Saturday :: Feb 7, 2004

If Kerry Wins, Let Dean Fix The DNC


by Steve

Yuval posted an excellent entry earlier today regarding what role Howard Dean should play in the campaign if and when he drops out after Wisconsin. Notwithstanding my preference in this race, I have grown to respect not only Dean, but what he and Joe Trippi created. Rather than talk more about Dean’s role in this campaign, I want to engage in some discussion here about a longer-term vision.

As I see it, should Kerry or one of the other Democrats get the nomination and win the election, there are two main roles for Dean to play, and I am discounting talk about a Kerry/Dean ticket because Kerry would need a running mate who helps him geographically. The first role for Dean for which he is the best suited inside the Cabinet would obviously be as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Kerry should give Dean all the support and latitude necessary to accomplish what others have failed to do in over fifty years: deal effectively with the ranks of the uninsured in this country. Since Dean has a demonstrated record of success already in this area, and would pursue this incrementally and affordably, both he and Kerry would be in a position to achieve something that would eventually be seen as one of the greatest accomplishments this country has ever seen.

But if Kerry and/or Dean are not wild about being inside a Kerry Administration (and again I think Kerry should bring Dean in, without reservation), I think we should grapple with an obvious solution here to another glaring problem. Dean grabbed a disaffected part of the base, and brought in new voters. He, along with Trippi, revolutionized how the Dems look at fundraising and the Internet. He did manage to get the support of unionized workers. He did have a message that resonated with a large part of the base, and possibly with the swing voters as well, by running against the Beltway/DLC part of the party that has left its base behind.

He, along with Trippi built an organization that dwarfed his rivals, but was hampered by an all-or-nothing strategy of winning Iowa and New Hampshire without a fallback plan, and letting his consultant/manager spend whatever he wanted in pursuing that strategy. Both of these in retrospect were fixable.

Therefore, why shouldn’t Howard Dean, with Kerry’s (and probably Gore’s) support, kick out Terry McAuliffe and take over the Democratic National Committee?

What are the downsides to having Dean take over the DNC?

He is too much of a lightning rod. BS. Would you rather have Howard Dean going around the country to college campuses and communities getting new and disaffected people back into the party, or a hack like Terry McAuliffe? Dean would not be the candidate this time; he would be the man showing the energized and vigorous face of the party. Besides, would you rather have Dean thrashing Ed Gillespie every week on the Sunday chatfests and around the country, or T-Mac? Let Dean do the dirty work calling the GOP liars while Kerry stays above it and acts presidential.

He would only use this to help himself in 2008 or later. So what? He who takes on the job gets some perks. Besides, let’s face facts. T-Mac is where he is so that Hillary gets her shot in 2008. This is the Democratic Party, not the Clinton’s personal political machine. As much as I respect and like Clinton and his accomplishments, he was useless in translating those achievements into organizational advantages, as has T-Mac been since. Let Dean have it for four years and see what he can do with it. Do you really think Howard Dean won't be an improvement over T-Mac?

He will take the party too far left. BS again. Dean is not a traditional liberal, and will move the party away from several issues that have killed it in the past, like guns and spend-at-any-price policies. And if Kerry wins, Dean will not be the head of the party, just the organizer/party builder-in-chief, able to move around the country and sell several themes while bashing the GOP senseless.

He would rub the Washington Democrats the wrong way. So what, again. It can be credibly argued that the Washington Democrats, as Dean argued, abandoned their own base and loyalists for the better part of two decades. Dean’s job as head of the DNC would be to reconnect a growing and energized base with Washington through Kerry, reminding the Beltway boys that unlike Clinton’s time, the Administration has to remember who got it into power and this time address some core issues even if it means thermonuclear war with the GOP. Yes, Dean would have to build a relationship with the DLC and work with the various 527’s to build the permanent organization and support that Clinton never did. But he is more capable of that than Clinton was, who talks a good game but has never shown the patience or ability to actually sit still long enough to do it.

He and Kerry could never co-exist. This line of argument doesn’t give Dean or Kerry enough credit. Kerry, as Matt noted in his piece several days ago, will have his hands full during the next four years just dealing with Congress and cleaning up the mess. It would help Kerry while he fights those battles if someone as bulldoggish as Dean was out there in the countryside slapping around the GOP, reminding voters how we got in this mess, and pointing out why the Democrats can be trusted to fix it.

There are obvious advantages to having Dean take over the DNC. Dean could marry Trippi’s internet fundraising strategy from small continuous donors with the support from the White House and larger Beltway donors to get the party the funding it needs to be a force again. In fact, he could build the essential care-and-feeding of the small donors that is necessary and practiced by the GOP into the White House field operation so that the little people feel they are relevant again. He could continually move around the country and reconnect the party to those it has left behind, bringing along the White House with him to show the base that the big tent applies once again. And he can tell the DLC from a position of power to get over itself and rejoin the game or become irrelevant, with the backing of Kerry and Gore.

Would Dean do this if the Dems lose in November? No, because he harbors hopes for 2008, and the Clintons will not allow T-Mac to be ousted when he can still help Hillary. If the Democrats win in November, will the Clintons let Dean take over easily? No, but if Kerry wins in November, he is the leader of the party and shouldn’t be too comfortable with a T-Mac handling the party in Hillary’s best interests. And let’s not forget that as Wesley Clark sinks in the polls, the Clinton wing loses more and more leverage anyway.

Bringing Dean to the DNC can allow for his and Trippi’s outreach and fundraising successes to be married with an improved and clearly defined political strategy, which can help not only Kerry but the party as a whole. Dean is quite able to do the one thing that T-Mac and the Daschle/Gephardt gang didn’t do in 2002: communicate to voters what the Democratic Party stands for. By working hand-in-glove with a Kerry White House in such a coordinated effort to do so, Dean as DNC Chair would represent a great chance for the party to emerge to do real battle with the GOP, reclaim its voice, and the respect of the party faithful.

Steve :: 2:48 PM :: Comments (14) :: Digg It!