I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Howard Dean for all he has done to resuscitate the Democratic Party. Dean is stepping down soon as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (Obama announced his successor today), after steering the party through the 2006 and the 2008 elections.
That's really the best way to mark his tenure as DNC head -- since results speak louder than words. And the results in both 2006 and 2008 where not just impressive, they were overwhelming. When Dean took over at the start of 2005, Democrats were in the minority in both houses of Congress, and Bush had just been elected to his second term. Dean leaves behind, as his legacy, enormous majorities in both the House and Senate, and a Democrat entering the White House.
It is no exaggeration to say that when Dean took over, he faced a Katrina-like disaster in the party's organization. Dean will leave behind three legacies that are not as easy to see as the raw numbers in Congress, though. The first is how he schooled Democrats on how to use the internet to raise money. This leads to hope that the Democrats will rediscover the average American as the party's most valuable supporter, and show that Big Business and their legions of lobbyists are not the only way to raise money anymore. Lots of money.
And the second is the ground game. Dean modernized the party so it could once again communicate effectively with the voters. You can have the best political ideas in the world, but if you don't get the warm bodies in the voting booth in support, you will lose the election. The Democrats had suffered through decades of being out-organized on the ground, but Dean turned it around so that the Democratic GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort is now looked at with naked envy by Republicans themselves. That's a pretty stunning turnaround.
The last of Dean's legacies is, of course, is his 50-state strategy. Dean realized that if you keep playing only to your base, in your "safe" states, you will never expand your party or your party's electoral map. Dean put money into states Democrats didn't even dream of winning in previously, and it has started to pay big dividends. Barack Obama took Indiana, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, and other states that used to be considered hopelessly Republican. Dean took a lot of heat from some Democrats for pumping money into congressional races in "red" states, but a quick look at how many Democrats have been elected from those states shows that Dean knew what he was doing.
Barack Obama, in his remarks today introducing Tim Kaine as the incoming DNC chair had some well-deserved kind words for Dean:
We're in a strong position to rebuild a Democratic Party committed to these principles because of the outstanding work of its current chairman, Howard Dean.
For nearly four years, Howard has served our party and our nation as a visionary and effective leader. He launched a 50-state strategy that made Democrats competitive in places they had not been in years, working with my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to give Democrats a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade.
Having steered the Democratic Party through two successful elections, Howard deserves enormous credit for helping usher in a new era in Washington.
And now is the time not only to build on Howard's record of achievement, but to remake the Democratic Party to meet the challenges of the 21st century. And no one is better suited to help lead this effort than the new chairman of the DNC, my good friend, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Now, I know that Howard Dean didn't singlehandedly save the Democratic Party, and that there are millions of people out there who helped make it happen. You can also argue that 2006 and 2008 were bound to be "Democratic years" anyway, and that Dean just happened to be in charge when it fortuitously happened.
But I, for one, have always thought that Howard Dean has not gotten anywhere near the recognition and applause for what he has done. He actually did bring "change" to Washington (the Democratic part of it, in any case), and steered the party in a new direction. He showed leadership in his job, even when members of his own party were screaming loudest (irony intended) to preserve the status quo. And he got results.
So, outgoing DNC Chairman Howard Dean, allow me to say thank you for all you have done for the party. You made a difference, and you will be missed.
-- Chris Weigant