Transformative politics is not for sissies.
If youre to really change political trends, and put bottom rail on top for a generation, you cant be gentle about it.
You cant cajole. You cant seduce. You have to go right for the throat. And you have to be ready for the whole of the old order to come down on you for it.
So lets be clear about this right now. Love him or hate him, Howard Dean is a master politician.
Hes not really a liberal, you know. Hes what used to be called a Rockefeller Republican, back in the day. He believes that budgets should be balanced, that alliances should be negotiated, that science should be respected, and that its possible for government to make life better for people if it doesnt take itself too seriously.
He made it work in Vermont. He ran to the right of other Democrats there. He balanced budgets. He dealt amicably with Republicans. For his pains he was often called a sell-out by environmentalists, by the states left, even by its gay community.
Hes still the same man, but today Rockefeller Republicanism is called extreme liberalism. Hes only on the left because the center has shifted radically to the right. Our assumptions today are far to the right of those our parents held. Most people today believe government is their enemy. Most people are skeptical about science. Most people dont care about budgets. This is reflected in their choices right down the line, from President to school board.
So how do you effect change?
Well, you dont do it softly. No great change agent in American political history has worked softly. They have all had enemies. They have chosen these enemies carefully. They have deliberately made themselves the victims of these enemies until events moved their way.
They have often made enemies within their own political party. A minority can only become a majority after it grows a spine and tosses aside the spineless. This is how Republicans did it 40 years ago. Its what they did to the Rockefeller Republicans.
And its what Howard Dean has been doing to the Washington Democrats.
He ran against them in the primaries. They defeated his bid, but they wanted his people, so they gave him the party apparatus.
And hes running with it. Saying that many Republicans never worked a day or that the GOP is a white Christian party isnt a gaffe. Its red meat to the netroots. And the first step toward change is always energizing your base. This is precisely what the conservative movement did in the 1960s. They energized and organized their base voters. They got them enrolled in like-minded organizations. They kept calling them victims of a great conspiracy. They got into their checkbooks (via direct mail in this case), and where their money went their hearts and minds soon followed.
Getting criticized by the party elders is actually part of the process. The leaders of the permanent minority are always doomed to become followers of the new majority. Howard Dean isnt interested in leading a bunch of losers. Hes interested in political transformation.
Transformation, however, is a slow process, even in the Internet Age. Were talking about people here. Were talking about what I call Moores Law of Training, because it doesnt exist. The productivity gains of the Internet explosion that came about in the 1990s didnt really become apparent until the following decade, after people and businesses felt forced to learn, and to implement change.
Whats true in tech is true in politics.
My criticism of Dean has little to do with what he says. Im more worried about the fact that the technology at his headquarters doesnt properly scale. The Democratic Party is not yet a two-way discussion. Its still too much talk goes down and money comes up. The discussion happens elsewhere, in the blogosphere, and the partys presence within that discussion even Deans presence is surprisingly muted.
There are legal reasons for this. Anything the party does must be paid for, full price, and a scaled political discussion encompassing 100 million would cost Deans entire marketing budget. So this discussion takes place elsewhere, at Dailykos, at the Huffington Post, at TPM, at Eschaton, at Liberal Osis, at 1,000 other points of light where Democrats gather around small virtual campfires to feel their shared victimhood and plot their political revenge.
And at the end of the day, those bloggers put up their links to Dig Deep for Howard and people respond.
The bloggers pay the bills. The bloggers flog the netroots. The netroots respond with money. And it is good. Just as Richard Viguerie was good for Ronald Reagan, so Markos Moulitsas is very, very good for Howard Dean.
Harry Truman famously said, in response to calls that he Give em Hell, that I just tell the truth and they think its hell. It brought him victory in an election Truman had no business winning, in 1948, an election that really kept Democrats dominant for 20 years, despite the rise of suburbia, and made possible both the Warren Court and the Civil Rights movement.
No Democrat on Earth has Howard Deans political brilliance. No one else has his instincts. Hes not crazy, hes not angry, hes not mad. Hes giving people the truth, and those who hear it are responding.
Those who feed and depend on the current system, both Republican and Democratic they just think its hell. Because when the time is right, and the inevitable contradictions between our assumptions and reality occurs, theyre all going to be thrown out of their Washington paradise.
Who will replace them? Those who hang on tightest to Howard Deans coattails will replace them.
You watch and see.