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Say Goodbye to Howard Dean

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Message David Atkins

Lost in the dialectic that oftens takes place here and throughout the progressive blogosphere between the "my candidate is the saviour of planet earth" and the "can't we all just get along?" camps, is the fact that both camps fundamentally misjudge why this Democratic primary is so important.

This primary is neither about the individual candidates nor about unifying behind a single Democrat to defeat the Republicans in November. Instead, this battle--in its own way not dissimilar to the conflict being waged in the Republican party--is a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It is similar to the battle that was waged in 2004 between Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt (and, to a lesser extent, John Kerry).

It is a battle over whether we will chart a new course in Democratic politics for the 21st century involving economic populism, 50-state strategies, big changes and national governing coalitions, or return to the politics of the 1990s involving incremental changes, triangulation, swing-state targeting and corporatism.

That battle was won, unfortunately, by the forces for the old guard in 2004--with far-reaching consequences for a world forced to suffer through four more years of the Bush Administration. The combined fire of Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman and the other old guard candidates in 2004--together with self-inflicted campaign problems--brought down the forces for change represented by the netroots and the Dean campaign. I admire John Kerry personally, but his advisors and and those who brought down Howard Dean and his ideology were responsible for many of the same capitulating failures of calculation and weakness that led to his losing the 2004 election, and are responsible for the appalling inactivity and cowardice of much of the Congressional leadership today. It is heartening to see that in recent months, through his endorsements and other moves in the Senate, John Kerry may have gone through a personal reformation not unlike that of Al Gore after his Dem Machine 1990s advisors got through manipulating his image into one that could more easily be defeated by the Republican faux-bumpkin from Texas. Hopefully, Senator Kerry is on the long road to recovery from Establishment politics.

Dean may have lost the battle for the presidency, but he won the battle for at least a part of the Democratic Party's soul through his election to the chairmanship of the DNC. Triangulation, small poll-tested moves and a shrinking map were out. Fifty-state strategies, bold moves, harsh talk and doing the right thing were in--much to the chagrin of the Party Establishment led by people like Rahm Emmanuel and Terry McAuliffe.

Many people take these hard-won gains from the Democratic Establishment for granted. They should not.

The truth is that the same forces that were desperate to squash Dean's presidential bid, and that tried every desperate measure to keep him from running the DNC, are still strongly at work in the Democratic Party. To be blunt, those forces are united under a Presidential campaign explicitly running on the record of the Democratic Party during the 1990s. In fact, the disgrace to progressive politics that is Terry McAuliffe isn't even lying low, but rather coming out in the open to crow about the victory of establishment forces with "experience". They're battling right out in the open, nor are they making any pretense: the same anti-progressive forces that brought you NAFTA, triangulation, swing-state targeting, welfare reform, the DLC, video game censorship, line-item veto requests, the apotheosis of Alan "Bubbles" Greenspan, a near decade of personal scandals, and tamping down Al Gore's fire and putting him up on a ticket with Joe F'ing Lieberman, would like to return you to the good old days when they were in charge.

Howard Dean knows this. That is why the DNC is standing with the Culinary Workers Union against the preposterous lawsuits being brought to bear by the suppress-the-vote-if-at-all-possible forces of the 1990s Establishment. Dean can't come out and endorse any specific candidates (or specifically oppose any of them), but I guarantee you he knows who is on his side and who isn't.

Just a hint: it's not candidates who ally themselves with Terry McAuliffe.

In fact, if the Establishment wins the presidential primary, you can be certain of one thing: Howard Dean will be gone as head of the DNC faster than you can say "people-powered politics." As the imitable Bob Johnson says in response to Bill Clinton's preposterous claims about his favored Establishment candidate's being an "insurgent candidate":

Yeah, that's why Howard Dean and the DNC just joined the Culinary Workers union against the Clinton's voter suppression lawsuit in Nevada, a suit Bil was supporting publicly today.

If Clinton wins the nomination, the real insurgent, Howard Dean, would be out on his ass so fast he wouldn't have time to pack his two old suits.

Then in comes Harold Ford, Terry McAuliffe and their rest of the old DLC machine

You can take that to the bank. Those who support the Establishment in this primary must know that they are, in effect, firing Howard Dean and his supporters in the DNC. To claim not to know this is either amazing disingenuousness or unbelievable naïvete'.

It won't be done publicly, of course. Like with everything done by the Establishment, it will be done quietly. Incrementally. Subtly. Under the table. Since DNC chairpersons don't usually stay on more than four years (see the chart of DNC chairpersons here), it will be claimed that Dean's departure is simply business as usual. But it won't be, of course. The arms of the electors will be twisted; they won't commit career suicide. Look for DLC chair Harold Ford to step in as head of the DNC, and to bring all of his DLC underlings with him.

This primary presents us a choice between moving ahead to 2008 and beyond, and moving back to the 1990s. It presents us a stark choice between Howard Dean and Terry McAuliffe.

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David Atkins is president and founder of The Pollux Group, Inc., a qualitative research consultancy specializing in emerging technologies and the changing trends in consumer and socio-political behavior created by the Millennial Generation. A (more...)

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