Politics & Policy

The Leader Is a Liability

Howard Dean gets out of hand.

I’m beginning to see through the Republican spin,” a GOP Hill staffer instant-messaged me the other day, “and now I don’t think it’s spin anymore. Howard Dean is just totally nuts.”

Under Dean’s leadership, the Democratic National Committee is different now from last year only in that it can’t keep up in fundraising, and its chairman calls Republicans “evil,” “corrupt” and “brain-dead” “liars” who “never made an honest living in their lives” and “are not nice people.”

Republicans, Dean said this week in San Francisco, are “pretty much a monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It’s pretty much a white Christian party.” If you belong to the GOP, he said in Washington last week, then you “are all about suppressing votes: two voting machines if you live in a black district, ten voting machines if you live in a white district.” If you are a Republican, Dr. Dean says you offer a “dark, difficult and dishonest vision…for America.”

But Dean assures us, “We’re not going to stoop to the kind of divisiveness that the Republicans are doing.” Quite a relief!

There is much legitimate debate over what makes for a good party chairman, but one criterion that nearly everyone can agree on is that he should not be his party’s greatest liability. On that score, Howard Dean is really getting out of hand.

When Dean starts speaking, even Barney Frank gets nervous and starts looking for the door. His party’s leading elected officials are likely to feign ignorance at the sound of his name: “Howard Who?”

Asked about Dean, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) told The Hill, “I think the party spokesmen are Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi…My belief is the party chair’s job is to organize the party to support policymakers and the policies they promote.” From public-relations-speak, that translates to “Who the [expletive] does that little [expletive] think he is? He should shut up and do what we tell him.”

If you’re a reporter, it may be worth your time to pore over the DNC by-laws to see what is required to impeach a sitting chairman, because it really could happen soon.

The only Democrat The Hill could find to defend Dean was Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (Tex.), the same person who declared from the House floor last winter that she was “proud of the family-oriented entertainment” her city of Houston offered at the 2004 Super Bowl (Janet Jackson had just performed in that one, you may recall). “Chairman Howard Dean emulates [core Democratic] values, and should continue to work diligently to spread our message,” said Jackson-Lee. That’s a small stretch, even for someone known to suffer the delusion that Neil Armstrong planted flags on Mars.

Answering questions from Tim Russert two weeks ago, Dean had no regrets about his April mockery of Rush Limbaugh’s drug addiction in Minnesota. He also defended his statement last month in Massachusetts that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Tex.) “ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence down there courtesy of the Texas taxpayers.” To Russert’s objection that DeLay has not been convicted of anything, Dean replied that DeLay is “under investigation…This gentleman is not an ethical person, and he ought not to be leading Congress, period.

He had taken the bait:

MR. RUSSERT: You said in December of 2003 that we shouldn’t prejudge Osama bin Laden. How can you sit here and have a different standard for Tom DeLay and prejudge him?

DR. DEAN: To be honest with you, Tim, I don’t think I’m prejudging him…

More important is Dean’s unimpressive fundraising relative to his Republican adversaries. As of April 30, the RNC had raised $44.7 million this year to the DNC’s $20.9 million. RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has $30.1 million in cash to play with as he works to expand the GOP base ahead of the 2006 election, whereas Dean will have to do the same thing with only $7.4 million and a foot wedged tightly in his mouth. And even before Dean’s latest round of stupid remarks, three top Democratic fundraisers had already quit.

Dean seems intent on ensuring that if anyone carries the Democrats into the future, it will be the left-wing 527 groups and not the DNC. His selection as chairman earlier this year only came about because Democrats were unable to find another candidate who could stop him, as they did in the 2004 presidential race. Since then, the good doctor has worked with such zeal alienating voters and contributors that Republicans can only sit back and enjoy. The Democrats would be crazy to keep him, but they may prefer to let him and the DNC become irrelevant rather than suffer the public-relations crisis of a party purge.

Dean’s latest remarks about the “White, Christian” Republican party could even be a hint that he dislikes the DNC job and is looking for a way out. But that may be giving him more credit than he deserves. Maybe he really is just nuts.

David Freddoso is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.


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