The Current Crisis

Look Back in Anger

Dean Democrats are a spiffy collection of angry young persons.

By 8.7.03

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Washington -- Robert L. Bartley, the esteemed former editor of the Wall Street Journal, writes in his WSJ column that a "Stop-Dean Campaign" is emerging from the smoke-filled rooms of the Democratic Party, or is that the room-freshener-filled rooms? You know what hypochondriacs the Democratic panjandrums have become. Says Bartley, "The chance of a Dean nomination warms the hearts of the party's faithful, but chills the bones of its professional pols." They fear that Dr. Howard Dean will be another George McGovern, and they remember the grisly fate of their party under the leadership of that glassy-eyed gasbag. Apparently their fears are spreading. Such sober fellows as Senator Evan Bayh and Senator Joe Lieberman are sounding the alarm.

Very few people know much about Dr. Howard Dean because he comes from such remote environs. He was governor of Vermont or was it New Hampshire or was it Liechtenstein? I knew him for years on a television show we did in Montreal and I could never get his point of origin quite right. At any rate I did know him. We would tape several shows every few weekends for a series called "The Editors." As he was not an editor I also tended to doubt that he was a governor, and I had absolutely no faith in his claim to being a doctor. He looked like a used-car salesman to me, and he still does. Perhaps that is why he is doing so well among rank-and-file Democrats in Iowa. When they meet him in Waterloo I expect as many ask him what he thinks of the new Ford pick-up as ask him what he thinks of the Federal Reserve Board's plans for the interest rate.

At our tapings of the "The Editors" he always met me head on. Whatever we discussed, he met me head on. This is because I am a conservative Republican, and he is a party-line Democrat. He is not a left-winger or even much of a dove. He simply takes the position that works for Democrats with Democratic activists. My support for tax cuts is based on the evidence that tax cuts encourage economic growth. Dr. Howard Dean's position was based on opposing me. I have a position on a forceful foreign policy based on the evidence that such a foreign policy protects American security. Dr. Howard Dean's position was based on opposing me. I was against Bill Clinton because I thought he was a menace to the rule of law. Dr. Howard Dean's position was based on opposing me. I was occasionally wrong. Dr. Howard Dean was always wrong -- even when I was wrong. In sum, he has no independently-arrived at ideas, just opposition to Republicans.

That explains his success with the rank-and-file Democrats. The reason Dr. Howard Dean is at the front of the Democratic pack now is that he is the most vehement opponent of Republicans. This is what rallies Democratic primary voters, opposition to Republicans.

They have come to oppose the Iraq war not because they have any affection for Saddam Hussein but because the Republicans favored the war. They are against tax cuts because the Republicans are for them. This is what the Democratic Party's faithful have declined into, the party of opposition. The Democratic Party has declined to the lowest percentage of the electorate in decades, 33%. The Republican Party is now the leading party. So what do Dr. Howard Dean and his fellow candidates call the leading party in the country, "far right"?

Now Dr. Howard Dean's candidacy has induced his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Senator Joseph Lieberman, to warn that his anti-tax position and anti-war position threaten to render the Democratic Party the party of the left, an unelectable position in modern American politics. Senator Lieberman, though the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2000, is floundering with Democratic primary voters while remaining popular among with the general electorate. That tells us much about the kind of angry partisans that turn out for Democratic primaries. If any Democrat running for the presidency can lay claim to the great Democratic tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman it is Lieberman. He has ideas and persuasive reasons for holding them. He is for a strong foreign policy, balanced trade policies, and against repealing tax cuts. He opposes the Republicans not out of anger but out of principle and policy. His campaign has been statesmanlike. Yet he is being swept aside by Dr. Howard Dean whose boast is that he is the angriest of all Democratic candidates. The Democratic Party, at least as represented in its primaries, is the party of superior anger. Somehow its adherents still call themselves liberal.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.