BUMP/UPDATE: See John at Americablog for a good skewering of Biden/Edwards on this issue. And the comments section to this post is illuminating as well.
I want to take a minute to write about the controversy about Howard Dean's latest statement because this is important.
Given Joe Biden's and John Edwards' criticisms of Dean's recent statements, a diary at Daily Kos by Renee in Ohio says "Dems: Stop eating your own!". Renee's exhortation is that Dean's comments should be viewed in context and that
"it would really help matters if people in his own party weren't gunning for him so much of the time".
Look, I've been one of the spokesmen for Dems not bashing Dems (falsely) in public and that I've always been a strong fan of Dean (and was especially thrilled that he ran and got elected DNC Chair). But, we need to be careful about taking this "no criticism in public" mantra to an extreme. Could Biden or Edwards
have been more careful and pointed out the context of Dean's remarks? Perhaps. But Dean's remarks sounded so strong that that was perhaps not the best approach. Let me explain. (And before someone furiously responds in the comments about why I am wrong, please take a minute to read my entire post first).
This USA Today piece gathers some of Dean's latest and previous "controversial" comments. The one that is making the waves now is his statement from last week's Take Back America conference:
Dean's comment came as he recalled conditions at crowded Ohio polling stations last fall. He wondered who could expect voters to work all day and then stand in line for eight hours to vote. "Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives," he said, drawing some surprised "oohs" from his audience.In this follow-up with Wolf Blitzer (CNN), Dean said:
"I don't hate Republicans," he said, in an interview Friday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "But I sure hate what this Republican Party is doing to America."So, the context of Dean's remarks is clear. That should be sufficient, right?
In Friday's interview, Dean said that he did not intend his remarks to refer to the more than 50 million American people who voted for President Bush's re-election, but rather to Republican leaders whom he said do not understand the difficulties of waiting in line for eight hours to vote, as some did in Florida during the last election.
"We don't go after voters," he said. "But we do go after bad leadership," and cited the national deficit and the war in Iraq as evidence of the Republican administration's incompetence.
In this case the answer is NO, it's not. Why?
First, if Democratic leaders want to get more support for the Democratic party from Republicans, they DO need to be careful about how they phrase their criticisms about Republicans. It is very important that they explicitly call out the Republican party leadership rather than simply use the phrase Republicans. The reasons are simple.
- The real target of Democrats is the leadership of the GOP and their brown shirts in the "fair and balanced" media - the target is NOT rank-and-file Republicans; so there's no reason to not make this clear up front. While the Far Right Republicans have been brainwashed by their party and their media, there are many thoughtful Republicans and conservatives among us (even playing a leading role on issues of importance to Democrats - example).
- Many Republicans voted for Kerry/the Dems in 2004 (or did not vote for George Bush) - you don't want to alienate them. For heavens' sakes, American Conservative magazine endorsed John Kerry in 2004 with the following words: "George W. Bush has come to embody a politics that is antithetical to almost any kind of thoughtful conservatism."
- Rank-and-file Americans (especially Republicans) are misled and lied to daily - by GOP leaders and their brown shirts in the media - and criticisms by Dems are always distorted to keep these misinformed people further misinformed about the Democratic party; why add more fuel to the fire at a time when Dems don't have much influence over the media?
Let me say this again. Not only does accuracy matter, it is especially important when you have virtually no influence over the media (a media that is firmly biased in the other direction). Democrats should have learnt this by now.
Second, Dean is not a "free agent" any more. He is the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. His position involves a special responsibility because it carries with it the role of being a spokesman for the Democratic party (whether Dean likes it or not). It is one thing for a random Democrat to make comments that can be taken out of context, it is another thing altogether for a Party chair to make such comments without realizing how they can easily be taken out of context.
Finally, a personal note. I have some friends who are either Republicans or are Independents who sometimes vote Republican, and many of them did not vote for Bush last year (some even voted for Kerry). These kinds of comments will not play well with them and will help build false stereotypes in their mind about Howard Dean or the Dem party. They are much more comfortable with justifiable criticisms or criticisms of the GOP party leadership; but blanket criticisms of "Republicans" (whether or not they are taken out of context) is not the best way to keep them engaged with the Democratic party.
Folks, Dean is a fabulous guy. Dean is the kind of leader the Democratic party sorely needs. So, don't get me wrong. But, to win the battle of minds against the GOP leadership, you have to be smarter in how you play the hands you are dealt with. Especially as a party leader you have to be more targeted in your statements about the opposition. All it takes is the word "leaders" or "leadership" or "politicians" added to every statement critical of the GOP or Republicans. That's ALL it takes.
So, in a nutshell - Dean should learn from this incident. Let's ALL take this as an example to learn from. Let's suggest to Dean that he NOT give up his passion and his ability to call a spade a spade, but be smarter about calling out the right spades. OK?