Just when you thought that the election season was over, along comes the race for Democratic National Committee Chairman. Within a party seeking a new course, the decision on a successor to Terry McAuliffe has garnered a great deal of media attention. Certainly boosted by numerous recent endorsements and the stepping down of his closest competitor Martin Frost of Texas, Howard Dean seems poised to take the helm of the DNC when the election takes place Feb. 12th. His challenges are numerous, from uniting members of his own party to creating a more efficient national organization, but Dean certainly has the skills necessary to take the Democratic Party in the right direction.
I still remember my first introduction to Dean while on a ski trip in Vermont in 2003.
Many people I talked to in the mostly rural state said good things about Dean during his time as governor. At the time I still wasn’t convinced he could be a viable presidential candidate. He overcame the odds and quickly distanced himself from the argument that claimed his executive experience was too limited because he is from a state of just over half a million residents, 95 percent of whom are white.
This theme of overcoming established odds with momentum and enthusiasm is something the Democratic Party needs to harness. This party is not down and out but in need of a united message and the direction that Dean can provide. He has shown that he can create a formidable grassroots organization, promoting candidates from the local to national level as well as the crucial fundraising needed to support them. He has been widely successful in invigorating college students to become involved politically — something that will be crucial to future elections. All of these strengths are exactly what the Democratic Party so desperately needs right now.
In addition, Dean as the DNC chair won’t track the Democratic Party too far to the left, as has been the concern, but can lead Democrats into taking advantage of a more centrist platform. Despite the leftist label many in the Republican Party continually affix to Dean, the fact remains that while governor, he balanced the state budget, lowered taxes and supported pro-gun ownership policies, which resulted in eight endorsements from the National Rifle Association.
Particularly after the State of the Union Address, where fifty-dollar intangible words are replaced by the realities of dollars and cents, Howard Dean will be needed to unify the Democratic message. As the minority in Congress, the Democrats must not only voice opposition to issues such as reforming Social Security and the foreign language of the administration, but also use their national committee to clearly articulate Democratic Party policy alternatives. It was clear in the presidential election that merely being anti-Bush will not win the presidency and Dean’s goal, if elected, must be to ensure a platform viable in all the states — not just in the Democratic Party strongholds.
Perhaps the greatest concern about Dean is that his still-famous “scream heard round the world” after the Iowa caucuses could be repeated with graver results as central spokesperson for the Democratic Party. Certainly his excessive enthusiasm and screeching were ill-timed and not very presidential, and he has indicated as much. It appears that he has learned from Iowa and the everyday media scrutiny and has effectively utilized his Democracy for America organization to get out his message without some of the rough edges that were evident during the Democratic primaries.
Dean will no doubt have formidable challenges within his own party when taking the helm of the Democratic National Committee. Most stalwarts may simply be adverse to change, even with a status quo that has proven largely ineffective, but electing Dean will be a positive catalyst for change in the Democratic Party.
Aaron Hill is a junior majoring in chemistry. firstname.lastname@example.org