This was the first tangible "victory" for the netroots in its struggle for supremacy of the Democratic Party. But I don't bring this up to gloat. Rather, I bring it up to point out how little of the Dean Doomsday Scenario actually played out.
More specifically, the notion that Dean would be a boon to Republican propaganda efforts has completely falled flat. Remember those? Dem insiders were quaking in their shoes, Republicans were salivating at the chance to remind America how far-left and craaazzzyy those Democrats were with Dean at the top.
Yet you don't hear Republicans trying to make hay of Chairman Dean anymore. Why would they? Middle America proved, yet again, that they could give a rat's ass about who runs the political parties, whether it's Dean or the GOP's closeted homosexual robot. And while those early attacks on Dean fell flat with the general American public, Dean supporters responded with cash. Every attack on Dean suddenly became an impromptu DNC fundraisier worth tens of thousands in the bank.
Republicans aren't stupid. They're corrupt, craven, opportunistic and generally unpleasant, but they aren't stupid. So it wasn't long before the anti-Dean attacks ceased. (Well, Liddy Dole includes Dean in her fundraising emails, but given her fundraising performance thus far, even the GOP base couldn't give two shits.)
While the true measure of Dean's success will be the 2008 elections (rebuilding the party takes time, regardless whether we make gains in 2006 or not), the early praise from his fiercest Democratic detractors and the unilateral ceasefire from the Republican side proves that he's not the Scary Liberal Boogeyman many feared he'd be.
Update: Dave Weigel emailed me this:
Apropos of your post about Dean failing as a Republican bogeyman, I wanted to share some context about how the Virginia GOP tried to use Dean in our elections this year. Before Dean was elected, the GOP linked him to Tim Kaine.
The GOP linked Kaine with Dean again as soon as Dean was elected.
The GOP was also quick on the trigger with press releases demanding Tim Kaine respond to Dean's "outrageous" comments. Here's one example.
They kind of gave up on this as the race closed, but it's fun to look back and see how little momentum they got out of this. After all, the Virginia GOP got a ton of mileage in the 90s linking Democrats to Bill Clinton.