The Right Man for the DNC

by Tim Mosso | 2/7/05 6:00am

Last year at this time, the Democratic Party had a different set of goals, a different champion and a different race to win. Howard Dean was a terrible presidential candidate and the wrong man for the job. Dean couldn't beat John Kerry, and John Kerry couldn't beat George Bush. Dean was too loud, too fiery, too polarizing -- and too early. A year later, Howard Dean is the right man for the job.

On Feb. 12, Dean is likely to be elected Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In almost every respect, this position will allow Dean to help the party far more than any presidential candidacy he could not have won. The man is a survivor with staying power, having already eclipsed the visibility and relevance of his former conqueror, John Kerry -- and Kerry is still an incumbent senator.

Dean is a magnet for opponents' criticism, liberal activism and money. Remember when those were weaknesses? As DNC chairman, Dean will more than replace the fund-raising skills of the outgoing chairman and money man Terry McAulliffe.

Just as important, Dean will be able to draw criticism away from Democratic candidates. "Liberal" has become a weapon word in politics, and the Republican national machine is using it to describe everyone to the left of Tom DeLay. Howard Dean will be able to take heat off of Democratic candidates.

A party chairman can be vocal. He can make provocative one-sided assessments of a situation and let the opposition shower him with ridicule. After all, he's not a candidate.

Any time the Republicans waste attacking Chairman Howard Dean -- and they will attack him -- is time not spent smearing Democratic candidates for office. The GOP will go after "radical" Dean while the Democratic candidates get to focus on issues, not counter attacks. Dean, for his part, is no longer a viable candidate for public office, so this damage control act will only raise his stock in the supporting roles that remain open to him. Dean has a bright future as a Democratic bulldog.

Howard Dean has already demonstrated his ability to energize the party base, which is exactly what a chairman should do. Let the candidates set up the "big tent" when the time comes. Between elections, somebody has to make sure the party has a purpose and a message for the eventual campaign season.

With Dean, what you get is more than what you see. He's a two-for-one deal. A year after Dean's campaign collapsed, he remains popular among his former supporters. This is the same group that helped him to break primary election fundraising records and built his notoriety door-by-door. Dean has a proven ability to get people off their hindquarters and into action. No other candidate brings star power and a built-in voting bloc to the party. Does the name Donnie Fowler light any fires?

Dean's original campaign messages of fiscal responsibility, social justice and aversion to war are Democratic core values that are relevant to an increasingly war-weary, indebted and outsourced nation. Although Dean has recently drawn fire from establishment democrats for emphasizing the need to stick to these core principles, the failure of existing party leadership discredits their criticism. Before Democrats can find a new message, we must prove that we can communicate our basic values.

Wednesday night's Democratic response to George Bush's State of the Union speech proved that current Democratic leaders are not able to articulate our values. Harry Reid, a moderate from Nevada and current Democratic Minority Leader in the Senate, gave a mummified version of a Franklin Roosevelt speech.

George Bush is no Roosevelt, Kennedy, or even Ronald Reagan. He won't be remembered as a great communicator. But in the absence of any strong Democratic voices, he may as well be Daniel Webster. Howard Dean is the first Democratic star to emerge in the post-Clinton era. He connects with people and gets them excited about Democratic politics. If any other candidate for DNC chair can make this claim, we have yet to hear from him.

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