Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2005/ 25 Shevat, 5765

Jeff Jacoby

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Dean For DNC Chairman? YEEAARRGGHH! | The Democratic National Committee won't officially elect its next chairman until Feb. 12, so Howard Dean doesn't have the job wrapped up just yet. But the Association of State Democratic Chairs endorsed him this week, and two of the five other candidates for the position have since dropped out.

Clearly, the Democratic chairmanship is now Dean's to lose. And that should have reasonable Democrats worried, because their party's ills aren't going to get better with the medicine Dr. Dean is prescribing.

As governor of Vermont, Dean was regarded as a budget-balancing, gun-owner-friendly centrist. As a candidate for president, he turned himself into an angry, left-wing firebrand. Perhaps as party chairman he'll turn himself back into something thoughtful and moderate, in which case the Democratic Party may regain some of the ground it has lost to Republicans over the past decade. But on the evidence so far, Dean has no intention of turning down the heat.

Speaking to a DNC forum in New York over the weekend, Dean indulged once again in some of the undisguised loathing of the GOP that was such a hallmark of Democratic Party activism last year. "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for," he told the audience, "but I admire their discipline and their organization." I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for. Not "I oppose the Republicans and everything they stand for." Not "I'm determined to beat the Republicans." Not "I reject the Republican message." No — Dean wants it understood that he hates the Republicans and all their works. That is the banner under which he is marching as a candidate to lead his party.

Intense political passions are nothing new in American politics, and they are not limited to one side of the aisle. Plenty of Republicans despise Democrats. Some conservative authors and radio hosts sully themselves by resorting to insults and invective when talking about liberals. But the willingness of so many Democrats to openly call themselves "haters," to make contempt for the other party their stock-in-trade — that is something we haven't seen before. No doubt there is a kind of crude pleasure in hating so uninhibitedly, but it's no way to rebuild a Democratic majority.

A few days before Dean hoisted the hate flag in Manhattan, five Democratic campaign staffers in Milwaukee were charged with slashing the tires on 25 vehicles rented by the local Republican Party. Among the five Democrats were Michael Pratt, the 32-year-old son of a former Milwaukee mayor, and 25-year-old Sowande Omokunde, whose mother is a member of Congress.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party rightly condemned the vandalism, and of course the party shouldn't be blamed for the violent destructiveness of a few. Still, at a time when the Democrats' leading candidate for chairman openly proclaims his hatred of Republicans, should it come as a surprise that low-level party activists are accused of destroying GOP property?

It wasn't only Milwaukee that saw anti-Republican violence last year. Consider some other headlines from the season gone by:

Chicago: "Vandals repeatedly target 43rd Ward GOP headquarters"

Raleigh, N.C.: "Mob of vandals attacks GOP office"

Spokane, Wash.: "Bush's campaign office in Spokane burglarized, vandalized"

Orlando, Fla.: "Protestors ransack Bush/Cheney headquarters in Orlando"

Knoxville, Tenn.: "Shots fired into Knox Bush/Cheney headquarters"

I repeat: No party has a monopoly on hotheads or goons. Republicans, too, have been known to engage in vandalism and dirty tricks. I don't doubt for a moment that the great majority of Democrats, like the great majority of Republicans, love their country and want to see it led by enlightened men and women.

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All the same, there is a streak of (mostly rhetorical) thuggishness to the Democratic Party's activist core these days — a tone of bitterness and rage that party leaders should be trying to soften.

Instead they indulge it. Rather than keep the virulent Michael Moore out of the limelight during their convention last summer, they prominently seated him next to Jimmy Carter. Rather than condemn Eminem's coarse anti-Bush anthem, "Mosh" (sample lyric: "Stomp, push, shove, mush, [expletive] Bush"), John Kerry praised it: "I heard the song," he told MTV. "I liked it." Rather than steer clear of the Democrat who proudly proclaims, "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for," the Democratic National Committee is poised to make him chairman.

There is a reason Dean didn't win a single Democratic presidential primary apart from Vermont's, and it isn't that he wasn't incendiary enough. The last thing his party needs now is what Democrats rejected last year: a short-fused ranter who thrills the diehards, but sends moderates racing for the exit.

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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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