Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

Is Howard Dean Relevant?

Posted by Eric on June 15, 2009

Howard DeanHoward Dean has been an important player in understanding how Democrats ended up with majorities in both chambers of congress and even to Obama’s landslide victory in November. Dean’s tenure as DNC chairman saw the Democrats take back the House and Senate in 2006 and comfortably pad their majorities in 2008. His “50-state-strategy” laid the theoretical and material groundwork for Obama to compete in traditionally red states like Indiana, North Carolina, and Montana. Dean’s innovative online outreach and fundraising operations were an inspiration for Obama’s own internet success.

But since Obama’s victory, the White House’s relationship with Dean has been unambiguously icy. This was perhaps most visible when Dean’s successor at the DNC, Tim Kaine, was publicly selected for the job in a press conference with the president while Dean was on vacation.

Now the good doctor fights for political relevance by injecting himself in the ongoing health care debate. Dean is releasing a new book on health care which will forcefully argue for a “public option” as an element of reform — a policy that both the VP and HHS Secretary Sebelius seemed alarmingly uncommitted to in their media appearances over the weekend. Dean has also soundly rejected Sen. Kent Conrad’s compromise proposal of health care “co-ops” as an alternative to the public option, by quipping that “insurance companies will be licking their lips.”

It will be interesting to see how much political power Dean still holds. He can’t command the spotlight the way he could when the Democratic Party lacked an annointed leader. The young and liberal voters who were Dean’s base are now solid Obama supporters, and even Dean’s grassroots organization Democracy for America has larginally been supplanted by Obama’s Organize for America. Dean is right about health care but I’m skeptical that he will matter much at all when everything is said and done.

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