The Dean flap, Part I: A sign of passion that's good for Democrats
I'm philosophically liberal but more of a centrist, Clintonian Democrat, but I honestly have no problem with Dean as DNC Chair. Although the right has (at times successfully) painted him as some sort of Vermontian radical determined to guide America towards some sort of socialist hell (in their view), and although I may disagree with him on any number of specific issues, he brings a passion and a fire (yes, the infamous scream was an unfortunate manifestation) to the table that seems to elude many Democrats. Compare Reid or Pelosi, for example, the Democrats' two Congressional leaders. Now, much of the criticism of late has come from Biden and Edwards, two men who are already running for president and who are trying to stake out territory to the right of Dean (at least in terms of perception). But why can't the Democratic Party be big enough for all of them?
Now, I agree that Democrats need to frame issues more effectively, and it won't help if their leaders, not least the DNC Chair, is mouthing off in such a way as to alienate moderate voters. But what exactly did Dean say? This is important because both the mainstream media and the right-wing commentariat/blogosphere are content to focus on the fact that Democrats are bickering internally rather than on the facts of Dean's comments. First, he said that DeLay should be in jail. Okay, fine. That's blunt. And honest. And, in my view, not all that far off. If not in jail, he should at least be removed from public life -- even if his continuing presence in Congress is a boon to Democrats looking ahead to 2006. Second, he said that Republicans don't understand working-class issues. Well, yeah. That's right on. They don't. They understand some of the values of some working-class Americans (such as those weird Kansans who seem to have something the matter with them), but they don't understand the economic plight of so many of them. Isn't this a big Edwards issue, too?
But then both Biden and Edwards, two nationally-prominent senators, come out (on TV, where they hope secure ever more attention) and claim that Dean doesn't speak for them, that he doesn't speak for many Democrats. I just don't see the problem. The Democratic Party is (or should be) a big-tent party. If you disagree with Dean, fine, but why go out and be so public about it, why try to create a wedge within the party? Why not stand united against the Republicans, while allowing for internal dissent. Personally, I respect the Demcratic Party much more for the fact that it is big enough to contain both Dean and moderates like Biden and Edwards.
I think AMERICAblog gets it right here: The right-wing commentariat, including its vitriolic blogospheric component, is all over this because they love to see Democrats feed on each other. But I do think that Biden and Edwards are both to blame for contributing to the divides that have characteristically sunk the Democratic Party. I'm all for diversity and debate, but let's make sure it's healthy diversity and debate, where different people and ideas are taken seriously and not simply ridiculed or otherwise held up to contempt. If we can learn anything from the Republicans (at least from Reagan's Republicans), it's that, in the end, unity matters.
(For Part II, see here.)