ELSE IS JUST REPUBLICAN LITE AND HE ONLY LOST BECAUSE OF THE SELLOUT DLC BUT HE'S ALSO REALLY MODERATE AND IF WE HAD PICKED HIM INSTEAD OF KERRY EVERYTHING WOULD HAVE BEEN PERFECT AND BUSH WOULD HAVE LOST IN A LANDSLIDE AND BLOGGERS WOULD RULE THE WHOLE WORLD AND WHY DON'T YOU LOVE HIM IT MUST BE BECAUSE YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DIE IN IRAQ BECAUSE HE'S MY HERO," well then don't even bother.

As for the actual substance of the post, I don't think it would be so bad if Dean went on TV every once in a while the way Mehlman does. If he were on TV a lot, it would probably be a distraction. Whatever. No one cares about the party chairman anyway, and the guy who's really in charge and deserves the most credit for the good 2005 performance is Harry Reid.

Posted by: JP | Mar 28, 2005 7:15:22 PM

With respect -- I was never a Deaniac by any stretch (more of a Wes Clark man, maybe Edwards), to suggest that Dean is in any way unskilled at communicating Democrat principles is a little bit insane in its own right. While I had pragmatic problems with his nomination even before "the Scream," I always did and still do admire his ability to communicate the essence of Democratic Party principles in a language regular folks can understand. Maybe it does help to dislike Bush etc. for his arguments to appeal, but that's true of Bush in the other direction as well. Dean's problem is emphatically not inability to discuss Democrat principles.

Posted by: Martin | Mar 28, 2005 7:15:47 PM

Ezra was a Clark person and so doesn't understand Dean's message at all. If you really believe that you have the power, and Dean really does believe that, than rebuilding the local committee's is the message.

We have to get away from the illusion that someone goes on TV, makes a strong statement, and that solves our problems.

Do a search on Howard Dean on Google News or similar service. You will see he is drawing huge crowds wherever he goes. He raised $90,000 dollars at a single event in Mississippi. Even more amazing, the price of that event was $5. Dean raised $90,0000 $5 dollars at a time. That sends a very powerful message to the national party. And I think it is getting through. I think this is a contributing factor to the Democrats maintaining better discipline than we have in years.

By 2006 we will be a different party, one where the grassroots will be a major player. By the time the Republican noise machines realizes what Dean has done it will be too late.

Posted by: Alice Marshall | Mar 28, 2005 7:20:15 PM

Wrong Matt. Just plain wrong. Dean is a very effective communicator. I saw one of his town hall meetings on CSPAN and thought he was very riveting. He also handles the Sunday shows well.The party needs a reform message and messenger. Dean is the only politician in the Democratic party (except perhaps Feingold) who can carry that message with any credibility. He's more honest and believable than anyone else we can put in front of the camera now.

Posted by: Marvyt | Mar 28, 2005 8:23:33 PM

The reason Dean isn't doing much is that Reid is doing some. Also, Dean has his priorities, and they are precisely what he said they would be when he was running for the position. With all due respect to MY, it takes a pretty impressive level of cynicism to assume that the Governor was basically misrepresenting himself and his positions for the entire duration of his campaign for DNC Chair.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Mar 28, 2005 9:20:16 PM

"With all due respect to MY, it takes a pretty impressive level of cynicism to assume that the Governor was basically misrepresenting himself and his positions for the entire duration of his campaign for DNC Chair."

Well, he misrepresented himself and his positions for the entire duration of his Presidential run. Who knew he'd be telling the truth this time?

"Howard's not some crazy lefty."

Very true. He's an unappealing centrist with a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 29, 2005 8:01:32 AM

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