Monday, February 21, 2005

Howard Dean: Good Choice for DNC Chairman

How many of you believe, as I do, that Howard Dean was an incredibly appropriate choice as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)? I believe he is exactly the right man at the right time, to deal with the caliber of people coming at us from the Republican party.

We've heard all the downsides: He speaks before he thinks. He expresses social and policy opinions unconcerned about what the fallout might be. And, as we saw in Iowa, he's prone to screams of enthusiasm -- much to my delight as an early John Kerry supporter.

But let's not forget what we liked about him and what impressed even those of us who had chosen to support another Democratic candidate. He had the courage to launch his candidacy before anyone else was willing to step into the ring. He found a way to mobilize thousands of young people and developed a fund-raising machine unlike our party has ever seen. And, perhaps most importantly, he had the guts to say that the Iraq war was a colossal mistake, way before confirmation from the 9/11 commission and before it was fashionable to call Bush and his cronies on this perilous folly.

Aside from the reality that it has never been the role of the DNC chairman to act as a diplomat, Howard Dean understands that the Republicans long ago rewrote the rules of civility and bipartisan discourse.

In 1980, Lee Atwater, the patron saint of Republican campaign strategy, pioneered the use of push-polling to smear a Democratic opponent. As a consultant for Texas Republican congressional candidate Floyd Spence, Atwater instituted fake surveys by "independent pollsters" to "inform" white suburbanites that Tom Turnipseed, Spence's Democratic opponent , was a member of the NAACP. The same campaign saw Atwater planting a fake reporter at a press conference to ask provocative questions about "psychotic treatment...." Turnipseed had allegedly had as a teenager.

He capped his Republican political career in 1988 by creating a despicable media campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, featuring the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who committed a rape while on a furlough from a life sentence in a Massachusetts prison. This ad has become the prototype for Republican tactics of encouraging racist fears and distorting the records of Democratic candidates.

A good part of Howard Dean's demeanor and bearing – in addition to the "anger" that he has been accused of exuding – comes as a result of knowing precisely that he is dealing with people who worshipped Lee Atwater and do not hesitate to use the same unscrupulous tactics today.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey famously opined that "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape," while Newt Gingrich once said that "Politics and war are remarkably similar situations". We need look no further than Republican funding of the Swift Boat Liars against Senator Kerry or Vice President Dick Cheney's public assertion that our country would be more subject to terrorist attacks if the Democratic presidential ticket prevailed in 2004 to see how the current White House campaigns.

Howard Dean has never been afraid to stand up for Democratic ideals and to face down right-wing thugs at their highest levels. "This country was the moral leader of the world until George Bush became president," said Dean. He was also willing to step up to the plate against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying "John Ashcroft is not a patriot. John Ashcroft is a descendant of Joseph McCarthy".

We have seldom seen a time in our nation's history where the delineation between the beliefs and values of the two major parties are more clear. Democrats need a party chairman who will stand up to Republicans and stick it to them, while engendering greater loyalty and enthusiasm from our party base.

Republicans made the decision long ago that politics is a bare-knuckle brawl and that any sincere attempts at bipartisan discussion by Democrats will be met with cynicism, ridicule and scorn. If, as Newt Gingrich has suggested, we are in a political war, I'll take Governor Dean in my foxhole any day.