Thursday, February 17, 2005

On 'Hogtying the Deaniacs' by Joshua Frank

Joshua Frank writes at Counterpunch:

"The Democrats have finally accomplished something. Yes, I'm talking about Howard Dean's latest victory, but it's not what you think. Dean's scoring of the DNC chair isn't a win for progressives. Nope, it's a triumph for the establishment. The Beltway savants have successfully muted the only vibrant contingent within their frail party. The Deaniacs have been corralled.

Howard Dean's new post has been hailed by many as a huge feat for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party (yeah, what 'progressive' wing?). But it is no feat. Not only is Howard Dean a centrist in the most disgusting Clintonesque sense of the term, but his victory this past weekend to head the DNC is also a shot in the head of his passionate supporters. He has sold them out, while taking on the roll of insider, where his new symbolic post within the party will do little more to challenge Democratic policy, than, say, MoveOn's irritating phone calls to Congress.

We should have seen it coming. Right after Joe Trippi left Dean's presidential campaign last year, the good doctor moved quickly to replace him with DC insider Roy Neel. Neel, who talked Al Gore out of actively contesting the 2000 election, was a long-time telecom lobbyist who employed his status with the Clinton Administration to maneuver the atrocious Telecommunications Act through Congress in 1996 -- was perhaps the greatest corporate handout of the Clinton years.

It was a sign of what was to come when only months later Howard Dean jumped into the ring with presidential candidate Ralph Nader, hoping to entice his dizzied Deaniacs into not fleeing the Democrats' pro-war ticket. Although Nader's peaceful embrace was more in line with their anti-war principles -- the 2004 elections were simply not the time to stand up for what they believed in. Or so claimed Howard Dean.

The ex-governor was attempting to cover his own ass, hoping to embolden his clout within the party. Old Howard even went as far as to call John Kerry a 'progressive' in his debate with Mr. Nader. It was a disgusting display of political myopia. Dean sold out his loyal followers that moment. He told the very people that were responsible for his success to go ahead and piss their ideals into the political winds of Washington. The Iraq war wasn't the issue; Dean's own gluttonous motivations were.

Nevertheless Howard Dean seems to be riding high, like Bing Crosby in that awful Frank Capra flick. But don't believe the hype. Dean's new job is an administrative boondoggle. The dry Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has more influence over Democratic policy than Dean ever will. Believe it.

The party bigwigs are surely thrilled. Especially if Dean can fill their campaign coffers with a surplus of grassroots cash.

Hold on. Don't kid yourself, though. This certainly doesn't mean Dean won't continue to hobnob with the corporate fat cats like his filthy predecessors. And don't count on Deano to disclose campaign finances either. Just look at Vermont where his boys gutted the only law that called for even the slightest transparency in the state's public elections.

No, this whole DNC thing smells of rot. Let's hope that the Deaniacs (the few not having multiple orgasms over this 'success') break ranks and hang Howard Dean and the Democrats out to dry like a pair of stanky old socks. That's the only way victory could ever come out of this calamity."

Harsh words certainly, and appropriately cynical. Everyone should be a touch cynical about politicians, no matter who they are, or claim to be. Dean has played the game as a centrist, and has made many compromises in the name of expediency in his time. Certainly, most of us understand that Dean is the least likely wild-eyed radical, and that his wild and woolly public image is more a smear than a reality. For many Deaniacs, the fact that he is reliably centrist on many issues is a deep comfort. We aren't radicals, by and large, we are reformers looking to eliminate the worst excesses of our political system, not utopians.

For my own part, I think there is much that Dean can do to reform the party and deliver to us a more vital and stronger party. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. I'm impressed by the vision outlined in Dean's plan and encouraged by his determination to spend most of his time in the red states. What I will be looking for is systemic reforms that make a Democratic party that is, well... more democratic. I want a party that is more responsive to common people, and has more control over the policy choices of its candidates. In my own view, the best way to do this is to institute what Benjamin Barber (who was an advisor of Dean during the primaries) terms 'strong democracy'; direct participation, more frequent voting, more cooperation between political and civil society organizations.

Dean asked for our imput and I gave him mine: all party officers should be directly elected by all registered Democrats (and possibly Independents and Greens) in the relevant districts rather than selected by representatives at second-, third-, or even fourth-hand. Both parties operate like the 19th century US Senate, with officers selected by powerful factions and special interests in the closed ranks of the county and state conventions and committees (who are themselves elected by a only tiny fraction of Democrats). If Dean is able to open up the party to more direct influence by average voters outside of primaries and general elections then I will deem him to be moving in the right direction. The Democratic party has to become the party of the people again, and greater involvement by regular voters will only come with more power given to regular voters.


At 6:03 PM, Blogger Tiny Montgomery said...

I'm not buying Joshua's message. I acknowledge the value of healthy skepticism, but I don't think Dean is a sell-out. Time will tell. I think he scares the pants off establishment Democrats and Republicans in that he just might be effective. I wish him and us well and give little credence to this opinion.


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