Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dean credit

From The Hotline:
Who won the election for Democrats last week? Apportion a large measure of credit to the national environment and to Republican mistakes. Give the Democratic grassroots, who cultivated candidates, knocked on doors and raised money for people and causes ignored (at first) by the national party. Certainly, Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer deserve their accolades.

And then there’s Howard Dean, the unorthodox, insurgent chairman of the Democratic Party. For more than a year, many of the party’s familiarly named strategists, consultants and hangers-on have been convinced that Dean wanted to shape the national committee as a counterweight to the party committees. So if party committees get credit for the victory, Dean should get none, right?

Wrong. [MARC AMBINDER]

Dean ran for chairman on a platform to devolve power and spending authority to state parties. Dean believed the national party committees were too closely aligned with – and therefore only serviced – the interests of the Washington establishment. He redirected the flow of money and responsibility outward to his patrons in states. He legitimized the grievances and complaints of the party’s grassroots army, who had grown frustrated with their status as outsiders looking in. The RNC pioneered a ground-game first approach in 2004; Dean became the first Democratic chairman to validate the work of volunteer ground warriors.

Whether Dean was right, in the normative sense of the word, is irrelevant. He did what he did, and the consequences speak for themselves.

Three years ago, Howard Dean-style politics was too outré for the Democratic Party to bear. Today, arguably, Dean Politics is Democratic politics. Embedded within Dean's campaign theme was a broad critique of the Republican approach to power. Iraq was simply its worst manifestation. But Dean also evinced his distaste with Republican "corruption." He talked about how Democrats - and independents and even Republicans -- were interested in results, not ideology. In his eyes, Americans wanted a fresh approach. He urged, first Democrats, then Americans, to take their country back. He also urged the party to overlook interest group apostasy; remember that Dean got an “A” rating from the NRA as Vermont's governor. He clumsily endorsed an outreach to "the guys with confederate flags on the back of their pick-up trucks."

Leave the Internet aside: the architecture of Dean Politics has become the de mode style for the entire party. Dean promoted a vocal, confrontational style of campaigning, one that did not cede an inch to Republicans. His primary campaign was predicated on a 50 state strategy. He urged Democrats to adopt issues that would drive wedges between the Republican base and the party’s weaker adherents (mostly in the suburbs). He rejected the politics of inoculation, pronouncing himself proud to be the talisman of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. He intuited that the party (and voters) wanted the Democrats to be the opposition party.

When Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. and Iraqi troops in December of 2003, then presidential candidate Dean called the arrest "a good thing which I hope very much will keep our soldiers in Iraq and around the world safer." Then he uttered the words that would hasten his cataclysmic collapse as the Democratic frontrunner: "The capture of Saddam has not made America safer." At the time, it was an outrageous statement, and one from which Dean quickly retreated.

In retrospect -- three years later, amid a sluggish, intractable civil war that's left 2500 more American troops and untold Iraqis dead, Dean was prescient. Few who voted in last Tuesday's elections would disagree. They couldn't disagree; the facts on the ground have proven Howard Dean right.

As the result of Dean's own 50 state funding initiatives, when states like Indiana and Wyoming and Nebraska suddenly featured competitive races, the DNC had trained field staffers on the ground. But even Dean’s admirers admit that there’s no concrete way to know whether the 50 State Project gave these races a bigger boost than the DSCC and DCCC efforts.

But give Dean credit for setting the tone and style of Democratic politics. Successful, Democratic politics, that is, in an environment that Dean first detected three years ago.


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