Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2008 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
Dean: Dems big tent party now
By Roger Simon
Well, no, that's not true. He did know what to expect. He expected to find the kind of people he had always detested: Washington insiders, slick operators and politicos.
Thursday, I asked Dean what he had actually found. He quoted Harry Truman.
"Your friends in Washington are the ones who stab you in the front," he said.
But then Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, hastened to add: "I really enjoyed it, despite the fact I campaigned against Washington [when he ran for president in 2004]. I don't exactly like armed combat, but I enjoyed most of the people here.
"The culture here is a little tough sometimes. But I feel pretty good about the caliber of the people who represent us [in Congress]. I have to say I like them, and most keep their word. I can't think of anybody who has lied to my face. I couldn't imagine saying that four years ago."
Those warm feelings apply, however, only to Democrats.
"I don't have much dealings with anybody but Democrats," Dean said. "Maybe someday in the future."
Dean will not run for a second term as chairman of the DNC. Under him, the party picked up 50 House seats in the last two elections and at least a dozen Senate seats. A Democrat has also been elected to the White House.
Whether Dean would like to join the administration of that Democrat, he would not say. (Which usually means yes.) He is a medical doctor who began his presidential run in 2004 not by talking about the Iraq war, which became his signature issue, but by talking about health care, especially child health care.
And Dean did have praise for Obama's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who has clashed with Dean in the past. Emanuel wanted the DNC's money spent for the election of Democratic candidates to the House, and Dean wanted to spend a lot of it on putting paid DNC staffers in all 50 states, even some states that Democratic candidates rarely won.
"This is all business," Dean said Thursday. "Rahm had his job to do to elect as many people as possible immediately, and my job was to take a long view for the Democratic Party. It was never personal, colorful as we both may be. And Rahm has more than landed on his feet. He has got a great job now."
The DNC is now at least $15 million in debt, in part, Dean said, because it was fighting in places where it had never really fought before and winning such formerly Republican states as North Carolina and Virginia. "And we are going to defend North Carolina and Virginia next time," Dean said, "which is better than throwing rocks uphill, which is what we had to do this time."
Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, sent out an e-mail recently asking for contributions to help retire the DNC's debt. "We'll get to work transforming this country. But first, we need to take care of the DNC," Plouffe wrote.
And it is quite possible that Obama will have enough saved from the vast sums of money he raised as a presidential candidate to wipe out the DNC's debt himself.
"This will not be a big problem," Dean said. "We have every confidence it will not be a big problem at all."
What is also not a big problem for the Democrats is reappraising what their party stands for and how to make it more appealing to voters. The Democrats won. Winners don't reappraise. They enjoy. Agonizing reappraisal is for the Republicans.
I asked Dean if he took any secret pleasure in that.
"I don't take great pleasure in their distress," Dean said. "We've won, and now have the worst economic crisis in 70 to 80 years to deal with. I think the party has come together, and we did it by having the most unifying person in politics for a long, long time as president, and secondly, by allowing individual state parties to make their own decisions about the message and using their resources."
Dean said that the Democratic Party was now a big-tent party. "We didn't have just one message," Dean said, speaking of those Democrats who ran for Congress and other positions. "You could be pro-life, pro-choice, a conservative and get supported and get resources."
Throughout his term as DNC chairman, Dean also tried to open a dialogue with people who rarely voted Democratic. "We began a dialogue with evangelical Christians, especially those under 35, and I think it paid off," Dean said. "We noticed from all data we were collecting that they were worried about the things Democrats are worried about: poverty, climate change, Darfur. And now they don't have to feel that just because a Republican didn't win they don't have a friend in the White House."
"We want to put the old politics of division aside," Dean said, "and focus on the new politics of unity."
But he couldn't resist taking a shot at the Republicans, anyway.
"I think this new generation is the generation that really wants to solve problems rather than exploit differences, which has been Republican modus operandi," Dean said. "This last election harnesses the desire of the American people to work together."
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© 2008, Creators Syndicate