Michael Tomasky has an important article, ďIs It Time to BelieveĒ, in the new American Prospect that DR recommends to everyone. Tomaskyís basic point is that Howard Dean, regardless of what one thinks about him as a general election candidate, is helping reinvent the Democratic party and that the party was in desperate need of reinvention.
According to Tomaksy, Clinton helped transform the Democratic partyís ideology in the 1990's so that it was more acceptable to swing voters and, hence, more electorally successful. However, despite the important changes of the Clinton era, the partyís basic structure and how it related to, and mobilized, its partisans remained the same: distant and uninspiring. Dean is using new technologies and a new style to mobilize (and create) partisans who see the party as a cause to which they are willing to donate time, money and real energy. In other words, the party is becoming a movement people care about, rather than merely a fundraising apparatus that collects money from elites and runs candidates in election.
Tomasky argues that this is a highly desirableĖindeed, essentialĖdevelopment that insiders who doubt (and perhaps doubt fairly) whether Dean is the most electable Democratic candidate need to come to terms with. DR agrees. Between the Dean campaign and the rise of the 527s, the Democratic party is in the process of rejuvenating itself and thatís a very good thing. In fact, they canít win in any consistent way without it.
Thatís why at least some of the debate around Dean misses the point. Thatís especially true of attempts to fit his campaign into the (now traditional) ideological debate between liberals and New Democrats, populists and centrists. The changes Dean is bringing to the party are not primarily ideological, but rather operational and structural, and therefore canít be judged by the standards of that debate.
Time to realize the real debate about winning has moved beyond that. ďNewer DemocratsĒ, if DR may coin a phrase, are concerned with how to continue this rejuvenation process and build on it to create a winning party.
Now the last part of thisĖwinningĖis something Newer Democrats, especially Deanís many enthusiastic supporters, need to take a bit more seriously (assertions that heíll get lots of new voters donít qualify as serious electoral thinking). How will Dean, if he is the candidate, reach swing voters? What exactly are the states, as Nick Confessore asked the other day, that Dean will carry that Gore did not? Put more bluntly, as Harold Meyerson did the other day: Howís he going to win Ohio?
DR doesnít know the answers to these questions, but he does know that all we Newer Democrats better start thinking about them. Be a pity to have a nice shiny new party, only to have to suffer through 4 more years of you-know-who.