Afraid of Howard Dean?
By Raul Groom
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Two men walk slowly down a wooded path after dark. They talk
quietly but energetically, flitting desultorily from Islamic
gnosticism to artificial intelligence to electoral strategy.
Suddenly, piercing the pungent haze like the light of a full
moon through the wisp of an icy November cirrus cloud, the
observation of the evening springs from the taller man's lips.
"Joe Lieberman is 'The Mole.'"
Thus spake my brother-in-law Daniel on a cold Thanksgiving
night, crystallizing for me exactly what Joe Lieberman and
his ilk really represent for the Democratic party. Of all
the half-baked analogies with which I have larded the pages
of DemocraticUnderground.com since I began writing for them
five months ago, it is that first one - Lieberman as the aging,
almost-was-but-never-will-be pugilist standing between today's
young talents and their unknown destinies - that has haunted
me the most. It seems so right intuitively, but I could never
put my finger on why.
Certainly, a lot of runner-up VP candidates have gone the
way of Gerry Cooney and Ray Mercer. Neither Henry Cabot Lodge,
Jr. nor Ed Muskie ever got his title shot, but it took a considerable
effort to knock each man from the top ranks of his respective
party. Despite suffering eventual defeat, these men were contenders.
Lieberman somehow abdicated his post as #1 challenger without
anyone ever really having to take it from him. No one I know
- except dim Republicans with weblogs - thinks Joe has any
chance of winning the nomination and going toe-to-toe with
Bush in 11 months' time. What happened? The question has dogged
me for weeks.
Now, with Daniel's words echoing in my ears, I see the truth
- Joe Lieberman isn't in it to win it. He really is The Mole.
For those of you blissfully unfamiliar with ABC's "The Mole"
series, it breaks down like this - the contestants on the
show are all trying to win cash prizes by participating in
group stunts. One of their number - The Mole - wins money
only when the group fails. Thus he has to subtly but decisively
intervene to keep the group from achieving its objectives.
The crude interpretation of this model would be that Joe
is some kind of Republican plant. Except to stoned Marxists,
that idea is obviously absurd. The reality of the current
American political situation, however, is that Lieberman,
and indeed, a great many other powerful Democrats, stand to
lose a great deal as the Democratic party sheds its old skin
and molts into a sleeker form for the new millennium.
It would be hard for any thinking person to deny that there
is a palpable anger and dissatisfaction among the Democratic
base as we head into the critical 2004 primary season. Indeed,
the corporate wing, with Lieberman as its paragon, has admitted
as much on several occasions, even going so far as to argue
that these "activists," - that is, people who do more for
the party than simply cast a ballot every couple of years
- need to be overtly marginalized lest we return to the bad
old days of the early 1980's.
You remember those days, when Democrats controlled only
the House of Representatives, and when the somewhat conservative
Supreme Court was run by a mildly objectionable Republican
flack. Lieberman, Daschle, and all the other New Democrats
clearly prefer the current situation in which the Democrats
control several key dogcatcher posts and the unashamedly reactionary
Supreme Court is ruled by a leering right-wing vampire who
cut his teeth as a law clerk trying to convince Justice Jackson
that Brown v. Board was nothing but a bunch of uppity Negroes
trying to transform the educational institutions of good God-fearing
white folk into brothels for reefer-crazed African rapists.
The look on Joe's face is a mask of resignation and shame
that can only be worn by a man who knows deep down that the
world has passed him by. His brand of earnest, I'll-scratch-your-back
politics died the day Newt Gingrich was sworn in as Speaker
of the House and began his crazed drive to destroy the President
and the Democratic Party by any means necessary. Joe is a
relic from a gentler age, and I will be sorry to see him go.
But go he must. The future of the Democratic Party depends
I wish Joe and his career no ill will, of course. He did
the best he could, for as long as he could, the only way he
knew how. That's all you can really ask of a man. He deserves
to live out the rest of his days as the venerable senior Senator
from Connecticut, discharging his functions on whatever committee
he likes and minding his own business. But if we're going
to win anything in the next 20 years, we've got to stop listening
to Holy Joe and his merry band of wimps and enablers. Joe
Lieberman and the progressive wing of the party have been
working at cross purposes for a long, long time.
Coincidentally, the man who has brought Joe's inadvertent
treachery into full view is a New England moderate himself,
the until-recently-obscure Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean.
Indeed, Lieberman's superficial similarity to Dean makes the
real reasons for Joe's antagonism towards the Democratic frontrunner
all the more obvious. There is very little ideological distance
between the two - the Senator's beef with Howard is based
purely in Joe's narrow self-interest.
The reason a Dean Presidency would be a huge disaster for
the current leadership of the party is subtle but otherwise
unconcealed. One need only take note of the most recent round
of emails sent out by the Dean campaign to understand the
danger. With an increasingly unobstructed path to the Democratic
nomination ahead of him, Howard is holding out a helping hand
to Congressmen in potential trouble in 2004. His activist
base, unprecedented in terms of volunteer power, is likely
to make a Dean victory long on coattails. The resulting shift
in power could suddenly and permanently alter the face of
the Democratic Party, and of course any Democrat loyal to
Dean is going to be eager to toss the New Democrats out and
install their own people in leadership roles.
