Howard Dean is officially the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Prepare to see his overly enthusiastic Iowa concession speech trotted out by sarcastic conservative commentators for the next several years.
Although a few vocal Democrats are prophesying doom for the party as a result of his ascension, the overall party support for Dean is quite impressive. According to a recent Gallup poll, 63 percent of DNC members believe Dean will do an “excellent” job as chair, with another 27 percent expecting “good” performance. With a 90 percent favorable rating from those most intimate with his ideas for the party, it seems premature to discount his ability to be a strong leader.
The most pressing question about Dean’s chairmanship is whether we will see the feisty but gaffe-prone presidential candidate or the moderate and effective six-term governor of Vermont. Whether you agree with his statements or not, it is hard to argue that most Americans were not excited about quotes such as, “The capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer,” or, “Even with people like Osama (bin Laden), who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to … prejudge jury trials.” Dean’s position, in the absence of any clear Democratic Party leader, will give him a megaphone for which we hope he is now better prepared.
The 447 voting members of the DNC that feel so confident in Dean’s leadership presumably saw something else in the man. The new Republican chairman, Ken Mehlman, showed talent in all of those areas as the chairman of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Dean has excelled at fund raising, setting a record pace for the Democratic primary race in 2003 as well. As a public figure, his access to avenues of communication will be enhanced, but there is always the question of what he’ll be saying. He found most of his support for the position and has a decidedly mixed record in one area: organizing.
His campaign fell apart because of a lack of disciplined organization, especially at the highest levels. But as governor he managed the only state in the nation that doesn’t mandate a balanced budget and balanced it anyway in every one of his 11 years in office. He brought Vermont’s bond rating from the lowest in New England to the highest by paying off debt. He raised minimum wage, lowered taxes, grew the workforce by 20 percent and improved health care and prescription drug coverage for the state’s children and elderly. It’s hard to argue with his record of success in the position of executive, although he was certainly aided by being around during the booming years of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
If this Dean shows up for the job, the Democrats are in good hands. But if the Dean of the past two years comes to the job, the Democratic Party may not be out of the woods yet.
U-Wire, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University.