Jewish World Review June 20, 2005 / 13 Sivan 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Howard Dean gallops on | Whenever the moon and stars are set,

   Whenever the wind is high,

All night long in the dark and wet,

   A man goes riding by.

Late in the night when the fires are out,

Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Dick Cheney let the word out during his interview over the weekend with Fox News. (Does anybody else get an interview with the administration's top guns?) But it wasn't exactly a state secret: The vice president allowed as how Howard (Screamin') Dean was the GOP's not-so-secret weapon. Or as he assessed the political impact of the Democratic Party's national chairman and unguided missile:

"So far, I think he's probably helped us more than he has them. That's not the kind of individual you want to have representing your political party. I really think Howard Dean's over the top. And more important . . . I think many of his fellow Democrats feel the same way."

If not, they should. For the sake of their party's good name. And its success at the polls. Consider just a couple of Mr. Dean's latest contributions to civility in American politics:

He's described Republicans as "pretty much a white, Christian party," which isn't the savviest thing for a Democratic national chairman to say in a country full of white Christians.

Is this just the usual Christophobia coming out in our elite, or can Dr. Dean not have noticed that the opposition's big tent is getting ever bigger? It's not just the WASPs' party anymore.

To quote Ken Mehlman, the GOP's national chairman: "I think that the folks who attended my bar mitzvah would be surprised to know that we were a party of white Christians." So would Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Alberto Gonzales . . . and the gradually increasing percentages of Jewish and Hispanic voters who are going Republican in presidential elections.

Howard Dean also asserted that a lot of Republicans "have never made an honest living in their lives." Is this really the way to make friends and influence people at a time when Americans say they'd like to see more civility, not less, in their politicians?

When it comes to political weapons, Howard Dean is about as handy as a boomerang; his words keep doubling back to smack him.

The Democratic Party may need a doctor just now, but not Dr. Dean. He seems determined to make it over in his own, ill-tempered image. A happy warrior he isn't, just a warrior. He calls it being a fighter; it's more like being a loser. He lacks the fund of good humor that makes the difference between a leader and just another crank.

No wonder leading Democrats, including Delaware's Joe Biden and Maryland's Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, distanced themselves from their chairman's comments. But will their party listen?

Maybe not. Rather than the exception, Howard Dean may be typical of a party core that's having too much fun saying outrageous things about the opposition to give up the habit, even if it means losing still more elections.

For the more fervid, that's a small price to pay for the release a good scream affords. What's mere victory compared to the joy of saying what's in your heart, or rather spleen?

There's a certain, familiar kind of Democrat who confuses an insult with an argument. Unfortunately for the party, one of them seems to be party chairman at the moment. Which, as Dick Cheney noted, is a fortunate thing for Republicans.

Howard Dean is turning off the people in the decisive middle of American politics, the very voters Democrats need in order to win. You have to wonder what he thinks there is to gain by all that galloping about without any clear destination.

There's no doubting the man's anger; it's all the sadder for being sincere. But where is it taking him — and his party? Like some headless horseman on a regular schedule, Dr. Dean rides by furiously, but to no great effect, except to scare off fair-minded voters.

How strange: The Democrats, once the party of Harry Truman and Scoop Jackson, now seem intent on reducing their customer base. Who would have thought that the Republicans would come to represent the populist spirit in American politics and that the Democrats would always be looking back to past glory? Our two major parties seem to have switched stereotypes. And it's the Dems who are now thought of as directionless.

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It's not too late for the Democrats to find a spokesman who won't just gallop about but appeal to reason. Someone who will elevate the public discourse instead of demeaning it. Someone who can argue the Democrats' case in measured yet appealing tones. Someone who not only defends the party's ideas but uses his influence to see that they're defensible. Someone like . . . Michael Moore?

Hey, Dick Cheney would love it. Although it's clear that for now he's perfectly happy to have Howard Dean to kick him around. Dr. Dean makes even Dick Cheney look warm and cuddly. And he just won't stop.

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,

   And ships are tossed at sea,

By, on the highway, low and loud,

   By at the gallop goes he.

By at the gallop he goes, and then

By he comes at a gallop again.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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