The rationale for the DNC’s selection of Howard Dean as party chair has been that he “energized their base,” driving many new voters into electoral politics and creating a juggernaut for his campaign. Despite his eventual humbling during the primary, the Democrats still want to harness that effort and star quality of Howard Dean to provide energy and momentum for their attempt to reverse three straight election-cycle setbacks. However, as Dan Balz points out in today’s Washington Post, the Democrats appear clueless as to how Dean’s leadership will affect the party’s direction:
The bloggers have been busy on the Democratic National Committee Web site since Howard Dean was elected party chairman a week ago.
“Paul in OC” and “Steviemo in MN” wrote that they had made their first-ever contributions to the national committee. Someone identified as “J” pleaded with Dean to come to Florida, “home of Baby Bush,” to “heal the irritating red and help us become a cool blue state again.” “Donna in Evanston” wrote, “It’s sad, but it is up to the grassroots to set the example for our representatives in Washington. Howard gets it. Maybe some day the beltway bunch will get it too.” …
But the rising of this grass-roots force also signals a shift in the balance of power within the party, one that raises questions about its ultimate impact on a Democratic Party searching for direction and identity after losses in 2002 and 2004.
At a minimum, say party strategists, the shift will mean a more confrontational Democratic Party in battles with President Bush and the Republicans. But some strategists worry that the influence of grass-roots activists could push the party even further to the left, particularly on national security, reinforcing a weakness that Bush exploited in his reelection campaign.
It only takes a bit of short-term memory to remind people how an obscure Vermont governor vaulted John Kerry and a slate of nationally-known Democrats to a huge fundraising and popularity lead early in the electoral cycle. He calculated that the energy of the opposition primarily came from the coterie of leftist groups opposing Bush on the war on terror, a faction that DLC adherents and Clintonites had kept at arms’ length, for good reason. Dean became the first credible candidate to give patronage to the radical elements of MoveOn and International ANSWER, the latter an openly unreconstructed neo-Stalinist group. In doing so, he radicalized the election and eventually forced Kerry to appropriate Dean’s message when Dean wilted under the pressure in Iowa.
The pressure to continue that change into the highest ranks of the Democratic Party comes from these same groups and their financial backers, people like George Soros, last seen funding the defense of Lynne Stewart, who eventually got convicted of abetting Islamofascist terrorism. The head of the MoveOn PAC, Eli Pariser, wants that kind of demarcation between the two parties, demanding the kind of ideological purity that has lost the center over the past four years:
“I think it’s pretty clear that the era of triangulation is over,” he said. “The reason for that is that if you step halfway between Republicans and Democrats, you get your head cut off by Republicans. There’s no compromise and no mercy, so I think it’s pretty clear that Democrats need to be an opposition that can explain why we believe the current administration is corrupt and misleading the country. It’s not something you can do easily by putting yourself somewhere between the poles.”
In other words, the people that the DNC hope to energize by bringing Dean on as chair do not want to attract the centrists back to the party, and are openly disdainful of those who put themselves somewhere between the poles. These Democrats want their party to be the Super-Greens, Democrats in name only in the space of a generation removed from Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
It’s their party now, as has been said; Soros bought it and he apparently runs it. Dean proved to be both strategically and tactically clueless when the heat got applied in January 2004, and his ideology and attraction threatens much the same result when he takes the reins for next year’s midterm elections. When Hillary Clinton — the woman who tried to nationalize the American health-care system — represents the center-right of any party, then that party has marginalized itself into oblivion. They may truly find themselves facing the same fate as the Whigs of two centuries ago.