Howard Dean again, naturally
Since all the cool kids are discussing Howard Dean and his “controversial comments,” I’d like to weigh in briefly.
1.)Dean’s PR is damaged beyond resuscitation. He has painted himself into the role of a “controversial figure,” which means that when reporters cover him, they will seek out and lead with his most outre statement. This happens to Republicans, too (do you know anything Donald Rumsfeld has said recently outside “you go to war with the army you have”?), but Republicans’ public images don’t matter because they have an official spokesman, George Bush, who does not go off script.
2.)The perception is that Democrats have “no ideas” and “don’t know what they stand for,” and Dean is losing the ability to contradict that. He does have ideas, mentioned in his speeches – health care reform, pension reform, electoral reform. There’s room for Democrats to cohere this stuff into an electoral agenda. But any Dem ideas get lost in the media fog when Dean offends someone – the Democratic “story” for days at a time is about the party on the defensive, apologizing or fighting over some small detail.
3.)Dean’s gaffing hasn’t notably helped the GOP, despite what some of them say – they’ve been falling to pre-9/11, Clinton impeachment-era levels of poll support. But when he goes off script, the media devotes some of its limited political news budget to it. This cuts from the time they can spend covering the faltering GOP, which would help Democrats.
Thus, Democrats and Dean should work out a way for him to leave, or be demoted, gracefully. It can’t be seen as a coup, because that will piss off the liberal base who already think “vichy” Democrats are backstabbing Dean for telling the truth. It can’t be seen as a Hillary/Bill Clinton-orchestrated power play, because it’ll be interpreted that way anyway, and why make Rush et al’s job easier?
There’s an easy way to do this. Dean got the DNC chairmanship, winning over skeptics and state party chairs, because he promised to spend money building parties in all 50 states. So far he’s spotlighted nine states, visiting them and giving them huge grants (Nebraska has received 10 times as much money under Dean as it did under Terry McAuliffe). So, Dean can spend the rest of 2005 cycling through all 50 states and giving them grants. When that’s done, Dean can claim that he’s done what was he was elected to do, and exit triumphantly. One of the DNC also-rans – Ron Kirk, Wellington Webb, Martin Frost, Simon Rosenberg – who has been courted behind the scenes, can take over and praise the awesome work of Howard Dean. Problems solved. The DNC may have spent a year raising less cash than they could have under another chairman, but what you look at what they got for their huge cash flow under McAuliffe, that might be a wash. They will have embraced Dean’s vision, which pleases liberal activists, while getting rid of Dean, which pleases beltway Democrats and moderates. The GOP will lose a regular punching bag and contend with a Democratic party which, according to the CW, has “come to its senses” or “is on the comeback trail” or some such guff.
This shouldn’t be a big deal – the RNC cycled through three party chairs in Bush’s first term. The first one, Jim Gilmore, was a total disaster under whom the party lost elections in Los Angeles, Virginia and New Jersey, and he was booted two months later. This obviously didn’t hurt the GOP in the long run. Of course any Dean resignation is going to be THE political news for a few days, but so what? Republicans gloat and say they “told you so,” Democrats wince at the GOP schadenfreude, and then it’s over.