Dean’s Reign Will Be Fun to Watch

In making Howard Dean its new national chair, it’s easy to imagine the Democratic Party thinking, “We’ve lost the White House and lost the Congress; what else do we have to lose?”

Usually the party chairmanship goes to a political technician, someone with backroom skills to mediate among the contending factions, and, of course, someone with fund-raising skills like Dean’s prodigiously successful predecessor, Terry McAuliffe.

Dean was an aggressive, even abrasive presidential candidate and indeed may still harbor presidential ambitions. His campaign memorably came to a screaming halt in Iowa, but the spectacular circumstances of its demise should not detract from just how fast and how far he rose from political obscurity.

He was a governor from Vermont, a small state of the political and geographical mainstream. He was green in the mechanics of a national campaign. He did not realize that not having his wife Judy, a limelight-shunning physician, campaign with him raised unnecessary questions.

The miracle is that he got as far as he did with an unusual combination of enthusiastic young supporters _ the Deaniacs _ and a highly successful Internet fund-raising operation. Politically, he said in a dig at his fellow candidates, he represented “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

That party needs help. Its traditional power bases, labor and big-city machines, are no longer what they were. It is losing ground in the South and West. It has just lost = fumbled away – two very winnable presidential elections. And it faces an aggressive, energized Republican Party with an instinct for the jugular.

Said the party’s new leader: “If you told me one year ago that I would be standing here today as your choice for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I wouldn’t have believed you. And neither would a lot of other people.”

A lot of other people would include the usual party power brokers for whom Dean was not a first choice. But they couldn’t agree on any other choice. Almost by default, Dean is now his party’s chief spokesman. Unfettered by congressional or statehouse duties, he has the bully pulpit and it should be fascinating how he uses it.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,