Piling on

Washington Democrats line up to note their disapproval of Howard Dean. How long must this go on?

By Tim Grieve
Published June 9, 2005 1:56PM (EDT)

If you're keeping tabs on where people are lining up in the flap over Howard Dean's recent comments about Republicans, here are a few more names for your ledger.

According to today's Washington Post, at least three Washington Democrats registered their disapproval yesterday over Dean's pronouncement that the GOP is "pretty much a white, Christian party." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that she didn't think the statement was "helpful" but attributed it to the Dean's "exuberance" for the DNC chairmanship. Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- never afraid to take a strong stand, especially when it involves selling out his own party -- said Dean's comments were "way over the top" and called on the chairman to apologize. Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel said that he'd prefer that Dean were talking about other special interests -- the oil companies, the tobacco industry, the pharmaceuticals -- to whom the Republican Party is beholden. Emanuel said that Democrats "don't need gratuitous hits," which is apparently what he thinks they're getting as a result of their chairman's comments.

The Washington Times adds a couple of more. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who voted yesterday to confirm Janice Rogers "Liberal Democracy = Slavery" Brown to the U.S. Court of Appeals, said that Dean "doesn't speak for me." New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine said Dean's style "gets away from how the Democrats should frame issues." And Sen. Barack Obama said he is certain that Dean "regrets how his statements were interpreted."

Are we there yet?

Democrats may question the wisdom of some of Dean's remarks -- we've done so ourselves -- but it seems like an appropriate time to ask: Isn't there some sort of pre-approved time limit on self-flagellation? And if there isn't, might the Democrats who feel such a need to attack Dean for his lack of discipline find some discipline of their own?

As Dean himself has said, the Republicans would like nothing more than to make him the issue. His comments have helped make that possible. But so, too, have the words of Biden and Edwards and Lieberman and Pelosi and Emanuel and Nelson and Corzine and Obama and every other Democrat who feels a need to announce that Howard Dean doesn't speak for him. By rounding up the usual circular firing squad, Dean's fellow Democrats have guaranteed the result that they most fear: That the mainstream media will pay attention to "outrageous" comments by Howard Dean rather than to the Republican Party's flailing on Social Security, on stem cells, on the war in Iraq and on just about everything else that matters to voters right now. If it's just the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reillys rattling on, it's the usual way of the world and the press moves on sooner or later. But when Democrats line up again and again and again against their chairman, it's all those things -- dispute! intrigue! family squabbles! -- that the press finds irresistible.

"It's a diversion from the real, central issues," Sen. Ted Kennedy said yesterday. It's also classic Democratic Party politics. "It seems to me that the shots at the chairman from Democratic elites says more about our party, sadly, than it does about Chairman Dean," Jim Jordan, a Democratic consultant who has worked for Dean, told the Post. "Not much of a mystery really why we're the minority party."

Tim Grieve

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

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