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Who's Afraid of Howard Dean?
December 11, 2003
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 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 on it.

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 it has.

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. 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 to you.

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 man.

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.

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