Saturday, January 10, 2009

Success should be rewarded, not punished. And as Democrats we should remember that, especially regarding Chairman Dean

I'm really having a hard time keeping shut up about this one, so I will go ahead and vent.

In an earlier post I discussed the successes of Howard Dean, certainly the most successful DNC chair I've seen in my lifetime.

And Barack Obama, while he built a very good organization himself, had the scaffolding of a national party that Howard Dean had built.

You may recall that back in 2004, Zell Miller (the turncoat from Georgia) had written a book entitled 'A National Party No More' in which he claimed that the Democratic party had become shrunken down to a collection of special interests in certain parts of the country and unable to compete nationally. Of course as Democrats, we took issue with Zell's book, but the truth is that in 2004, he was onto something. Howard Dean cured that problem though, building the Democratic party in every state so that among the numerous pickups that Democrats netted during Dean's four years at the DNC were victories in places where Democrats had simply not won anytime within the memory of most people. In fact by the time he was done, it was the Republican party that for all intents and purposes has been kicked out of the urban northeast, California (where only a Republico-Democrat like Arnold Scharzeneggar can come close to winning) and a lot of places in the upper midwest. Democrats, had they won the relatively close Wyoming open seat, would now have a Democrat in the congressional delegation (house or Senate) in all fifty states. And note-- the Governor of Wyoming is a Democrat (though he was first elected two years before Dean took over at the DNC.)

So what did Howard Dean get for his spectacularly brilliant and successful leadership? Well, first of all, he was snubbed by having his successor, Tim Kaine (who it's been known for some time had been hand-picked by the incoming President, as is his prerogative) announced on a day when Dean was in American Samoa, where he was building the party there (Dean believes that every Democrat needs to be represented within the party, and for this egalitarian philosophy he was painted as a fool, mainly by fools.)

But the biggest slap (unfortunately, but facts being what they are I have to say this) came from Obama himself. His obligatory statement recognizing Dean's service read this way:

He launched a 50-state strategy that made Democrats competitive in places they had not been in years, working with my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to give Democrats a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade.

Half of that is accurate. It is true that Dean launched the 50-state strategy, that it made Democrats competitive in places they had not been in years, and that it helped give Democrats a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade.

And it is also true that Emanuel, as chair of the Democratic congressional committee deserves some of the credit for what happened in the 2006 campaign cycle. But keep in mind that Democrats have since then gained a net of 24 more seats in the house, as well as (between the two cycles) fourteen in the Senate.

But we well know that Dean did not work at all with Emanuel. Emanuel in fact opposed Dean's strategy preferring to concentrate on places where Democrats were traditionally competitive (and I had myself once written a piece detailing back about 2003 that the GOP's congressional 'soft underbelly' was composed of northeastern Republicans who represented left-leaning districts and could be picked off just by tying them to the conservatism of the Republican leadership (using Chris van Hollen's 2002 upset of Maryland moderate Connie Morella as a model.) And that was in fact correct as far as it went, so that Democrats have taken over all 22 New England house seats and all but three in New York. But those wins alone would have only given Democrats a slim majority. They instead have a sizeable majority and it's because the 'fifty state strategy' allowed them to win Republican house seats all over the country. The fact that obnoxious Republicans like J.D. Hayworth, Charles Taylor, Robin Hayes, Virgil Goode, Bill Sali and Marilyn Musgrave, and Senator Rick Santorum, who had never been really pushed before lost, adds a measure of satisfaction.

Let's be blunt here: Emanuel and Dean don't like each other. Dean won the argument and turned out to be right. Emanuel is Obama's chief of staff. You figure out what the 'lauditory message' was supposed to say. There was no reason to give any specific mention of Rahm, all the more so since the scope of successes the party has gone through under Dean went far beyond the 2006 Congressional cycle. Issuing the statement after denying Dean even the chance to be present as his successor was introduced is a gross insult to a man to whom we all owe a heck of a lot.

I fully support the Obama administration and will continue to support them as we move forward during the most challenging economic crisis that America has faced in my 46 years. But a cheap shot is a cheap shot, and after everything Howard Dean has done for the party he deserves better than that. By signing off on that statement, the President-elect did cheapen himself. And I know he's a better man than that.


sandyh said...

