In the shadow of a bruising presidential campaign marked by suspicions of another stolen election and the further erosion of Democrats' power in Congress, party leaders appear to be united as never before against the man they believe is the greatest threat to restoring their prominence on the American political scene--Howard Dean.
Forget issues of an amoral, illegal, war costing tens of thousands of lives and crippling our economy. Forget the proposed dismantling of Social Security, the looming reversal of Roe v. Wade, environmental backsliding and failed and under-funded education policies.
Forget George W. Bush, the artificial architect of all the above.
In his drive to become chairman of the National Democratic Committee, Howard Dean, our hoopin' and hollerin' former governor, strikes more fear in the hearts of the party faithful than Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove combined.
Dean's straightforward, progressive ideals include an unwavering opposition to the war in Iraq long before Senate Democrats, with 20-20 hindsight, began hammering Condi Rice at her confirmation hearings. Our former governor also has had the liberal temerity to say that American wonąt always have the strongest military, and--hold on to your hats-- that we shouldnąt judge Osama bin Laden until he has a trial.
Party old-timers fear such brash statements will run counter to America's new moral code. But what is more moral than wanting to save the lives of U.S. soldiers, and preserve retirement benefits for future generations, and a woman's right to choose?
Only when Democrats tackle such issues truthfully and head-on, a la Howard Dean, will the party regain its legitimate moral authority. Yet the fear of change remains.
Still, Dean is picking up allies. He has won support from several black DNC members, and he has gained the backing of some key players from the Kerry and Clinton camps.
But perhaps more telling: At a recent Sacramento event, an overflow crowd defied expectations when they jammed the hotel suite where Dean and the other candidates for the DNC leadership were speaking. 'No one is as yet clued in enough to the grass roots to anticipate an overflow and set up a TV monitor,' commented one observer.
Down in the trenches, Dean still resonates. Such support, from the ground up, is proof that he can expand the party and attract and hold the diverse constituency Democrats need to bring this country back from the brink.
The Vermont Guardian is a statewide weekly newspaper and news Web site at www.vermontguardian.com