Sunday, July 03, 2005

Is Howard Dean Dead?

You would think so from the hagiographic portrait in the Washington Post. Or at least ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire.

But, no, the big news, I guess, is that he hasn't been fired yet from the chairmanship of the DNC, a job he took, the article suggests, merely because his calendar was cleared by the Scream.

The reporter, Sally Jenkins, says that Dean's job description is pretty straightforward, if not simple:
Dean's task would seem to be this: to take back his party from the left without pandering to the right or infuriating various Democratic "constituencies" -- from George Soros, to labor, right down to and including unlicensed ceramicists -- while also rebuilding dilapidated party infrastructure in 50 states. All without making himself the message or the star. Right now, you're probably feeling better about your own job. "Dean may think he's got the world on a string," says one political strategist, "but what he's really got is a yo-yo with the initials DNC on it."
But he doesn't seem to be doing well at it. The Democrats are becoming more enthralled to the crowd, not less, and a good many of the traditional Democratic "constituencies" -- Southerners, defense-minded union members, socially conservative blacks and Hispanics, even growing numbers of Israel-friendly Jews -- are taking a second look at the Republican Party.

Naturally, Republicans are celebrating --
Dean represents "loony left redundancy," says former RNC chair Rich Bond, who also calls Dean's ascent "a disaster" and "a joke." Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has said Dean represents "a true death wish" on the part of Democrats.
but Dean just keeps on keeping on. He has taken to comparing himself to Harry Truman --
Dean likes to quote his political hero, Harry Truman. "I don't give 'em hell," Truman said in 1948. "I just tell the truth, and they think it's hell." And the truth, as Dean sees it, is that mushmouthedness is killing the party, and so is voter neglect. "Somebody has to take those right wingers on," he says, "and I enjoy doing it."

--but he doesn't seem to notice that Truman took out his wrath on people in power, such as Richard Nixon ("Nixon is one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides"). Though our rhetorical expectations have declined over the decades since Truman, one thing he had in common with Dean is that he would not have been elected if he had given a 67-year-old voter a public dressing down for questioning his speaking style, as Dean did.

Dean's attitude problems have become matters of legend. The reporter unquestioningly quotes Joe Trippi referring to Dean's reputation as caricature, but it's hard to caricature someone who calls his political opponents "evil."
Dean has arrived at the Park Plaza in Boston to address the annual state Democratic convention.

He pulls out an index card, which he hardly glances at, and launches into a rousing delivery. ("We're not going to let Republicans define us anymore! We're going to say what Democrats are about!") Then three-quarters of the way through his remarks, he puts the card in his breast pocket. Things have gone smoothly.

Until he arrives at the subject of Tom DeLay. The House majority leader is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for taking trips paid for by lobbyists. Dean lights into him. DeLay needs to go back to Houston, "where he can serve his jail sentence down there courtesy of the Texas taxpayers!" Dean thunders.

Check me on this: Did Howard Dean just throw the Republican House majority leader into prison?
Don't get me wrong -- Dean's a reasonable guy. He's willing to cut Osama bin Laden some slack.

The reporter attributes Dean's excitability to the influence of the crowd:
When he is exercised by a crowd, the flush creeps up his neck, and he turns into the guy who stood on podiums during his failed bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination and roared, "I want my country back! . . . I don't want to listen to fundamentalist preachers anymore!"
There's a Truman quote he seems to have missed:
In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves... self-discipline with all of them came first.
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