Obama seems to have surrounded himself with people who have chips on their shoulder. It's getting him into trouble with the very people he needs to succeed.

I'm not too sure exactly who in his inner circle wrote off on that statement, but they sure have a lot of influence over Obama. I assume that when Michelle is not so wrapped up in getting their children settled that she will intervene if this pattern continues to develop.

It's the little things that count. It's all little things in life. Let's hope Obama learns quickly that this is true even in the White House bubble.

He doesn't have much time to make the progress that is expected. Sure, the economic meltdown and bailout dictate that the emphasis must change somewhat. But people want real change.

The 2010 election cycle has already begun. Nowhere is it written that you can hold onto a majority in Washington or the power it gives you for more than two years. You must earn it... and the respect of those with whom you must share it.

I will presume that Obama had bigger things on his mind than whether Gov. Dean would be out of town or feel slighted by the wording of that statement. This was was just a mis-step on his part?

You need to learn to walk, Mr. President-Elect. But be careful of whose hand you are holding as you take those important first steps.

We like you. But maybe not so much? Remember that? All those HillRaisers who voted for you remember it well. You were the second choice of most of your hardest working supporters.

You need to make friends within the family not just outside.

Anonymous said...

What an arrogant prick! This has Rahm's fingerprints all over it. And mentioning Rahm in the same sentence as he is supposedly praising Dean is worse than if he'd said nothing at all.

If anyone has earned some respect in the party it's Howard Dean.

I'm almost sorry I voted for Obama. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come.

Eli Blake said...


Exactly. I'm not sure what kind of 'favor' the President-elect is looking to curry with the right by insulting Chairman Dean, but I am sure that there is a lot more anger over this simmering underneath the surface than meets the eye. A lot of the same people who worked their rear ends off for Obama are the same ones who worked the same behind off four years earlier for Howard Dean. And after years of complaining about how the Republicans had run circles around us in terms of strategy, we finally get someone at the DNC who kicks their butt and what is his reward?

Do we want to go back to the era of the Ed Rendells and the Terry McAuliffes, guys who always seemed to be a step behind the GOP?

Eli Blake said...

And Mike:

I agree that Rahm had a lot to do with this. And it was totally unnecessary. Chairman Dean was going to be leaving anyway, there was no reason at all to publically try to humiliate him this way.

Anonymous said...

Success should be rewarded, not punished?

I agree.

But you're a Democrat. Democrats always want to punish success and reward failure. If Howard Dean wanted to be given accolades then he should have sat on his duff and lose elections by trying to micromanage everything and doing everything with pollsters and focus groups like Terry McAuliffe did.

Since he did succeed at the DNC, he is clearly a mismatch for the Democratic party.

But I'm sure that Tim Kaine will return the DNC to it's previous level of incompetence and failure, so that Howard Dean will just be a distant memory.

Anonymous said...

Super Conductor:


Maybe what Rahm and Obama did was classless but that isn't the same thing as suggesting that they (or Kaine) are open to failure.

After the economic, foreign policy and environmental failures of the last eight years, any more failure is simply not an option at this time.

And Howard Dean will shake this off and be just fine. Democracy For America isn't going to go away and they will be holding the President's feet to the fire. He knows that in order to have an obstacle free run to renomination in four years he has to stay true to the base. At worst this was a stupid an d petty move by Rahm, but it doesn't indicate incompetence or inability to handle a situation.

Craig said...

Eli - do you know of any plans to bring forth a motion at next week's meeting of the State Committee to thank Governor Dean?

The only items on any agenda that I can find concern officer elections.

Eli Blake said...


I don't know of any such item on the agenda. It would certainly be appropriate, though now resolutions have to be submitted to the resolutions committee, you can no longer bring them from the floor.

That's not to say that people can't speak their minds though, especially in regard to asking directly whether candidates for party office support a continuation of the fifty state strategy.

sandyh said...

Paul Krugman said it was imperative to have voices outside this administration giving criticism and counsel if it was to succeed.

Rahm and whoever else was at the center of this debacle may have done the party a real favor. By drawing a line in the sand, they've challenged us to work even harder to keep them honest.

Since this thread was originally posted, Obama and Kaine have both publicly stated that the 50 state strategy remains in effect.

Challenge noted and effectively parlayed.