I’ve had mixed feelings about Howard Dean for quite a while. I got involved in blogs back in 2003 when supporting Dean was almost synonymous with being anti-Bush and ant-war. In the fall of 2003, when the various candidates for the nomination fought it out, I took a closer look at the individuals and decided that, while Dean was certainly right on Bush and right on Iraq, Dean was not the right man to be the nominee. Now there is controversy over whether he is right to lead the DNC. James Carville, who has screamed publicly far more than Howard Dean, appears to be a leading opponent of keeping Dean on. Ryan Lizza writes:
Some big name Democrats want to oust DNC Chairman Howard Dean, arguing that his stubborn commitment to the 50-state strategy and his stinginess with funds for House races cost the Democrats several pickup opportunities.
The candidate being floated to replace Dean? Harold Ford.
Says James Carville, one of the anti-Deaniacs, “Suppose Harold Ford became chairman of the DNC? How much more money do you think we could raise? Just think of the difference it could make in one day. Now probably Harold Ford wants to stay in Tennessee. I just appointed myself his campaign manager.”
Not surprisingly, Kos and some at MyDD, both early Dean supporters, are quite upset with this idea and are threatening war. Digby warns that “The establishment is going to have to grow up and learn to live with the netroots and the grassroots activists who back Dean. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but we aren’t going anywhere.”
I’m not sure where Carville is coming from. Harold Ford? He hardly represents the aspects of the Democratic Party I have interest in. Granted the DNC Chairmanship is more an on organizational and fund raising position than one of setting policy so it may not matter, but if people like Carville really see people like Ford as the ideological future of the Democratic Party, then I have no use for the party. If Harold Ford were the future of the Democratic Party, then I’d take a second look at the Republicans, siding with the more libertarian elements of the party in the likely civil war with the social conservatives.
Fortunately Ford’s views are not really representative of many Democrats and hopefully Carville’s support is really over fund raising ability. In theory, if Ford really could raise more money, and this money continued to be used to elect more socially liberal Democrats, then perhaps this would be a consideration. Still, before convincing me that Ford rather than Dean would be better chairing the party, I’d need to see an awfully good argument that Ford could really do a better job, and that this would not mean a change in the philosophy of the party. As Steve Benan notes, “we’re talking about a congressman who ran to the far-right on social issues, voted for torture, and blew a lead to lose a closely-watched Senate race. He’s a talented pol, and I hope he stays around, but DNC chair? Ousting the current chair after a wildly successful cycle?” Joe Conason presents a strong defense of Dean:
Despite all the complaints and demands directed at him over the past 18 months, Dean stuck to his principles. He and his supporters in the netroots movement believed that their party needed to rebuild from the ground up in every state, including many where the party existed in name only. These Democrats prefer to think of their party as one of inclusion and unity. They openly disdain the divisive strategies of the Republicans who have so often used racial, regional and cultural differences to polarize voters.
And they believe that relying on opportunistic attempts to grab a few selected states or districts as usual — rather than establishing a real presence across the country — conceded a permanent structural advantage to the Republicans that would only grow more durable with each election cycle.
Breaking that advantage would be costly and difficult, as Dean well realized, but it had to be done someday, or the Democrats would fulfill Karl Rove’s dream of becoming a permanent minority party — or fading away altogether. Against the counsel of party professionals, whose long losing streak has done little to diminish their influence, the new chairman began the process of re-creating the Democratic Party in 2005. And contrary to the gossip and subsequent press reports, he succeeded in raising $51 million last year, about 20 percent more than in 2003 and a party record for an off year.
Much of that money was spent in ways that obviously paid off on Tuesday, including the 2005 election of Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine in Virginia — where Jim Webb’s upset victory over incumbent Sen. George Allen overturned Republican control of the Senate. Several million dollars was spent on rebuilding the party’s national voter files, yet another essential sector in which the Republicans have enormous technological superiority.
Less obvious but equally significant was the spending on hundreds of organizers and communications specialists — and their training — in every state. In some places this meant taking the chains off locked, dusty offices that had seen no real activity in years; in others, it meant bailing the state party out of literal bankruptcy and convening meetings in counties where party activists had given up.
In Indiana, among the reddest states north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Democratic National Committee placed two field organizers and a new party communications director on the ground a year before the midterm elections. While that doesn’t sound like a very impressive assault on a Republican stronghold, those few organizers created a party presence and started preparing for battle in vulnerable congressional districts. Suddenly the Republicans had to deal with ground opposition where traditionally they had faced no field operation at all — not only in Indiana but in deep-red Idaho, Wyoming, Kentucky and Nebraska, too.
The Democrats didn’t win in all those districts, of course, although they did enjoy several unexpected victories. What Dean and his organizers created, however, was an environment that allowed insurgents and outliers as well as the party’s chosen challengers to ride the national wave of revulsion against conservative rule. That enterprise, in turn, surprised and overwhelmed the Republican capacity to respond. Faced with many more viable challenges than anticipated, the Republicans made mistakes in allocating resources — and were forced to defend candidates in districts that are usually safe.