June 02, 2005

Dean Funding Performance Pathetic

One hundred days into being Chair of the DNC and Howard Dean's effect on fundraising seems to have been a chilling one. The Democrats raised less than half what the Republicans did - $14.1m vs. $32.3m. In case a Deaniac wants to assume that Dean brought in lots of new small donors and the Republicans only brought in big business donors (thus arguing that more votes have been generated for the Democrats) would be wrong. The Democrats took in 20k new donors and the Republicans took 68.2k, almost three and a half times as many.

The Republicans have $26.2m saved to the Democrats' $7.2m. I wouldn't feel too bad for the poor ol' Democrats, of course. Soros and Lewis and the other Democratic Billionaires will swing in at campaign time to salve their consciences and give big to the left. But this is an early indicator of just how politically engaged people on the center-left and left feel about having Dean as the DNC chair.

I think the problem is that Dean is seen as a wild card and a bad investment. Nobody knows if he'll pull something off or take the party down in flames. The evidence would seem to suggest more failure than success, because the only people who seem to like him are mostly college students.

Not only does he have a reputation for failure and extremism, but the careful observer would have trouble really finding out what he stands for. He seems to say all sorts of weird things - like that Osama should get a fair trial but Delay should be sent back to Texas to serve a jail term - but that can be chalked up to personality and partisanship. What he truly believes is hard to pin down.

He talks about fiscal conservatism but he turned Vermont into one of the singlest worst states for business and land development. He's occasionally put into the category 'libertarian Democrat' by hopeful libertarians, but it would appear that aside from gay marriage he's a staunch statist. He doesn't speak of privatizing anything, even the Post Office, and his record on health care is that he took a vibrant, nearly-universal coverage from private insurers in Vermont and replaced it with nearly-universal coverage fromt he state at a higher cost. He also appears to have no affinity for tax cuts, since he wanted to pull back all the Bush tax cuts, took advantage of his Vermont predecessor raising nearly every tax in the state, and oversaw a dramatic and confiscatory rise in property tax rates in Vermont by degrees sometimes exceeding 1,000%.

He's not really much clearer on foreign policy, where before the primaries got going he seemed to be a pretty moderate guy, aligning himself with Senator Biden on a letter to the President about the run-up to the war. He supported the intervention in Kosovo and he supports the idea of preemptive war if somebody is about to attack us. He says he supports the use of force if we're attacked, about to be attacked, or in humanitarian cases. Yet he opposed the Iraq war for what appears to be the shallowest reason that Bush was the one doing it.

In short, there's not a lot you can predict from him politically. At the same time, you can't expect much from him stylistically. He spoke in the primaries about the South deciding elections for God, gays and guns, but he also condescends to say he wants the guys with confederate bumper stickers to vote for him. As Chair he's said he hates Republicans but he's going to the South to try and appeal to normally Republican voters. He's not predictable in whether he's going to insult or empathize, alienate or engage.

He's a wild card whose appeal seems to be rooted in his location: he's outside the GOP, outside the compromising Democrats, and outside mainstream politics. The same things that made him popular to college students and activists make him unappealing to donors and horribly confusing to voters.

My suggestion to Dean would be to just focus on coming up with specific, creative policy proposals that the Democrats would try to enact if given the Congress in 2006 and place it within a larger, cohesive theme. That would go a lot further than well-publicized but largely meaningless missionary-excursions to The Interior of Darkest Alabama.

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