With the news that Howard Dean will stepping down from his post as chairman of the DNC once his term ends in January, I wonder if Howard Dean helped or hurt the Democratic Party. The answer depends on whether we are talking Dean the spokesperson, or the man in charge of the DNC.
Howard Dean inherited an organization and a party that was politically adrift. More than anything the party needed a daily voice of opposition against the Bush administration. Dean was perfect for this role. He was able to make passionate arguments against the culture of corporate welfare that guided the administration’s tax policies. He was able to speak out against the Iraq war before Democrats took back the Congress in 2006, and he played a key in attacking John McCain while the Democratic Party was still locked up in the Clinton/Obama contest.
Some people will give Dean credit for his 50 state strategy in the 2006 election, but that strategy was largely a bust as Democrats mostly made their congressional gains in states that were already blue, or trending that way. No, Dean’s 50 state strategy did not pave for Obama’s strategy in 2008. Obama had superior field organization and loads of cash which allowed him to compete in red states. All of the credit for the 2006 win belongs to the House and Senate masterminds, Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer. They recruited the candidates and raised the money, not Dean.
In fact when it comes to building the DNC as an organization, Dean struggled. Elected Democrats paid little attention to Dean, and as an organization the DNC was low on funds by the time Obama won the nomination. Dean was viewed by some as using the DNC to further his own political ambitions, but it is clear, that he did a great job trying to restore order to the Democratic primary schedule by holding a firm line on Michigan and Florida. His decision may have caused a great deal of drama, but stripping Michigan and Florida of their delegates for violating the rules was the right thing to do.
All in all, I think Dean’s time as the DNC chair was a positive for the party, but now that Democrats have a clear voice and leader in president elect Obama, they need a different kind of person at the DNC. Dr. Dean was the right person at the right time, but now a chair is needed who can speak from the position of the White House and majority. It is traditional that the incoming president appoints the next party chair. If history is a guide, Obama will appoint someone from his campaign. Let’s hope that they make it a goal to strengthen the DNC along with state and local parties.