Saturday, June 11, 2005

More Dean dilemmas

Ed Kilgore of the DLC rides to the defense of Howard Dean:

Every party chair spends a lot of time speaking to Democratic activists, and inevitably serves up a lot of red meat. Dean's recent "controversial" remarks would have been completely unobjectionable, and probably unnoticed, if they had been uttered by his predecessor.

So I think the media treatment of his remarks is unfair, and moreover, misses the legitimate thrust of his basic argument: the GOP leadership does indeed favor wealth over work, and is indeed divisive and exclusive on issues of culture, ethnicity and religion. Sound-bites aside, Dean is right, and you can count me out of any campaign to get him to resign for saying the right thing in a way that is being wilfully misrepresented.

Let’s agree: the content of Dean’s remarks is unremarkable and mostly true. Both the mainstream and right wing media echo chamber have a weird fixation on everything that Dean says – so if he utters anything even slightly eyebrow-raising, it’s Dean Scream time again. So the best strategy is to craft the rhetoric more carefully – don’t give them anything to grab onto.

But Dean’s remarks are problematic not just because of our present-day media pathologies, but because they come across as more than just your typical party chairman’s spin. Terry McAuliffe or Ken Mehlman are consummate party functionaries. When they say something, you know they are just following the day’s talking points. But Dean is a political phenomenon, not a functionary – a former presidential candidate, leader of a movement, would-be party reformer and a quintessential northeastern liberal good government type. People who take on these roles (with the possible exception of presidential candidate) tend to have genuine convictions – they really believe what they say. Dean is no exception.

A party leader straying a millimeter or two from his talking points is not going to raise an eyebrow. But a party leader speaking from conviction is automatically interesting in ways a typical party man can never be. Dean’s convictions are those of a northeastern secular liberal, not quite in tune with constituencies the Democrats desperately need. When he dismisses and stereotypes his opponents it is – unfortunately in this case – legitimate news.