Not only was he the anti-war candidate but he came damned close to being the Democratic Party's nominee. His followers were more of a movement than a mere political campaign. I commend them for that.
Many Americans have completely given up on voting and many more, mostly former Democrats, have been so disenfranchised from "the big tent" that they now vote for candidates who often garner only one or two percent of the vote. If that's "sending a message", it's sending a very tiny message. Right now, there is little or no impact created by those who don't vote or who vote third party. If Democrats were threatened, however, by a mass exodus of liberals from the party, the political landscape would change very rapidly.
Ralph Nader was not about to create a mass exodus. Cynthia McKinney? Get real. What about Matt Gonzalez? Who? All good people with good ideas to be sure. But, political magnets? Again, get real. The only way to make the Democratic Party respond is to vote with your feet. Groups like DFA, PDA and MoveOn who believe change can happen INSIDE the party don't understand the connection between corporate cash and political power. When the party is threatened with a mass exodus, only then will the party's progressives begin to gain a seat at the table.
So, what does this have to do with Howard Dean?
Keep a very close eye on the national health care dialog.
Here's what Dean's been saying about a public option: "You can't really do health reform without it." He called it: "the entirety of health care reform."
Here's what Obama said: "All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."
Howard Dean is a highly partisan former chairman of the DNC. Is he likely to turn his back on the party he loves? Or, is he more likely to see the Democrats' betrayal on health care as a stab in the back? Dean's ascendancy to the DNC chair position was a bitter internal struggle. The DLC wing of the party wanted nothing to do with him and now, especially with Rahm Emanuel steering the ship, the DLC controls the levers of power in the Obama White House.
If Dean were to jump ship, say to the Green Party, and perhaps take Bernie Sanders with him as a VP candidate, we'd be in for a very, very wild ride in 2012. What if the Progressive Caucus in the House switched to the Green Party as well. The Democrats could not handle the exodus that would result. With two charasmatic and prestigious candidates leading a progressive movement, especially one that pulled most of its members directly out of the Democratic Party, we'd not be hearing about needing to appease Blue Dogs anymore. We'd be hearing about how the Democrats are bending over backwards to build a coalition campaign with progressives. If Democrats moved to the left to a sufficient degree, Greens could endorse Democratic candidates; if not, watch out.
Either way, that would really be something.