Howard Dean: The Democrats' Moses?

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    Can Howard Dean Take the Dems to the Promised Land?
    By Jack Kelly
    February 22, 2005

    Liberals were thrilled when Howard Dean was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. They think the former Vermont governor will lead Democrats out of the political wilderness. Conservative Republicans were thrilled, too. They think he will plunge Democrats further into it.

    Only rarely has a party chair had much impact. Dean will have more than most, because there are few elected Democrats to share the spotlight with him. And Dean is energetic and a good quote, something few would say about Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev), the Democratic leader in the Senate, or Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal), the Democratic leader in the House.

    The initial success of Dean's presidential candidacy moved the Democratic Party to the left, which makes him an odd choice to recapture the center. Journalists have started to describe Dean as a closet moderate, because he balanced the state budget. But the governor of Vermont — like the governor of virtually every other state — is constitutionally obligated to submit balanced budgets, and Dean typically did so by raising taxes. This makes him a "moderate" only in the parallel universe most journalists inhabit.

    Two days after Dean's inauguration, Curtis Adams, a county commissioner in Tennessee, switched to the GOP, citing Dean as the reason. "He'll take the (Democratic) party down all the way," Adams told reporters.

    A day after that, the senior black Democrat in the House of Representatives joined Republicans in criticizing Dean for making a racially insensitive remark.
    While meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, Dean said: "You think the Republicans could get this many people of color in a single room? Only if they had the hotel staff in here."

    This drew predictable howls of outrage from Maryland Lt Gov. Michael Steele, former Rep. J.C. Watts and other prominent black Republicans. But they were joined by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who said Dean should apologize if he offended anybody by suggesting blacks usually work as servants.

    Dean was not exactly a favorite of African-Americans when he ran for president, and his joke isn't playing well with blacks who were miffed by the vituperative opposition of prominent Democrats to the nomination of Condoleeza Rice to be secretary of state.

    Another bone of contention is Social Security reform, which (Democrat friendly) pollster John Zogby said is popular with minorities. "The Democrats are very busy turning 48 percent of the vote into free fall, and that's not easy to do," Zogby said.

    "Free fall" sounds like hyperbole to me. As long as greed, stupidity and cowardice remain a part of the human condition, there will be a constituency for Democrats. But by lurching left under a lily white limousine liberal with diarrhea of the mouth, the Democrats seem set on a course more likely to diminish than to expand their share of the vote in 2006 and beyond.

    Republican prospects in 2006 and beyond will be shaped primarily by how Americans view the job President Bush is doing. If the economy is strong and the war on terror is going well, GOP prospects will be bright.

    But the GOP future also will be shaped by political choices Republicans make. Democrats are competitive in national elections primarily because of the stranglehold they have on the black vote. If Republicans could get 15 percent of the black vote, Democrats could never again win the presidency. If Republicans could get 20 percent of the black vote, the very existence of the Democratic Party would be in doubt.

    According to Washington gossip, President Bush has begun referring to Condi Rice in private as "44," as in the 44th president. Bush probably is joking, but it would be a good thing for the GOP if he isn't. The best way to blunt a Hillary Clinton candidacy would be for the Republicans to nominate a woman of their own. Could Condi Rice get one black vote in six? Almost certainly. One black vote in five? Perhaps.

    Movement already is underway. The Columbus Dispatch reported Feb. 20 that Walter Cates, one of the most prominent black Democrats in that Ohio city, has switched to the GOP. With a Condi Rice candidacy, what is now a trickle could become a river, if not a flood.

    Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration.

    © 2005, Jack Kelly
     

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