Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Howie Kurtz: "Dreaming of Dean"

Howie Kurtz (WaPo):
I spent a couple of days with Howard Dean in the winter of 2002, watching him just beginning to develop his voice -- "We are never going to beat the Republicans if we try to be the Republicans," he told a crowd in Atlanta -- when he was an asterisk in the presidential race.

I was skeptical when Dean told me he'd be the John McCain of the campaign, but a year later he caught fire as an antiwar crusader and raised a ton of money before flaming out in Iowa. Then he became the Democratic Party chairman, was frozen out by the Obama team, and is now a CNBC pundit and high-profile critic of the Senate health-care bill.

But even as the doctor has carved up the legislation, he has been careful to say he still supports the president. That's why I find it surprising that some on the left are again dreaming of Dean in the White House. A few even want him to run in, yes, 2012.
I doubt that the former governor is going to encourage this talk -- and I'd be shocked if he ran next time -- though it hardly hurts his stature. "I don't like to engage much in the parlor game," he told me in 2002. "It's just something to write in the next year before the curtain goes up."

But more important than fantasies about Dean's political future is what is powering this talk: a palpable disappointment, in some lefty precincts, with President Obama. Who would have thought, a year after the media went nuts over his inauguration, that some party members would be pining for another Dem to challenge him in a primary?

In the end, it's not about Dean; it's about the party's struggling leader.

Matt Bai raised the issue in the NYT Magazine, saying no POTUS is going to satisfy the true believers:

"A year into Obama's presidency, it is no longer inconceivable, if still unlikely, that he could face a challenge within his own party in 2012, especially if Democrats suffer sizable losses next November. (When Howard Dean made a point of trying to scuttle health care reform altogether, was he simply trying to get a better bill, or was he setting himself up as a populist insurgent?)

"And yet, history would suggest that it is the progressive, and not his populist antagonist, who makes change palatable and, in doing so, alters the trajectory of the country. William Jennings Bryan remains something of a patron saint to the economic populists, but it was Theodore Roosevelt who channeled the popular unrest of the day into a movement away from unbridled corporatism. And it is T.R.'s distant cousin Franklin, not contemporaries like Huey Long, who is celebrated for having made the New Deal the guiding framework for 60 years of American government."

This post at Firedoglake helps explain the Howard Hype:

"Dean can publicly criticize the Obama administration as he did recently when he said the health care bill being advanced in the Senate is not worth voting for. He's not tied in any way to this administration which is looking more and more like the S.S. Titanic-Obama.

"That's why the Obama administration and its various spin-meisters immediately struck back hard at Howard Dean after his comments on the senate bill. Note that press secretary Gibbs and others in the administration even went so far as to invoke the Dean-is-crazy theme that the mainstream media made up after the so-called 'Dean Scream.' Dean's having a 'temper tantrum' they have complained in language that calls up the images that were played on in 2004 of an unstable Dean. . . .

"Why has the Obama administration treated Howard Dean so differently than it has Joe Lieberman? Because the Obama-Rahm team has never ever, even remotely had any common cause with progressivism or with progressives. . . .

"Dean, of course, is a progressive. The Obama White House also recognizes that Dean, should he want to, could be a political threat to their sand castle presidency. Think about it. If Howard Dean wants to (and I don't know that he does, I have no insider information), he could primary Obama in 2012.

"He'd have lots of advantages. Dean has national name recognition. He can crank up a campaign quickly and attract the best people. He's a Washington, D.C. outsider since Obama-Rahm did him the favor of not letting him in on their gig. He has the backing of most progressives and liberals, the very people who worked hard to win the primaries and the general election for Obama."

Things would have to go real sour for Obama for a failed presidential candidate and former small-state governor to represent a serious threat to his renomination.

Politico surfs the same wave:

"After four relatively low-profile years pushing the official party line as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Dean is once again the tribune of frustrated liberals. And after he called out President Barack Obama and his congressional allies over their concessions on health care, those close to him predict he's just getting warmed up.

