Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dean of The Democrats?

Howard Dean’s recent comments describing (almost) all Republicans as lazy, intolerant, unfriendly, white, and Christian, have generated considerable media attention, only to be overshadowed by the slightly more bizarre Michael Jackson trial. Predictably, conservatives are condemning the remarks, but are also giggling among themselves over how easy Dean has made it for them to destroy the Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 elections. (I can see the fundraising letters being composed now.) Liberal Democrats are embracing Dean’s remarks or at least apologizing for them, while centrists and the party leaders are caught between endorsing Dean’s rants and censuring their own elected party chair. After all, without control of the executive or legislative branches of government, Dean is the titular leader of the Democratic Party. Thus, his comments carry increased significance and look even more outrageous, especially when compared to low-key RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish incidentally. While it was easier for Democratic insiders to criticize Dean’s insurgent primary campaign, the former Governor is now part of the establishment he was once railed against. Even professed moderates like John Edwards, Joseph Biden, and Mark Warner need to be careful against criticizing Dean, because it will be impossible to win the Presidency without active DNC support. So, I view their comments as more pleading than demanding, because like all Democrats, they are stuck with Howard Dean for the time being.

And what about Dean’s controversial comments? Is there a hint of truth in them? Well, I know many Democrats who believe so. I am not sure how to empirically assess which party is more lazy, although I know that liberals have more blogs, which is a sure sign of procrastination and indolence. Republicans and Democrats are both intolerant of people they disagree with—just ask pro-lifer Bob Casey about why he was barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Convention. Friendliness is impossible to test, but Slate Magazine ran an experiment during the 2004 election, where the writer traveled in red and blue areas, wearing the “wrong” candidate’s buttons, t-shirts, and caps. Guess where he was verbally accosted most often? That’s right…in the blue cities. J.S. and I have often found liberal bloggers to be better informed, but more caustic in dealing with dissenters than their conservative counterparts, who simply restrict their sites to like-minded surfers.

Are the Republicans primarily a party of whites and Christians? According, to a recent Washington Post Poll, 62 percent of all respondents identified themselves as white and Christian. 74 percent of Republicans fit that description while 51 percent of Democrats did. Since white Christians are the majority of the electorate (assuming the sample in this poll was representative of the U.S. population), then the majority party will always have a lot of white Christians, and the minority party will too. Remember that Howard Dean is a white Christian too (and he admitted as much).

In addition, several high ranking Republicans are from minority groups, like Powell, Rice, Gonzales, Gutierrez, and many others. At the local and state levels, more minorities are running as Republicans—see Steele in Maryland and Blackwell in Ohio. And the only Indian American in the House of Representatives is Republican Bobby Jindal. Thus, Dean’s comments again seem off the mark or at least hyperbole.

But are Dean’s comments hurting the Party? Probably less than people think. The chairman of the Party is the head cheerleader and partisan, and is expected to raise money from the party faithful not reach out to the middle. I applauded Dean’s election to party chair for the same reason I remain amused by him now. He speaks for and to the base of the Party and has maintained a reputation as an unscripted politician, which both parties need more of. His passion and devotion to the Democratic Party are infectious to young Democrats and his primary campaign was one of the true highlights of an otherwise lackluster Democratic effort in 2004. Moreover, he was a pragmatic centrist in Vermont and built up a successful record of balanced budgets and delivered affordable health care for his constituents. If a moderate can win the nomination in 2008, Dean would support him (or her) and bring his loyalists with him. So while I disagree with Howard Dean’s comments, I have learned to live with him, and that seems to be what other Democrats are doing too.



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