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Shoot Out At the Last Chance Corral

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Why is this "war " a secret? It 's not... not really. You only need to stop by one of the many Democratic blogs to join that program already in progress. Is it reported widely in the press? Sometimes it 's mentioned as part of the narrative about how the Democrats are in disarray, one of the favorite tunes of the mainstream media 's Top 40.

But sometimes you have to understand some of the dynamics involved to read between the lines. For example, when the Washington Post front-pages a story about how 'traditional ' donors and Democratic consultants are disappointed with Howard Dean as the DNC chair, you see it in full flower. This criticism of Dean is directly related - in a clear "follow the money " way - to the economic bottom line of all three critics in this drama: Dean is working to move the fundraising of the party away from those few big donors who expect access and favors in return, moving instead in the direction of many, many small donors: a party financed by the party membership. In the absence of Clean Money legislation, that 's as close as you can get to it. And Dean 's doing it.

And the Democratic consultant class hates Dean because he 's shifting DNC money away from their central command-and-control apparatus in Washington... and towards local party entities who will use that money to build up their networks of precincts (neighborhood organization) which have been the victims of criminal negligence: and which need to be there to counter the influence of the Republicans ' strong local organizing. The local party workers are the ones who really deliver the goods in terms of message, organization and influence - whereas the DC consultants make massive (and I mean massive) amounts of money by taking a percent of the media buys they manage. That very system of compensation biases them towards big purchases of expensive TV & newspaper ads... that are increasingly ineffective. In fact, effective ads don 't need to be run as often as ineffective ones: they have a built-in motive to run cheap and ineffective ads that need to be run a lot of times. So the DC Democratic consultants hate Dean as the DNC chief.

And the Washington Post? Big media buys focus on big media outlets... like the Washington Post.

And so you also get these misleading stories that Dean raised less money than the Republicans (which has always been true of Democrats) but you don 't read that he 's raised more money from small donors, even than the Democrats have ever done in a comparable non-Presidential election year. You don 't read that when Dean goes to visit a state like Arkansas, rather than doing fundraising for the national party and sucking most of the ready donor money out of the state (which happened during all the years of his predecessor 's term) he 's raising big money for the state 's beleaguered party.

OK... money, money, money. Why am I focusing so much on money when you 're talking about passion and principle? Well, because that 's a big part of Dean 's job: he 's got to rebuild a broken party. We 've got the organizational equivalent of a leaky roof and termites. The tenants have been trashing the place.

But another part of his job is to help promote the party message: and he 's been doing that too. In fact, he 's been notable in his increasingly effective ability to push back against the media talking heads whenever they start rattling off false or misleading (ie GOP) talking points. He 's been one of the few aggressive and principled spokespeople for Democratic values in the face of the likes of Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity and Chris Wallace. You want proof? Look here:

Dean issues smack-down on Wolf Blitzer: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/01/08.html#a6627
Dean on the Today Show: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/01/26.html#a6871
Dean on PBS News Hour: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2005/06/22.html#a3582
Dean on Hannity and Colmes: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2005/09/14.html#a4943
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He can attack the Republicans, and he does. He can even criticize, in general terms, the Democratic party... but there 's one thing as chair of the DNC, that he cannot do: he cannot take sides in policy conflicts among Democratic elected officials. It 's the nature of his office: he 's the referee. It 's not really surprising that when someone is known for being outspoken, as Dean is, his inability to advocate on behalf of the Censure Motion is interpreted harshly. That 's really too bad, especially when viewed without reference to statements that Dean has made:

"Americans need a President who will keep them safe and enforce the law, we don't need a "Big Brother ". Americans know we don 't have to sacrifice our basic liberties in order to fight the terrorists."


"President Bush 's secret program to spy on the American people reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew. "


It doesn 't take too much effort to connect the dots: both Agnew & Nixon were rightfully driven out of office because of their crimes. But Dean can 't take a position to endorse Feingold 's censure motion while so many other Senate Democrats oppose or are ambivalent about it. But Harry Reid can call him up. Call Diane Feinstein. I have.
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I personally thought Dean found a pretty clever way for to stand up for Sen. Feingold without abandoning his role of being impartial in policy disagreements among Democrats.... by attacking the harsh Republican attacks on Feingold. But, of course, he became subject to intense criticism for not going far enough... for not doing that which he cannot do if he 's to stay on as DNC Chair.

I, for one, need him there as DNC Chair.

I think Dean is doing work that is every bit as important as being outspoken. He 's trying to fundamentally even radically reform the Democratic party apparatus. What we are seeing from congressional democrats is the fruit of years of the party becoming more corporate and less concerned with the interest of its working class constituency. You know: the people.

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Steve Bhaerman is a writer, humorist and uncommontator who's been posing as cosmic comic Swami Beyondananda for the past 20 years. He is the author of seven books including Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From (more...)

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