June 8, 2005

Howard Dean: Damaging the Political Discourse in America

Howard Dean has, once again, damaged the quality of political discourse in America:

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, unapologetic in the face of recent criticism that he has been too tough on his political opposition, said in San Francisco this week that Republicans are "a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a white Christian party."

"The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people," Dean said Monday, responding to a question about diversity during a forum with minority leaders and journalists. "We're more welcoming to different folks, because that's the type of people we are. But that's not enough. We do have to deliver on things: jobs and housing and business opportunities."

The comments are another example of why the former Vermont governor, who remains popular with the party's grassroots, has been a lightning rod for criticism since being elected to head the Democratic National Committee last February. His comments last week that Republicans "never made an honest living in their lives," which he later clarified to say Republican "leaders," were disavowed by leading Democrats including Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson...

But Dean's style and rhetoric have sparked increasing criticism from inside the Democratic Party in recent weeks -- and gleeful Republicans say they couldn't be happier.

"Where do I sign up on a committee to keep Howard Dean?" crowed GOP operative Jon Fleischmann, publisher of the FlashReport, a daily roundup of California political news and commentary. "He's the best thing to happen to the GOP in ages."

"I'm thrilled he's the DNC chair," says Tom Del Becarro, chairman of the Contra Costa County Republican Party. "Howard Dean is scaring away the middle. People don't like angry people. They like hopeful people.''

But Simi Valley Councilman Glenn Becerra, a staffer with former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and a Bush appointee to the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, said Tuesday he was far from amused by Dean's suggestion that Republicans constitute "a white Christian party," and called the Democratic Party chairman "an embarrassment."

"I'm living proof that the (GOP) isn't what Howard Dean is trying to describe,'' Becerra said during a telephone interview. "It's a sad day when Democrats don't have any ideas to put forward, and they have to resort to race politics. President Bush didn't get 40 percent of the Hispanic vote (in 2004) because we're a monolithic, white Christian party."

Dean, speaking in a roundtable discussion Monday, downplayed the controversy over his rhetoric.

"This is one of those flaps that comes up once in awhile when I get tough," Dean said. "We have to be rough on the Republicans. Republicans don't represent ordinary Americans and they don't have any understanding of what it is to go out and try and make ends meet."...

"What I said was the Republican leadership didn't seem to care much about working people," he said. "That's essentially the gist of the quote."

Still, the words brought sharp rebukes from fellow Democrats such as Biden, who Sunday said Dean "doesn't speak for me ... and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats."

Other Democrats, including Richardson, said such comments hurt Dean's effort to increase Democratic registration, contributions and votes in red states dominated by Republicans...

But Dean's performance -- and his problems -- have become a concern to deep pocketed donors in California, particularly Silicon Valley, which is the No. 3 ATM for political fund-raising in the country, behind New York and Los Angeles, said Wade Randlett, a key party fund-raiser in the high tech center.

"He's got himself in trouble with social commentary, and that's not what the DNC chair does," Randlett said.

"For small donors, hearing 'George Bush is bad' is enough," Randlett said. "What I'm hearing very clearly from big donors is: tell me how we'll win."

Randlett said Dean has been criticized for not quickly improving the pace of fund-raising for the party with a recent Business Week story suggesting that he has been far outpaced by Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.

According to the story, the DNC has raised less than half of the $42.6 million raised by the RNC in the first four months of the year...

But Republicans note Mehlman wrapped up this third trip as chairman to California last week, and trumpeted an aggressive schedule in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Jose and Sacramento that included hitting Hispanic small business events in Santa Ana, addressing African American voters and women's groups.

"(Ken's) an operative, a tactician," said Fleischman, of FlashReport. "Dean is a politician."...

Garry South, a leading Democratic strategist, said of Dean, "the only thing we can hope is that he understands the difference from being a shadow president to being the head of the party when we're out of office."

His job is to "get the Democratic Party ready for the next election," South said. But "if he views himself as the public face of the Democratic Party, then we have a problem."...

Some things never change. This story offers additional information on other Dean comments as well as a perspective on this demagogue.

Think about what he has said about his political opponents:

They all behave the same.

They all look the same.

It's pretty much a white Christian party.

The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people.

Republicans never made an honest living in their lives.

Republicans don't represent ordinary Americans and they don't have any understanding of what it is to go out and try and make ends meet.

Republican leadership didn't seem to care much about working people.

Republicans [are] "evil," "corrupt" and "brain-dead" "liars."

Republicans "are not nice people."

[Speaking to the Congressional Black Caucus,] The Republican Party "couldn't get this many people of color in a single room" unless "they had the hotel staff in here."

If you belong to the GOP...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...you offer a "dark, difficult and dishonest vision…for America."

Forget the gleeful comments that Howard Dean is good news for the Republicans, because he is scaring away voters in the middle. We must be focused on matters greater than short-term political gain.

As an American, I find Howard Dean's words offensive and the epitomy of intolerance. It is one thing to have a hard-hitting political debate; it is another thing to engage in extreme name-calling, devoid of substance.

Howard Dean is degrading the quality of the civil discourse in our country. Shame on him and those that excuse his unprincipled behavior.

Once again, Peggy Noonan says it so well:

...The comportment of Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean is actually not worthy of America. Their statements suggest they are in no way equal to the country they seek to lead. And something tells me that sooner or later America is going to tell them. But in a generous, mature and fair-minded way.

In the meantime, while some Democratic leaders are distancing themselves from Dean's comments, others blame the "right wing"

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate yesterday blamed "the right wing" and elements of the press "in service to it" for repeating Howard Dean's remarks about Republicans and inflating them out of proportion. "I think we all understand what's happening with you all," said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, in remarks echoing Hillary Rodham Clinton's blaming a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for her husband's legal-ethical woes.

"The right wing has got the agenda moving. Fox [News Channel] and everybody's got the agenda. It's all about Howard Dean. You've bought into it," Mr. Durbin said.

"You can't let up on it. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

Now, think about what kind of world view is held by people who blame others rather than accept any form of personal responsibility for the repeated actions of their party's national chairman. Then, given that world view, think about what kind of legislation they are likely to propose in the Congress.