The Screaming over Howard Dean

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.

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10 Comments

  1. 1
    kj says:

    I was just over at The Premise reading about this very thing.

    I dunno, but I think Carville is just shilling the ground for Hillary!2008 and there just isn’t going to be any Hillary!2008 after January, 2008. God, I’m sick of the 2002 mentality, and that’s all old Hill is about. Appeasment and pleasing Poppy Bush’s old guard, thanks to Bill’s new role as Not Dim Son, while he greases the wheels for another shot in the spotlight. But then, what do I know. ;-)

    And thanks to whoever I owe thanks to for the 50 State Strategy. Very grateful here in Missouri and as an old Hoosier, very grateful to see some blue show up there Tuesday.

    Re: Harold, I’m sorry he lost, because I wanted as many Democrats as possible to win their Senate seats this election. But DNC? Hahaha!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Sure, I’d prefer that Ford had won, doubling the Democrats’ margin in the Senate. Who knows if we will need one more vote in 2006 or 2008–or even sooner should someone defect or leave office early.

    Dean deserves credit for the fifty state strategy. While it worked this year, an even more important aspect is that it lays the groundwork for Democrats in red areas in the future. Perhaps the Democrats might have done as well (or better) if they concentrated on selective races this year, but in the long run the Democrats must be prepared to fight everywhere.

  3. 3
    kj says:

    All I know is I really would have been exhausted if there had been another two years before a decent victory by the Dems in this state. Another two years and Talent would have been solidly entrenched. (As it was, I think he ended up with something like four million in his coffers, at least, that’s what I read, but it’s numbers so please take that with a grain of salt.) I also don’t know how much of the 50 state strategy was applied to Missouri, but oh, listen, grateful beyond words. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve a fantastic jump start on the future. Acres of work, but we’re in the game and no longer on the sidelines. (Why do sports metaphors work so well with politics???!!!)

    I don’t want a person who is anti-gay, if indeed Ford is, to head up any party I support, plain and simple. No going backwards, forward, forward, forward!

  4. 4
    battlebob says:

    Gees..is our party stupid orf what?
    We normally eat those who fail; not those who succeed.
    The logical direction is to take what Dean did and expand on it; not revert back to the DC Dems know best.
    If we keep strengthing the local organizations we will continue to rack up the wins as our local messages are pretty much in line with public desires.
    We win when we listen; we loose when we are deaf to local needs.
    I got on the Dean bandwagon earliy as there was know other candidate. Dean showed his candidate weakness in Iowa long before the scream. His strengths were bringing people into his tent that were never a part of any tent.
    The smart move is to allow Dean to do what he does best; bring new peoplw into the process.

  5. 5
    kj says:

    I was also for Dean before I was against him. ;-) This was back in the spring of 03.

    I can’t imagine replacing Howard Dean with Harold Ford after this election success. Blows my mind, makes no sense, is laughable and again, I think Carville shilling for Hil. Something I plan to studiously avoid as much as possible. Blood pressure, you know.

    Also, I think my old buddy Bill Clinton is way too cosy with BushInc and I no longer trust him or his wife when it comes to their political ambitions regarding this country of mine. Hill wants to continue to be Senator? Great. Bill wants to be Bill, wonderful. But another Clinton in the White House? Not with their ties to Bush Inc. No, No, No.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    If nothing else, Dean at the DNC is good for netroots unity. While I know there are some exceptions, for the most part those of us who were in the bitter Kerry vs. Dean blog battles of 2003-4 have no problem with Dean as DNC Chair, even if we have our objections to him as presidential candidate.

    Dean has certainly done a great job at bringing in new people.

    Unlike the long time Deaniacs, I have no personal stake either way. If Carville could really show that someone like Ford could bring in significantly more money and build the party more, without impacting the ideology of the party, then a change would be fine. So far I see nothing to convince me of that.

    For the DC insiders it is all about power and winning. For me, Democratic victories are only of value if they help move the country in the direction where it should be going (or more realistically, stop the Repubicans from moving it their direction). To the degree Carville is interested in positions, he is more socially conservative and economically populist than I am, and a party such as he envisions might not be of any interest to me.

  7. 7
    Shaun says:

    It’s all about Hillary. In Carville’s mind, Ford could be Hillary’s Ron Brown. Those of us who were campaigning for others in ’92 remember well how Brown’s manipulations greased the skids for Bill Clinton, from Iowa to the Convention floor. Howard’s unlikely to serve that role for Hillary. Or for anyone, for that matter. We have a shot at an election cycle without a Chair overtly sympathetic to anything but a win.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    While Carville speaks of Ford bringing in more money, there’s no doubt that he’s really looking for a party Chair which will promote their goals.

  9. 9
    battlebob says:

    Dean did a lot by getting the netroots involved.
    The consequences are local people formed local organizations, raised money and supported their candidates without much interface with the beltway bombers.
    Perhaps the model is two tiers. Have the beltway Dems do what they do with the big donors and let the root folks do what they do at the local level. If Carvell or Ford or pick one wants to be in charge great as long as the goal is pushing social and economic possibilities for all. If not then there will be a disconnect between the two groups. The net roots are probably more liberal then the DC Dems as the netroots are more concerned with ideas vs. practicality. What worked this time in in the end, the netroots moved further to the right and the DC Dems moved a little to the left. It wasn’t a battle between left and center; it was a battle between the future and yesterday. Intervening in Illinois cost us Henry Hyde’s old seat.
    The Dems that were elected are more pragmatic and not necessarily more liberal or more conservative. Some are pro-life. Liberal dems in Red areas lost. Folks want to see progress and understand removing our freedoms does not make us free.

    Now that we own Congress, go with some easy victories that will get bi-partisan support. Raise the minimum wage and dare Bush to veto it.

    Here is a pretty good strategy for starters.

    [snip]
    Later (in the runup to the 2008 elections) Democrats should start forcing votes on bills which they can only pass with very slim majorities (the bills Republicans will absolutely hate), which Bush will then successfully veto.
    This has always been a prerogative of the party in power in Congress — force your opponents to go on record voting against things that will hurt them with the voters in the next election. Republicans have very successfully used this tactic, and it should indeed be used against them — but only after getting some positive things done.
    Don’t lead with your chin, in other words.

  10. 10
    gary says:

    dean good dnc chair

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