Howard Dean formally announced on January 11 that he was officially entering the race for chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) which will be voted on in early February. The ex-governor of Vermont had been unofficially campaigning for the position since the Democrats’ loss to the Republicans in November’s presidential election.
Dean joins a field of contenders that includes Democratic activists Simon Rosenberg and Donnie Fowler, former Texas Representative Martin Frost, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former Representative from Indiana Tim Roemer, and former Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Leland. Dean’s decision to enter the race so late in the game reflects his fears that if he had peaked early as a contender, he would have deflated by nomination day.
Roaming the blogs of Dean’s ardent supporters reveals mixed emotions about his decision to run. Many Deaniacs are glad their man is attempting to take on the stalwarts of special interest, but others are upset that Dean’s bid could jeopardize another race for the presidency in 2008.
“The President is always the leader of, and direction setter of, his party” writes Rick Kolker of Ashburn, Virginia on Dean’s popular blog. “The DNC is what it is today because Bill Clinton made it that way. If you [would] run and [win] in 2008, you'd have the opportunity to remake the party in your image. Now that opportunity is lost.”
So what are Dean’s chances of winning the DNC chairmanship? Well, if the presidential contest in 2004 was an accurate indicator, his chances don’t look good.
The DNC chair, unlike the Democratic presidential primaries, is voted on by only 440 members of the DNC, not thousands of registered Democratic voters. Dean however, is a rhetorical threat to party brass, as his grassroots constituents are not happy with the corporate takeover of their party. So insiders are not likely to support his candidacy for fear Dean’s base could disrupt party business. Despite these worries among DNC members, there is little to indicate that Dean would perform his duties any different than the current DNC maestro, Terry McAuliffe.
Certainly the support for Dean is coming from the left end of the Democratic mainstream, including organizations like MoveOn.org, among others. But this outside support is irrelevant; for it is unlikely to sway DNC members to vote for Dean as a result.
Although there is some debate as to what direction a DNC head would steer the party, historically the leader of the DNC has been a corporate fundraiser, not a platform creator. And Howard Dean is not likely to satisfy these deep-rooted Democratic requirements in the eyes of the voting delegates. As a consequence Dean is unlikely to win the nomination.
All this will likely prove that the Democratic Party is not ready for self-analysis, let alone ready to turn left politically, where they could begin to distinguish themselves from their Republican opposition on a range of issues. Nevertheless, despite what his supporters may think, Howard Dean is far from progressive. In fact, Dean is a testament to just how far right the Democratic Party has lurched.*
Sad to say, hope for the Democrats is not on the way, regardless of who wins the DNC position next month.
* For a detailed analysis see Joshua Frank, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, forthcoming 2005)
Joshua Frank is author of the forthcoming book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be released in early 2005 by Common Courage Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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