The Plank

The Incredible Shrinking Howard Dean

I put up a piece today on Dean's invisibility as DNC chair; you can find the DNC response here:

One of the most admirable things about Governor Dean is the way he’s
stayed focused over the last three years on doing the unglamorous, yet
critical work of rebuilding and re-energizing the Democratic Party.
That is not a job that can get done inside the bubble of Washington, so
he’s been on the road, raising money and ensuring that we have the
infrastructure in place to win and build a permanent Democratic
majority. From the results in 2006, 2007, and the record-breaking
turnout we’ve already seen all across the country, we are on our way.
Our nominee will inherit a strong Democratic Party that is ready to win
in November.

Actually, I agree with most of what's in this response. Dean has done unglamorous good work with the fifty-state strategy. When I lightly mentioned the words "fifty state strategy" to the executive director of the Alabama Democrats, he yelped, "Oh, wow! Oh, man! It's the best thing that's ever happened to us!" Elaine Kamarck's data -- see the end of my piece -- seems to show the staffers and attention he's sent to red states made a real difference in '06. 

But it's a weird thing, how the kind of persona you cultivate so sharply affects what people make of your private efforts. I just don't see his fifty state program being carried on -- at least in the way he envisioned it -- into '09 and beyond, because he hasn't made a powerful case for it and because he still isn't respected among some party machers. And haven't there been so many moments during the primaries that cried out for some kind of comforting hand at the helm, some public presence who seemed to be looking out for the good of the party and not just one faction within it? As DNC chair, Dean was perfectly positioned to play this role. But his temperament and pre-existing reputation made it impossible for him to do it. If Obama were squaring off against anybody other than Hillary, you could imagine Bill Clinton playing this peace-broker part, but ... oh well.

-- Eve Fairbanks

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