In Praise of Howard Dean

IN PRAISE OF HOWARD DEAN….Ed Kilgore says that he’s got no problem with Howard Dean:

Every party chair spends a lot of time speaking to Democratic activists, and inevitably serves up a lot of red meat. Dean’s recent “controversial” remarks would have been completely unobjectionable, and probably unnoticed, if they had been uttered by his predecessor.

….The media’s tendency to distort and then hype Dean’s rhetoric is predictable and unavoidable. In a NewDonkey post congratulating the Doctor on his victory in the DNC chair race, I observed that he would be playing by “Hillary Rules,” which means exceptional and unavoidable scrutiny of every single word he says.

But Ed, that’s a feature, not a bug! I don’t want Dean to go over a cliff with this kind of stuff, but his reputation as a straight shooter allows him to say things that other people are only thinking, and his role as party chairman forces the press to pay attention. This is a good thing.

Initially, of course, it doesn’t look that way, but guess what happens after the initial firestorm has died out? With news hook in hand, reporters will get to work. Does James Dobson control the agenda of the Republican party? Are Republicans overwhelmingly white? Do party leaders work against the interests of the working class? This is exactly where we’d like the focus to be: on our issues, not theirs. After all, the answers to these questions are inevitably going to be bad for the Republican party.

This is the same thing that happened with the Newsweek/Koran story. At first the White House thought they could get some mileage out of bashing Newsweek, and in the short term they were right. But within a week or two the initial firestorm had flickered out and the tide had turned: reporters had begun investigating the allegations and were starting to write stories about what was really going on at Guantanamo. Within a few weeks, it had gotten so bad that Bush felt it necessary to publicly allude to the possibility of closing down Gitmo altogether.

For my money, the lesson here is that if someone gets the press to pay attention to the issues you want them to pay attention to, it’s all good. And if the only way to get them to do that is for Howard Dean to say something incendiary, then that’s how the game is played. As long as he doesn’t make a daily habit out of this kind of stuff, I think Dean is doing the party a favor.