On Native Ground
SOME ADVICE TO THE DLC: WHO DARES, WINS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The buzz for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is getting louder.
Dean made the covers of Time and Newsweek this week - one of those rare occasions when the two leading newsmagazines decide on the same cover subject.
In the space of a few months, he has gone from obscurity to having a legitimate shot at being the Democratic Party's presidential nominee for the 2004 election. The energy and excitement that Dean has brought to the campaign ought to be cause for celebration for the Democrats.
Instead, some are worried that Dean might actually win.
The rap on Dean is that he's too liberal, or at least that's what the Democratic Leadership Council - the center-right faction of the party that gave us President Bill Clinton, Vice PresidentAl Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman - is saying.
The DLC is convinced that Dean can't win because he came out against the Iraq invasion at a time when the Democratic Party's leadership had all but rolled over for President Bush in supporting an unilateral war that grows more rancid with each passing week.
What the DLC fails to see is that Dean has tapped into a large pool of discontent in America over the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies.
American troops are bogged down in guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economy is still lousy and joblessness is at levels not seen since the early 1990s. The federal budget surpluses of the late 1990s have been transformed into record-setting deficits to pay for tax cuts for the rich. And the "compassionate conservatism" that President Bush campaigned on in 2000 turns out to be a total shuck.
When confronted with the reality that this nation might not survive another four years of misrule by President Bush, suddenly Dean looks good.
And don't give me that "he's too liberal" nonsense. I agree with Eric Alterman that the best definition of liberalism in the modern political era is, "not nuts."
If the DLC believes that Dean is too liberal for suggesting that the billions spent on President Bush's tax cuts might be better used for providing health care coverage for all Americans, they aren't listening to the millions of people who either have no health insurance or have inadequate coverage.
If the DLC wants to hang the "tax and spend" liberal tag on Dean, they're wrong. I've lived in Vermont for all of Dean's 11-year tenure as governor. Even though Vermont is the only state that doesn't mandate a balanced budget, Dean did it every year. The result is that Vermont is almost alone in not having a budget deficit and the state has one of the best bond ratings in the nation.
Dean is a pragmatic politician with integrity and common sense, but the political spectrum has shifted so far to the right that he looks like a wild-eyed liberal compared to someone like Gore or Joe Lieberman.
The DLC likes to claim Bill Clinton - the "liberal" president who dismantled welfare, increased defense spending and enacted the job-destroying North American Free Trade Agreement - as one of its success stories. The truth about what the DLC has accomplished is slightly different.
The Democratic Party in 1992 had control of both houses of Congress, more than half of the governorships and a majority of the state legislatures. None of that is true today and the reason why is not the brilliance of the Republican Party and the strength of its ideas. It's because, as Texas populist Jim Hightower likes to say, the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos.
Lieberman - and his patrons at the DLC - may say that guys like Dean represent "the discredited example of our party at its worst" and that backing a liberal candidate "will not solve the challenges of our time and could send us back to the political wilderness for years to come."
Unfortunately, the Democrats are already in the political wilderness. Why did the Democrats get spanked in the 2002 midterm elections? Because they chose to go along with most of the odious policies of the Bush administration and failed to develop a coherent alternative to them.
Lieberman voted for the Patriot Act. He voted for the multi-billion dollar bailout of the airline industry. He voted to give President Bush a blank check for an Iraq invasion. He has supported the Bush administration's economic and foreign policy agendas without fail. When Democrats in Congress like Lieberman behave like Republicans, the result is that you get Republican policy no matter who is in office.
If we use Alterman's definition of liberalism, it's not nuts to oppose an radical right-wing administration that has done incalculable damage to our nation and the world. That's what voters are looking for and that's why Dean is suddenly the hottest of the Democratic candidates.
The DLC's strategy - and not Howard Dean - is what will doom the Democratic Party to failure in 2004. Boldly going after President Bush at every opportunity and articulating solid alternatives to his economic and foreign policy failures is what will win. The timid are rarely rewarded with victory.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).