Monday, December 22, 2003
Is there any reason for such optimism, such hope? What is it? Can it do anything? (Putting aside these questions for the moment, just read the article...)
Is It Time to Believe?
Bill Clinton rebuilt the Democratic Party in crucial ways. But Howard Dean is rebuilding it in a way Clinton missed. Party insiders would do well to make their peace with it.
By Michael Tomasky
...But there is one way in which Clinton did not rebuild the Democratic Party: from the ground up. Beyond rhetoric, and the occasional action, he didn't really make it a party of the people. He and Al Gore did energize a youth vote in 1992, and he made millions of voters who'd been disaffected feel comfortable voting Democratic again, bringing important states like New Jersey back into the Democratic camp.
But he never situated the party as an entity that represented the aspirations of its people—its most committed members. Back to Newton: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And the reaction to bringing the party to the center and allying it more closely with corporate donors was that the people at the bottom of the totem pole felt a little detached. (Remember: Fierce loyalty to Clinton within the party's base didn't really kick into fifth gear until the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when many progressives defended Clinton less because of the man himself than because of what they saw as a functional coup d'état.)
This is where Howard Dean comes in. If one thinks of the Democratic Party as rebuilding itself after its disastrous 1980s, then Dean—or more appropriately, "Deanism"—is a new and potentially more powerful stage of the rebuilding process. Clinton rebuilt (forgive the Marxist terminology, but it happens to fit) the superstructure. Dean is rebuilding the base. "If Clinton modernized the message," says Simon Rosenberg, the most prominent centrist Democrat who's enthusiastic about Dean, "then Dean is rebuilding the party. In the '90s party, it was, 'Write us a big check.' Regular people were left out of that equation. Now, through new technology, we're getting them back in."