That's why Lieberman, Daschle and the other DLC heavyweights
seem so often to be singing from the same hymnal as Karl Rove
and the RNC. In a sense, their interests are convergent -
all of them are terrified by the idea of Howard Dean winning
the Democratic nomination.
"But wait!" I hear the hue and cry rising up from the assembled
masses even as I type this article. "Karl Rove would love
to run against Dean - it's been in all the papers!" And indeed
Papers like the Weekly Standard, which has also run stories
that breathlessly (and speciously) reported that Dean had
called for Osama bin Laden's life to be spared - if Bush can
ever find the guy, of course. Papers like the National Review,
whose Approved Script on the subject of Mr. Howard Dean not
only includes Rove's allegedly ungenerous assessment of the
Governor's chances but also the cheery allegation that Dean
hates Christians and that Vermont under his governorship is
now officially the Tenth Circle of Hell.
Newsmax.com ran a story in early November suggesting that
Rove was actively campaigning for Dean. Just Thursday The
New York Post went to press with the most unusual take on
the subject I've seen to date - "GOP TRIES TO BOOST DEAN BY
BURYING HIM." The idea behind the article is just what the
headline implies - that Rove's recent TV attacks on Dean are
an attempt to make him more attractive to Democratic primary
voters. In fact, it seems practically every one of Karl Rove's
favorite newspapers is constantly telling us what a pushover
Howard Dean would be in the general election.
A lot of naïve Dems have apparently fallen for all of this
hokum. I still hear a lot of moaning from people who ought
to know better that "Howard Dean is the next McGovern." Perhaps
these people have forgotten the real story of George McGovern
and Ed Muskie. It's an important parallel, and apt, in its
own way, so here's a quick refresher:
In 1968, Lyndon Johnson bowed out of his race for a second
term amid widespread outrage over his handling of the U.S.
occupation of Vietnam. LBJ's unusual abdication paved the
way for the nomination of the wildly popular Robert Kennedy,
who was tragically killed during the primary race in one of
the most bizarre assassinations in world history. After Kennedy's
death, the nomination went to Hubert Humphrey, a pitifully
unfit and unqualified man who was the physical embodiment
of Harry Truman's famous quip that the Vice Presidency was
not worth a warm bucket of spit.
After Richard Nixon won a predictable but close victory
over the hapless Humphrey, it was clear that the future of
the party lay in the impressive stature and easy demeanor
of Humphrey's running mate, Ed Muskie. Muskie, somewhat ironically,
was Joe Lieberman's kind of guy - a straight-shooter who was
often compared to Honest Abe Lincoln. He was the perfect foil
to Nixon's unctuous, Styrofoam public image, and he scared
the GOP to death.
Unfortunately for Muskie, his ultra-progressive, eminently
workable ideas - he would later craft many of the environmental
protections which we've taken for granted for 20 years, and
which Dick Cheney's energy policy has cavalierly discarded
- scared a lot of people in the Democratic party as well,
and his Democratic opponents became unwittingly complicit
in a Republican plot to essentially drive Muskie insane. The
details of the effort, the crowning achievement of the Nixon
Machine, are too sordid and extensive to detail here, but
the campaign to destroy Muskie has remained the gold standard
for political smear tactics ever since.
That campaign was engineered by one Donald Segretti (who
wound up doing time for distributing illegal campaign materials)
and his protégé, one Karl Rove.
It's worth noting that at no time during Rove's debut caper,
which was clearly designed to throw the Democratic nomination
to George McGovern, did he or anyone else in Nixon's campaign
say publicly "Gee, we'd sure love to run against George McGovern."
You see, that would have been really dumb.
So, Dear Reader, let us consider two possibilities. Either
Karl Rove has developed a Dubyaesque case of the deep-down
stupids since sabotaging the 1972 Democratic Primary, or he's
trying to do the same thing to Howard Dean that he did to
Ed Muskie so many years ago. I leave the final decision up
Let me give you one last piece of evidence to chew on, however,
before you make up your mind. The man Rove supposedly is deathly
afraid of running against? Dick "Briar Patch" Gephardt. And
if you buy that, I've got a 1994 Nissan Sentra I really need
to get off my hands - it's in great shape, really great. I
only drive it to church and the liquor store, one of which
I very rarely visit.
Truth is, Karl Rove is holed up in a house of straw right
now with his buddies Joe and Tom, and they're all chanting,
loud enough for all the gullible conservative pundits to hear
and recite - "Who's Araid of Howard Dean?" They'd better get
to work right quick with the bricks and the trowel, because
Big Bad Howie is coming to blow all their houses down.
In case it isn't obvious already, I'll make it clear to
the folks in the cheap seats, who are no doubt waiting with
bated breath to find out who Raul Groom is going to endorse
for the Democratic nomination. It's official now - I'm a Dean
If you're out there, Howard, and you give a damn what some
drunken idiot with a word processor thinks, I have one important
piece of advice for you, and only one: Keep your head down.
It's winter in the party of Jefferson, and you're the only
spring in sight. It would be a shame to survive the Ed Muskie
treatment just to take a bullet from some "lone nut" on the
campaign trail. One Bobby Kennedy is already one too many.
Good luck, godspeed, and if you ever need anything so weird
you don't know who to ask, you know where to find me.