It looks all but certain that Howard Dean will be the next chair of the DNC. But what does it all mean? Some of the press persist in seeing his apparently successful candidacy as a victory for the party’s liberals. But that’s not really what it’s about at all. Ryan Lizze of TNR has by far the best piece explaining the significance of Dean’s triumph. Here’s the conclusion of his article:
Dean’s apparent victory–aides to Roemer and Fowler insist they’ll stay in the race, but the rest of the field had dropped out or had plans to drop out by the time The New Republic went to press–proves that a process he sparked in the primaries hasn’t faded. Back then, he splintered the party roughly into a reform wing and an establishment wing. That divide was only temporarily papered over during the general election. In his plan for the DNC, Dean declares that he will “make Democrats the party of reform,” and reform happens to be a hot word among Democrats these days. The emboldened DNC members talk about reform when they call for Washington Democrats to cede power and help rebuild their state parties. In the pro-Dean blogosphere, the coolest thing to do is to declare oneself “a reform Democrat.” What the Deaniacs mean by that is anyone’s guess, but they speak in apocalyptic terms. “We need revolution. We need total upheaval,” Joyce Nowak, a 60-year-old MyDD blogger told me at one DNC meeting. Chris Bowers, another MyDD blogger, declared, “I can barely believe it. It looks like we finally won something. Outside becomes inside.”
But reform is also the new buzzword in the party’s idea factories and among its elite as well. Much of the Democratic Leadership Council’s recent advice for the party is to retake the mantle of political reform from Republicans using issues like redistricting, ethics, and electoral reform. Similarly, Carville tells anyone who will listen that Democrats must embrace the label of reform. But they are not talking about party-wide revolution. (Carville, after all, was appalled by the open process of the DNC chair’s race.) They are talking about issues Democrats can use to defeat Republicans. Dean’s first hurdle as chairman will be to erase the cartoon image of him that is seared into the minds of most Americans. But, beyond that monumental task, Dean will somehow have to mend the insider-outsider cleavage in the Democratic Party, a cleavage that he, perhaps more than anyone else, is responsible for creating–and which finally brought him to power.
We shall see if Dean is up to the task.