Getting some distance from Howard Dean

John Edwards and Joe Biden say that their party's chairman doesn't speak for them.

By Tim Grieve

Published June 6, 2005 1:05PM (EDT)

It's hardly news that a lot of Washington Democrats weren't thrilled by the idea of Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. But just as Dean fell fell in line behind John Kerry last fall, the Democrats who opposed Dean as a candidate for the party chairmanship closed ranks behind him once he was elected.

At least publicly -- and at least until now.

John Edwards and Joe Biden distanced themselves from their party chairman this weekend after Dean appeared to insult Republicans in a speech at the Take Back America conference organized by Campaign for America's Future. In his speech -- text and video of which are available here -- Dean said: "[I]f you want a democracy that works, you've got to get people to vote. And that means we need some substantial changes. I think we ought to have instant runoff voting. . . . I think, frankly, we ought . . . either make the Tuesday a holiday or else move it to another day where people . . . can get out and vote. You know, the idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida -- there's something the matter with that. You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever, and get home and then have a -- still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote? Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that, because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives. But for ordinary working people, who have to work eight hours a day, they have kids, they got to get home to those kids, the idea of making them stand for eight hours to cast their ballot for democracy is wrong."

Later, Dean would say that his comments about Republicans' not making an "honest living" were directed not at hard-working Americans but rather at the Republican leaders who have failed him. That's not how it comes across on the video or the transcript, however: Dean sure seems to be lining up a distinction between Democratic voters and Repulican voters, not Democratic voters and the Republican leadership.

While Dean's speech was interrupted repeatedly by applause, his performance didn't get any cheer from Edwards and Biden, both of whom are potential presidential candidates in 2008. Edwards said Saturday that Dean "is not the spokesman for the party," dismissing the chairman as "a voice" with which he doesn't agree. On ABC's "This Week," Biden said that Dean "doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric, and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats."

So did Dean cross a line? Maybe. While the Republicans frequently offer up outrageous statements and outright lies about Democratic candidates, we're having a harder time remembering instances in which leaders of the Republican party appeared to insult Democratic voters (other than by, say, not counting their votes or suggesting that their candidates were baby-killers or friends to terrorists). We're sure that you'll provide us with the examples we're not remembering. In the meantime, though, the more important question is probably this: If Ed Gillespie or Ken Mehlman had said what Dean said last week, would George W. Bush or the Republicans who wish to follow in his footsteps feel the need to disavow the comments?

We think we know the answer to that one.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room