Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Howard Dean and the Potential Liberal Revolt

Howard Dean may have come to prominence based on his opposition to the Iraq war in 2004, but now he has another issue: healthcare. He is now on record threatening primary challenges against any Democrat who refuses to support a public option.

I don’t see how this does any good for Democrats. The Democrats resisting the public option are conservative ones from conservative districts which voted for McCain last year.

That means two things. First, a primary challenge is likely to be unsuccessful since the Democratic primary electorate is presumably more conservative. So Blue Dogs will come through the primary and be resentful toward the progressive wing of the party as well as the leadership.

Second, it makes it more likely that these conservative Democrats will lose. They will lose valuable time and money that could better be spent shoring up general election support in their districts. At first blush that may seem like a good thing to progressives; just desserts for refusing to support a public option. But in place of conservative Democrats will be conservative Republicans who refuse to support any of the Democratic agenda. The Blue dogs might only be with you 75% of the time, but that’s better than 5% or 10%.

The interesting bit comes if Dean is thinking about challenging President Obama if he backs away from the public option. It’s unusual for someone to challenge a sitting President of his own party, but it has happened before, most notably in 1976 (when Reagan challenged Ford) and 1980 (when Ted Kennedy challenged Carter). Neither of those instances ended well. Both incumbent Presidents lost that year, and it’s not a stretch to think that long, bruising primary battles didn’t help.

That’s not to say that Dean will be able to mount as serious a challenge as Kennedy or Reagan. I’m not sure the demographics are there. He might get support from some yuppie liberal types who are willing to throw caution to the winds. But I see Blacks, Hispanics, and labor being firmly in President Obama’s corner. And that is a broad enough coalition to be re-nominated. And even the progressive wing of the party will likely find Dean an unrealistic option.

Also, remember that Obama has two years to fix any fissures in the party. The only way a primary would be feasible is if the left wing is still miffed in 2011. And there’s no guarantee of that happening. Plenty of things could happen to make progressives rally around Obama before election time.

1 comment:

  1. Two thoughts. First, I wouldn't say that "now [Dean] has another issue." He wanted his '04 campaign to be about health care in its early stages, but his Iraq position was the one that resonanted most with liberal voters, caught on, and gave his campaign a reputation, so he ran with it for political expediency. Remember, though, he made some big changes to Vermont's health care system as Governor - so this is a very long-standing issue for the family physician. Second, remember that in 1994, it was not the liberal Democrats who lost in the year's anti-liberal wave. It was the moderates, because the liberals weren't vulnerable. If Obama fails to get strong health care through like Clinton (and you can debate about whether or not that includes a public option), he will lose political capitol, aiding the anti-Democratic wave. If he is politically successful and a year goes by without any grandmas being killed, it will aid him and his fellow Democrats in the polls. An anti-Dem year will hurt the vulnerable Dems more. So, for their own political sake, Blue Dogs should WANT Obama to be successful. The best outcome for them is they vote no but the bills pass anyway; the second best outcome is they vote yes and the bills pass. The only truly heinous outcome is if they vote yes and the liberal bills fail.