"History is a wonderful thing, if only it was true"

Friday, February 18, 2005

Economist on Howard Dean

Economist: Lexington on Howard Dean

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From Bill to Howard
Feb 10th 2005
From The Economist print edition

BACK in 2003, with Howard Dean way ahead of the pack in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the cover of the conservative National Review pleaded “Please, nominate this man”. The Democratic caucus-goers of Iowa were sensible enough to ignore this advice, consigning Mr Dean to third place. Earlier this month, with Mr Dean once again way ahead of the pack, this time in the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic Party, the National Review tried again: “Pretty please”.

This is an extraordinary turn of events, particularly for Bill Clinton and pragmatic New Democrats. Five years ago the Democratic Party was so firmly in the grip of those oh-so-sensible types that Jesse Jackson, the chief screamer of the time, pronounced himself a “New Democrat”. The Dean chairmanship shows how little Mr Clinton actually managed to change his party. The fact that Mr Dean is replacing Mr Clinton's lapdog, Terry McAuliffe, makes this even clearer.

Does Mr Dean's accession really mark a lurch to the left? Optimistic Clintonites and centrists are clinging to two arguments. The first is that the party chairmanship doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Alas, it does. Party chairmen are responsible for running the political machines that increasingly make the difference between winning and losing elections in a closely divided nation.


The second argument is that the distance from there to here really isn't all that great. Already, some Clintonites have some reassuring ideas. Wasn't Mr Dean really a centrist governor of Vermont? (a rather "left-wing" state)


Mr Dean thrives on the adulation of the party's hard-core activists. And he burned himself into the national consciousness as a tribune of the left. A man who said that Osama bin Laden should not be presumed guilty until after a fair trial is always going to be beyond the pale for many Americans.


Mr Dean recently summed up his appeal to the party's populists in a single sentence: “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for, but I admire their discipline and their organisation.” These populists want somebody who can rage against Republicans. But they also want someone who can out-organise them. Mr Dean's admirers point out that his internet-based presidential campaign raised more than $50m, almost entirely in small donations. ( internet campaign run by Joe Trippi, who was a tout for Wave Systems stock turing it's incredible run from $1 to nearly $50 via internet chat such as SiInvestor and Raging Bull )


Why didn't the Clinton revolution prove longer-lasting? Some of it is Mr Clinton's own fault: his policy of triangulation inevitably alienated the party's leftists (however much they rallied round him over Monica). It is partly the fault of the New Democrats, who were always more interested in policy discussion than in mass organisation. It is partly a result of Mr Bush's hardball politics: whenever centrist Democrats have tried to compromise with Mr Bush, he has taken all they have to offer and given nothing in return. And it is partly to do with a genuine shift of political power away from old-style money-raising. Mr Clinton and Mr McAuliffe were master-schmoozers of the money-men. But the money-men have lost their power to veto candidates like Mr Dean, because the internet has provided mavericks with a way to bypass them.

Perhaps the New Democrats will turn out to have more fight left in them than they now appear to possess. Perhaps a charismatic centrist—Hillary Clinton, for example—will ride to the rescue. But at the moment it looks as if the Democrats are in exactly the same state as the British Labour Party was in after their 1987 defeat—in need of one more humiliation before it can come to its senses. If so, they have chosen the right man in Howard Dean.

Which begs the question as to who the Republicans run in '08 ?

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