Even as Howard Dean was making the transformation from "the candidate with the 50 state strategy" to the "candidate for DNC Chair with the 50 state strategy", there were many who doubted Dean or tried to torpedo his ideas for the Democratic Party. These people included Democratic Party establishment members and "leaders" like Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel whose "vision" (and I use the word loosely) was more along the lines of "50%+1".
And even though Bill Clinton was said to have bought into and endorsed Dean’s strategy, there was talk about the Clintons doing an end around the DNC if she got the nomination. There was also reports of a "tense meeting" between Harry Reid and Howard Dean in early 2006 with respect to the DNC providing money for 2006 Senate races.
Despite the fact that Dean’s strategy led to Democratic gains and wins at all levels of government, the same doubters who didn’t want him to be DNC Chair in the first place were knocking him right after the 2006 elections:
The results that night, as Democrats recaptured Congress, seemed to settle the argument in Dean's favor. But key Democrats, including Representative Rahm Emanuel, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, weren't satisfied, and Dean opted to stay away from the celebration, doing TV interviews instead. A week later, Democratic strategist James Carville, another prominent Clintonite, labeled the DNC leadership "Rumsfeldian in its competence," and called on Dean to resign. He floated the name of Harold Ford Jr., now chair of the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, as a replacement. There was rampant speculation inside the Beltway that Carville wasn't offering an unsolicited opinion but rather carrying water for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Close to two years later, we have seen record turnout in states that the Democratic Party has written off for years as well as the rebuilding of the Party infrastructure in many states. There is more energy for the Democratic Party and its candidates at all levels of government, and it is clear to everyone that isn’t either lying to themselves, self serving or flat out stupid that the 50 state strategy that Dean put together is working – and working very well, despite the objections of nearly all of the Democratic Party establishment (including the DLC).
But it wasn’t just these things that Dean has done which have made him a true hero to the progressive movement. His Democracy for America has recruited, trained and funded progressive candidates around the country. He has been as neutral as one can be on the 2008 Presidential Primaries, and has shown the leadership that is sorely needed from those whose job it is in Congress to stand up to the lies of Bush, Cheney, McCain and the right wing noise machine – whether it be on Iraq, the economy or any number of other issues.
Just as important, he has shown tremendous strength and leadership when it came to Florida and Michigan. While he has taken heat (and sometimes unwarranted blame) for the debacles that arose from the states breaking the Democratic Party rules, he has tried to make the situation work and be fair for ALL candidates – all while not giving in to tremendous pressure to set a horrific precedent with respect to breaking DNC rules.
I won’t (and can’t) estimate the amount of pressure that the Clinton camp has been putting on Dean and the DNC to overturn rules that were in place and were knowingly broken – just so it can give her a bit more of a chance to
steal "win" the nomination. However, the fact that he has not given one inch to those who want to seat delegates that most likely have little bearing on the true desire of the people in Michigan and Florida (if they had all candidates to choose from on the ballot, or had a fair primary that wasn’t tainted by the state Party) is a true testament to Dean.
The fact that he was even able to keep his job in the face of backstabbing by party insiders is amazing in and of itself. The fact that he is still acting in the most professional, evenhanded manner, and the fact that he was able to stand tough and implement the 50 state strategy and vision is nothing short of a miracle. The fact that this strategy is showing progress already shows the insight and vision that too many people in the Democratic Party are sorely lacking.
The Presidential Primary could have turned out to be more of a circus than it already has become – especially if the Florida and Michigan delegates are seated. To maintain some semblance of sanity and rationality makes it easier for someone like Harry Reid to speak out and say that things will be resolved.
Without Dean’s leadership, we could very well have seen a disastrous strategy for the 2008 elections – from the Presidential race to the Congressional races to the state level races. Without Dean’s vision, we could very well have seen another year of not enough gains or even losses where there should only be resounding gains for the Democratic Party. Without Dean’s conviction and strength, we could likely see more "republican lite" as far as candidates and a lack of activism that was created by Democracy for America.
It is good to see that, even though he didn’t get the nomination in 2004, Howard Dean has had a tremendous and long lasting impact on the Democratic Party, and has been able to show the leadership that progressives noticed back in 2003 and 2004.
That type of leadership and conviction is refreshing, and should be noted.