Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2004 / 12 Teves 5764
Vicious, viscious Dems
While cattle farmers fret about mad
cow disease, Democratic Party leaders wrestle with
another sort of malady. Call it the "Angry Howard
Its symptoms include a tendency by former Vermont Gov.
Howard Dean, the front-runner in the Democratic
presidential polls and fundraising, to insult members
and factions of his own party whose help he may very
well need, if he wins the party's presidential nomination.
Dean's not the only one afflicted. Angry Howard
Syndrome is contagious. It unleashes reactions in some
of his rivals, particularly Sen. Joseph Lieberman of
Connecticut, that President Bush's campaign could
easily and gleefully use against Dean later, if Dean wins
the Democratic presidential nomination.
What's going on here? Put in its starkest terms, Angry
Howard Syndrome is the latest manifestation of an
ancient Democratic Party affliction, a divide between its sober pragmatists and its
On one side, the party has its pragmatists who want more than anything to beat the
other party. The pragmatists worry about the details of issues and ideas later. After all,
the party's leading candidates actually agree on much more than they disagree. Even
on the pivotal issue of foreign policy, Dean and his opponents all agree that they
disagree with Bush's pre-emptive, go-it-alone approach.
But that's not always enough for the idealists, some of whom have told me they are
less concerned with making a victory than with making a point or two or three. Think
of the idealists as being one step away from voting for Ralph Nader or Jesse Jackson,
should the opportunity arise again.
Of course, Republicans have their pragmatic and idealistic wings too. But since the
Barry Goldwater disaster of 1964, Republicans have learned to temper their passions
behind a public wall of unity and discipline, no matter how long their knives might be in
Democrats, by contrast, seem to relish the circular firing squad.
For example, even when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was embroiled in a heated battle
with Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, McCain never resorted to
questioning Bush's electability.
Lieberman, by contrast, charged a few days before New Year's Eve that Dean will
"melt in a minute" under Republican attacks if he becomes the nominee. He also said
it was "outrageous" of Dean to suggest that Democratic National Committee
Chairman Terry McAuliffe step in and shield Dean from growing criticism by his rivals,
like Lieberman. Dean had cut into McAuliffe with snippets like: "If we had strong
leadership in the Democratic Party ..." and "If Ron Brown were chairman, this wouldn't
be happening," referring to the late DNC chairman.
Dean has since spoken with McAuliffe to clear the air, Dean's representatives said.
But attacks against "Washington Democrats" have been a standard Dean mantra on
the campaign trail. While governors, including 2000 presidential candidate George W.
Bush, often take jabs at Washington "insiders," Dean goes further, targeting his own
As Democratic challengers Lieberman, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. John
Kerry of Massachusetts have all pointed out, Dean has called members of Congress
"cockroaches," party leaders "prostitutes" and the centrist Democratic Leadership
Council "the Republican wing of the Democratic Party."
One seasoned Washington Democratic insider said Dean might want to consider the
wisdom of an unspoken thought now and then. In other words, it might be more
prudent, for example, for him to voice criticism of his party's leaders in, say, a cell
phone conversation with them instead of public declarations.
President Bill Clinton wisely warned against the Democratic Party's self-destructive
tendencies in an interview in the November issue of American Prospect: "I don't
believe that either side should be saying, `I'm a real Democrat and the other one's not,'
or, `I'm a winning Democrat and the other one's not.' ... [T]hese kind of ad hominem
attacks ... are dead-bang losers."
With the countdown ticking toward the first primaries and caucuses, leading
Democrats need to heed Clinton's advice. Dean is far enough ahead in money and in
the polls to give serious thought to reaching beyond his impressive core of
supporters. It is time for him to reassure everyone else.
And mainstream Democratic leaders need to stop dismissing the Dean crusade the
way party regulars dismissed anti-war protesters in the late 1960s. Instead party
leaders should try to figure out what the Dean upsurge is about so they can harness
its energy as smoothly as Democratic presidential candidates Clinton and Jerry
Brown brought progressives and wary moderates together in 1992.
After all, if candidates cannot unify their own party, voters should reasonably wonder
how they are going to unify the country.
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