The "tragedy" of Howard Dean

By Mark Follman
Published February 19, 2004 1:54AM (UTC)
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There is probably a fair amount of dejection and disillusionment in Burlington, Vt., at this hour, with the former governor having officially announced an end to his presidential bid. After Dean finished a distant third in the Wisconsin primary last night -- fizzling yet again in a state where he was once thought to be strong -- it was clear to most analysts that his run was over. Still, last night a number of pundits forecast a cavalcade of shining eulogies that would highlight Dean's spirited, technologically innovative contribution to party politics. The high-flying John Edwards himself was generous: "He's brought a lot to this race," Edwards told CNN's Larry King.

But Dean fans will suffer more disappointment when they smack into Matt Bai's dark post-mortem on the New York Times web site today.


"Dr. Dean can hardly claim to have laid the rails for some powerful engine of change. His campaign, as he never tired of reminding us, was about 'taking the country back,' which seemed another way of saying it was basically about winning," Bai writes.

"There was a moment, just after much of the Democratic establishment appeared to embrace his candidacy in December, when the Dr. Dean could have done something truly special in American politics. The party and the campaign were his to mold. He could have risen above his own partisan rhetoric to become the 'uniter' that President Bush had promised to be. Dr. Dean could have vowed to find bipartisan solutions to intractable problems like the impending collapse of entitlement programs. He might have unveiled an entirely new campaign finance system to replace the one he himself had rendered obsolete...

"In the end, the tragedy of Howard Dean's impressive grass-roots campaign is that he will be remembered not for any lasting reform agenda, but for the missed opportunity to create one."


Dean pledged today in Vermont that his grass-roots campaigning will continue, albeit in a different fashion. Perhaps his best contribution to party politics is yet to come, now that he no longer has to focus on the daunting task of winning.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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