When Howard Dean was chosen to head their party, Democrats looked forward to the benefits of his bristling energy and zest for political combat.
But at a private meeting Thursday on Capitol Hill, a number of worried Senate Democrats warned Dean that he had been going overboard and needed to choose his words more carefully.
The former Vermont governor and unsuccessful presidential candidate recently referred to the GOP as “pretty much a white, Christian party” and declared that a lot of Republicans have “never made an honest living in their lives.”
Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) said that at the Capitol Hill meeting, “there couldn’t be any doubt that there was some concern, even by Dean himself,” about how his comments had been received.
Also Thursday, two Democrats seen as rising stars â€” Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee and Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner â€” made a point of distancing themselves from Dean’s remarks.
Ford, who plans a Senate run next year, said on the Don Imus radio show that if Dean could not “temper his comments, it may get to the point where the party may need to look elsewhere for leadership, because he does not speak for me.”
Ford later told The Times that Dean was “leading us in a direction that makes it difficult to winâ€¦. His leadership right now is not serving any of us very well.”
Warner, who has been mentioned as a possible 2008 presidential candidate, said Dean was using “not the kind of tone that I would use, not the kind of tone a lot of the Democratic governors in mostly Republican states are using to get elected or to govern.” Warner made his comments at a luncheon at The Times’ Washington bureau.
If these divisive and bigoted comments had been made by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, there would already be calls for a resignation and a public apology from the national party committee members.
But, in the MSM, the best they can do is write “sad sister” pieces bemoaning that a few rising Democrat stars may have a tough time winning an election.
Other Democrats were quoted distancing themselves from Dean’s conduct:
Every single one of us has stuck our foot in our mouths at one point in our public careers, and we’ve paid for it the next day,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that although she didn’t agree with Dean’s recent comments, she considered him an effective party chairman.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on her way into the Capitol Hill meeting with Dean that he “ought to stick to organization, raising funds and supporting Democrats, rather than creating friction and splitting the party.” She added that she would advise Dean to “cool it.”
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), up for reelection next year, said that he cautioned Dean “not to get caught up in the Washington game of political polarization.”
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he didn’t think Dean’s comments were helpful to the party. But he noted, as did a number of other Democratic senators, that Dean was still new to his job as chairman and had been accustomed to speaking his mind as a governor and presidential candidate.
“This is a learning process,” he said. If Dean were to continue to make the sort of comments he has made recently, Biden said, “he might find himself in a real difficult situation. But I think you’ll see him be a little more careful in how he phrases things. Do I think this has caused long-term damage for the Democratic Party? No. If it becomes the steady diet for the next three years? Yeah.”
This entire FLAP has the Democrats on the defensive and certainly has thrown them “off message”.
The Loose Cannon, Howard Dean, will not be around past Labor Day.