Beltway Elites Demonize Howard Dean … Again

by Paul Hogarth on April 3, 2008

Yesterday’s New York Times had a truly moronic piece about how some Democratic “leaders” worry that DNC Chair Howard Dean can’t resolve the impasse between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It’s not Dean’s fault that the primary has featured two strong candidates with a loyal following – or that one candidate refuses to give up when she can’t win. Dean offends these Beltway elites because since getting elected as an outsider in 2005 to the DNC, he has worked to devolve the party’s power to the grassroots – whereas previous party chairs stroked the egos of millionaire donors and consultants. Rather than blame Clinton for her Tonya Harding strategy that helps no one except John McCain, these so-called “Democrats” would rather blame the guy who’s done more to expand the party’s long-term future and create a permanent progressive infrastructure.

Remember November 2006 – when Democrats made historic victories in red states and took back the House and the Senate? It never would have happened if Democrats listened to the Beltway elite and ignored Iraq, and the party could not have capitalized on this momentum without Howard Dean’s 50 State Strategy. As I wrote back then, 2006 was the first time since 1998 where Democrats had the wind at their backs – and by being competitive everywhere, it paid dividends.

But one week later, Clinton strategist James Carville called for Dean’s ouster – perhaps the most politically tone-deaf statement that the media pundit has ever said. Carville’s pronouncement was so outlandish that the issue died quickly, but it said a lot about the contempt that the Democratic establishment holds for Dean. Ironically, Carville’s choice for new chair was Harold Ford – the only major Democratic Senate candidate to lose that year, and who now heads the anti-progressive Democratic Leadership Council (DLC.)

Why the hostility? Because Washington DC is an insular culture of elites – regardless of political party – and Howard Dean’s call for democratizing the party threatens their power base. These people are dinosaurs, and they long for the days when a DNC Chair just raised gobs of corporate money. But Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004 changed that, as it empowered a new generation of activists and donors who believe in a party that sticks to progressive principles. Dean lost the presidential primaries that year, but managed to parlay his elevated profile into taking over the DNC after John Kerry lost the general election.

These donors are used to having things their way, and they’re not happy that Dean listens more to the party’s grassroots than to them. It’s the same reason why 20 millionaire donors tried to pressure Nancy Pelosi to stop suggesting that the super-delegates follow the will of the people. If Howard Dean hadn’t cultivated an army of small contributors who make online contributions, such a threat to Pelosi would have been legitimate.

Now they’re blaming Dean for the fact that Clinton refuses to give up her futile run for President – and is trying to bring Obama down with her by making him unelectable. According to the New York Times, “it is not clear that Dean has the political skills or the stature with the two campaigns to bring the nominating battle to a relatively quick and unifying conclusion.” The article quoted Peter Lowy, a “prominent Los Angeles contributor” who has “held regular fund-raisers” for the Democratic Party, who sent a letter to Dean complaining about his inept performance during the primary season.

But Lowy isn’t exactly a loyal Democrat. He hasn’t given a dime to the DNC this cycle, but he did manage to give the maximum legal contribution to John McCain. It takes a certain level of gumption for a commercial real estate mogul and CEO of Westfield Shopping Centers who gave $2300 to the presumptive Republican nominee to lecture Howard Dean on behalf of “long-term supporters of the party.”

Just to be clear, this is what Dean has done for the presidential primary system. He set up a formal schedule that allowed four small states to go first – which for the first time ever allowed African-American and Latino voters to play a prominent role in shaping the nominating process. Despite the incessant greed of states like Florida and Michigan to openly flout the rules, Dean has maintained firm that early primaries cannot be officially recognized – or else the process will lead to chaos. All the while, he has attempted to play the neutral arbiter – no matter how unreasonable the Clinton campaign gets.

It’s an old-established rule in presidential primaries that the Establishment always wins. Insurgent candidates – like Howard Dean in 2004 – are always there to spice things up and keep it interesting, but everyone knows that they have no staying power. Walter Mondale, George Bush Sr., Bob Dole, Al Gore, George Bush Jr., John Kerry and John McCain all had to fight off their scrappy challengers – but the favorite of the corporate donor class always gets their respective party’s nomination. Hillary Clinton is at a loss at what to do – because for the first time, the Establishment candidate will lose.

Now the Establishment is laying the blame on Dean. What was most revealing about the New York Times article is that the DNC Chairman doesn’t live in Washington DC, stays at a hotel when he’s in town – but spends most of his time traveling across the country to cultivate state parties. “His approach and style offer a sharp contrast to a string of big-shoulder, high-profile party chairmen,” they wrote, “who rose through the party ranks and were fixtures at the parties, fund-raisers and restaurants that make up this city’s political culture and where much of the political conversation takes place.”

If the worst thing that Howard Dean does as DNC Chair is miss out on a few Beltway cocktail parties, I’d say he’s doing a great job.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back in 2003, Paul Hogarth was the first Berkeley elected official to endorse Howard Dean for President.

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