February 4, 2005
A Suicidal Selection: With Dean as party chairman, the Democrats wouldn't need enemies. (JONATHAN CHAIT, February 4, 2005, LA Times)
The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party's message — an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of "message discipline," boiling down the party's ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness.
It's a role for which Dean is particularly ill suited. During his campaign, remember, he fashioned himself a straight talker, delighting reporters by repeatedly wandering "off message." On the plus side, he won friends in the media by appearing honest and human. On the negative side, he did himself enormous damage, when, for example, he suggested that he wouldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden until he had been convicted in a court of law.
For presidential candidates, the negatives of "straight talk" usually outweigh the positives. Paul Maslin, Dean's former pollster, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly after the campaign fell apart: "Our candidate's erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down." But at least for a presidential campaign there are some positives in going off message. In a job like party chairman, a loose cannon is nothing but downside.
The second major task of the DNC chairman is to run the party organization. And here, if this is at all possible, Dean looks even worse. Garance Franke-Ruta, who wrote sympathetic Dean pieces in the American Prospect during the campaign, spoke with several former Dean staffers. One called the candidate "a horrible manager" and added, "I wouldn't trust him to run a company." Another called his management style "just a disaster." [...]
In the latest issue of the New Republic, Ryan Lizza described how Dean had prevailed in a process of third-rate intrigue. The choosing of the DNC chairman has been dominated by state parties, whose concerns revolve around expanding perks, including a demand for a $200,000 handout for each state party from the national party. Nobody seemed to pay much attention to the good of the party as a whole. Meanwhile, Dean touched those leaders' ideological erogenous zones, promising to "feed our core constituencies" and not be "Republican-lite."
As the last election showed, the core constituencies are plenty well fed. There just aren't enough of them to win the White House.
As Bill Clinton demonstrated, Democrats can win if thety run to the Right of Republicans. Howard Dean, who rather than try to lead anyone decided it would be a good idea to follow the lunatic Internet Left off a cliff, ain't Bill Clinton. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 4, 2005 5:47 PM