Originally created 02/03/05

A unifier now, but ...



Howard Dean may be one of the biggest consensus candidates for a party chairmanship in the storied history of American politics.

Both Democrats and Republicans are delighted to see him emerge as the sure-fire successor for outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Certainly, from a Democratic perspective, the former Vermont governor and the party's momentary presidential frontrunner has earned the chairmanship. He brought energy and Internet-savvy campaigning, and a stream of young voters, to the Democratic nominating process last year. Then, when his candidacy fizzled, he was a loyal workhorse for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

It's also clear that Dean, a doctor and former chief executive of a very pleasant Northeastern state, is a very intelligent man and quite capable of such a leadership role.

But Republicans have to be giddy over the prospect that the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" is taking over.

That, to the GOP, is akin to Howard Dean seeing his shadow and calling for eight more years of Republican rule.

The main reason Bill Clinton became president is that he perfected the art of talking centrist. He latched onto school uniforms, attacked racy song lyrics and made other demonstrations designed to appeal to conservatives.

Republicans have no reason to fear such a strategy, or at least the effective execution of it, from Howard Dean. His ultraliberal views are well on record.

They are views so liberal and out of step that they were rejected by his own party in 2004.

Dean, remember, singlehandedly dragged the Democratic Party to the left last year: Until he started making noise, neither John Kerry nor the party was as anti-war as they eventually became.

It remains to be seen how the Democratic Party can embrace Howard Dean without endorsing his liberalism, a liberalism that could someday fracture the party beyond repair - if there are any moderate elements left in it at that point.

It's an interesting paradox the Democrats have painted themselves into: On the one hand, they want to appear more moderate after their 2004 loss - to speak more to red-state sensibilities; on the other hand, here comes Howard Dean. The left foot and right foot are off in different directions.

So while Dean is a great unifier today - bringing together Democrats and Republicans who are thrilled to see him take charge - his long-term effect on the party's internal politics may be quite different.