"Dean's health care stand has infuriated party leaders, who have alternately tried to marginalize him and to bring him on board. Yet at the same time, his provocative approach has re-energized the political group he founded and thrilled legions of progressive activists, many of whom were drawn to politics by Dean's insurgent 2004 presidential campaign, then deflated when he didn't land an Obama Cabinet post.

"They have grown increasingly disenchanted with Obama's presidency and are urging Dean to keep up the drumbeat as the health care debate heads to conference this month; to push Obama to stand more firmly with liberals on other issues; and, if the administration continues to disappoint, to consider challenging Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries (a far-fetched scenario for which one liberal blogger recently posited Dean was 'perfectly positioned') or -- if nothing else -- to seek the party's presidential nomination in 2016, when Obama could be finishing his second term."

Far-fetched, yes, but here's an interesting quote from Joe Trippi, who ran Dean's 2004 effort before quitting amidst the turmoil: "A lot of establishment people might laugh at that, but there's angst in the progressive wing of the party, and it matters that Howard Dean is emerging as the leading voice of that angst. It could matter on a number of other issues, and it could lead to another Howard Dean campaign for president."

Part of the disaffection with Obama turns on what MoDo calls his Spock style. I thought we'd see a flash of anger after the attempted Christmas Day bombing, but as Kathleen Parker observes:

"The cool detachment that was so attractive when political opponents were trying to rile Obama is suddenly becoming annoying. Preternaturally unflappable, his demeanor in these circumstances borders on inappropriate.

"What does it take to get a rise out of Barack Obama? Not that we need bombast and flared nostrils. Calm in the face of potential disaster is laudable, but it's a fine line between executive tranquillity and passive nonchalance. Like a tone-deaf disc jockey, Obama plays elevator music when the crowd wants John Philip Sousa."

But no one should have expected rhetorical symphonies, says Tina Brown:

"It's all the rage at the moment to denounce the president's cool and his 'inability to connect.' Where did the inspiring Obama of the campaign go, that Facebook pied piper who friended the whole world with this update: Change you can believe in. What happened to him?

"Nothing, as it turns out. . . . Obama was always this guy. When I met him in 2007 along with a small group of New York donors, he was just the same as he is as president. A bit wordy, a bit aloof, a bit theoretical. There was a hint of truculence when challenged to be specific on policy. The gaggle of demanding Park Avenue big shots who shared the elevator with me on the way down were underwhelmed. They also felt vaguely dissed. He had failed to make a fuss of any of them.

"Was there a contradiction between that cool customer and the orator who brought out and turned on huge crowds on the campaign trail? Not really. Obama's gift for delivering set-piece oratorical tours de force had special resonance to Americans fed up with a president who could hardly string two words together without a collision of syntax and whose idea of clever was the single entendre. . . .

"The president has a writer's temperament more than he has a politician's. He prefers his public utterances to be informed by fully formed thoughts that come to him after he has pondered. In contrast to the Twitter generation that flocked to his campaign, he doesn't believe his first thought is his best thought. He has a lawyerly preference for caution. . . .
"But hey, you go to war with the president you have, to paraphrase our old friend Donald Rumsfeld. Would we prefer Obama to snatch up his bullhorn and start hollering 'bring it on!' when the latest jock-strap jihadist is apprehended at the airport? I thought we hated all that bellicose Bush-era posturing."

Well, sure, but. . . . how 'bout just a scowl or two?
Howie P.S.: Dean is a convenient straw man for pundits, comedians, you name it. But let's set the record straight (again):"Howard Dean Now Supports Passage of Health Reform Bill After Winning Improvements." His opposition was always qualified with "if the bill stays in its present form." Will somebody please tell Karen Finney to straighten this out. BTW, two Howies and one Howard, all in one post. I don't think I've ever heard Dr. Dean referred to as "Howie."

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