Monday, June 13, 2005

Does Howard Dean Speak for Me?

Originally posted at Ma'at's Feather 6/11/05

Good question. It depends on how you define the word "Me".

If I am looking at myself as a politically active Democrat, then the answer is obvious - of course he does. He is the chosen, and rightfully so, Chairman of the Democratic Party. Chosen by the grassroots. He therefore possesses far more legitimacy with me as a Democratic voter than Terry McAuliffe and other handpicked members of the DLC ever had.

On the other hand, if you define "Me" in broader terms, I'm not so sure he always does. Some of the views I hold line up perfectly with his. Others do not. The two that definitely do not are the view that no Republicans have ever really worked for a living (last week's tempest in a teapot), or this week's current fervor -- Howard Dean's statement earlier this week that "the GOP is a White, Christian, Party". Chairman Dean sticks by his story that his criticism, as originally expressed, is valid:

Dean Defending Dean

On the leftists side of the debate over these words, folks are in a frenzy about members of the Democratic Party leadership who publicly distanced themselves from this statement (as well as the earlier one, to the effect that Republicans are folk who don't work for a living). Depending on whose words you listen to, each and every one of them is a "traitor" "sell-out" or even "the enemy". It's gotten to the point where there is now a petition drive called "Howard Dean Speaks for Me":

Dean Speaks for Me Campaign

I have to wonder when folks believe that a petition somehow is a valid indicia of the validity of any particular sentiment within any political party....(although the DKos poster Glynis deserves serious props for doing what so few are willing to do - take their viewpoint, and invest their own time and energy to run with it politically. I have nothing but respect for that.)

Indeed, the actual policy positions taken at critical junctures by some of this week's Dean critics (Biden and Feinstein and Lieberman come most to mind) could indeed justify these labels. But Barack Obama? John Edwards? These folks have demonstrated that they too can get down and dirty in the grassroots when they had to. Given this, watching their progressive "credentials" rhetoric-buried out of existence merely because they aren't 100% on board with Howard Dean's divisive remarks is a depressing sight.

On the other side? Well those in the GOP leadership who are not gleeful over Chairman Dean's remarks feel very hurt because what he said was "mean" or "unfair." When it comes to the leadership of the GOP, Howard Dean was right beyond right, all tokens notwithstanding. That being said, I personally could care less about whether Howard Dean said something "mean" about Republicans. Mean doesn't bother me, since I say some pretty mean things about Republicans myself from time to time - when some policy or position taken by their party leadership is deserving of it (and far too many positions are). Republicans who do not distance themselves from those policies cannot complain of getting that which is rightfully coming to them.

However, neither party discipline or meanness is the issue here. The issue is accuracy, truth, and viewing our two-party system in non-simplistic terms. Simplistic terms that you get to only if you're not willing to actually look beyond the faces at political conventions and actually look at the grassroots. The truth is that there are huge percentages of nonwhite, non-Christian folks who are registered Republicans, no matter how they actually vote come election time. This is nothing new - it has been true for a very long time. If the Democratic Party hopes to bring them into the Big Tent, our party leadership, starting with Howard Dean, needs to stop following the exact same playbook followed by the Republican Party where it comes to these crucial voters: Stop acting like they don't exist unless you can score political points from, identifying, and using them, only when it gains you some tactical or rhetorical advantage.

Finally, in defense of Howard Dean, I think he has been and continues to be an excellent choice for Chairman of the Party if he can just get a bit more used to hearing himself talk before he actually opens his mouth. His heart is in the right place, and he is 100% right when he says that now is not the time to speak softly when it comes to what's going on in our country. Dean just needs some "seasoning" speaking to audiences just a wee bit more diverse than those he found in Vermont and in the caucuses before he pulled out last year. Some common sense about how to fire his base up -- by more than just primal screaming, itself a useful tool for which he took way too much unfair heat -- without simultaneously showing the back of his hand to folks who are registered the way they are for reasons having nothing to do with being white, being Christian or being wealthy. Folks who with time and guidance could be shown that they really need to be on board with the Democratic Party when it really counts - at election time. It tells you something when Barack Obama and John Edwards -- not exactly DLCers -- are themselves given pause by what Dean said this week. These are not the "Old Guard" of the party, folks who are largely bought and paid for by corporate interests, but its future.

I have a lot of hope for Howard Dean, going forward. But one can support him, believe in him, and still refuse to get on board or tolerate silently his myopia when it comes to the question: "Who is a Democrat and Who is a Republican?".

So does Howard Dean speak for me? It depends. When it comes to taking political positions and holding the GOP to task for its relentless attack on American values and American rights, yes, he does. When it comes to claims that the Republican Party is a white Christian party, no, I'm afraid that he doesn't.


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