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Is Howard Dean Getting Screwed and Why?

He's been a governor, an inspiring grassroots hero, a reformer of the Democratic Party -- will he join Obama's White House or head back home?
 
 
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Is Howard Dean getting a raw deal? Barack Obama owes many elements of his successful run for the White House and padded Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to the departing Democratic National Committee chairman's grassroots leadership and pioneering Internet-based presidential candidacy. But there's no clear sign that Dean figures in the new president's plans.

Hard as it may seem to recall now, parallels with Dean's 2004 surge were among the most notable features of Obama's early campaign. Not only were Obama and Dean relative unknowns who generated early enthusiasm and cash flows on the Internet, Obama campaign manager David Axelrod was a friend and admirer of Dean's campaign guru Joe Trippi.

Among the DNA and staff shared between the two campaigns, Obama's new media director, Joe Rospars, was a Dean vet and former Internet director for Dean's DNC. Obama may have refined the Webcentric Dean model, careful to avoid its most punishing mistakes, but the basic lineage was never disputed. It was a correct and easy to tag Obama during the early primaries "Dean 2.0."

Given the debt Obama clearly owes to Dean -- as well as the personal respect the president is known to hold for him -- many Dean netroots loyalists are confused as to why their man was not chosen to head the Health and Human Services Department, given his experience and interest in health care reform (Dean was a doctor before entering politics, and enacted major health care reforms as governor of Vermont). With Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said to be high on Obama's list to replace the disgraced nomination of Tom Daschle, Dean looks unlikely to benefit from the recent scandal.

But as disappointing as Dean's failure to make Obama's cabinet is for Dean's loyal legions, many felt a more stinging slap in Dean's glaring absence from the changing-of-the-DNC-guard ceremony in Washington. When Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine assumed control of the party apparatus last month, Dean was traveling. No request was made by the White House that he reschedule to attend the event. The Beltway press was soon frantically reading tea leaves for an answer to the question: Was Dean's lack of an invitation an intentional slam by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanual, with whom Dean has famously clashed over tactics and strategy for electing more Democrats? Or was it just a scheduling conflict, no biggie, as Dean diplomatically maintains?

Whatever the case, it's appropriate that Dean spent his last day as chairman of the DNC not in Washington, but in the South Pacific, visiting Democrats in the U.S protectorate of American Samoa. His visit to the micro-territory was the final piece in his jigsaw puzzle of his promise to visit every Democratic organization on U.S. soil, the perfect capstone to a tenure defined by his goal to build up the party from sea to shining sea, in states ranging across the red-blue spectrum (and, in the case of Samoa, beyond).

If one motif runs through Dean's meteoric rise from the governor of a tiny state, to a dark horse populist candidate who inspired millions with his "You Have the Power!" message, to being the campaign and fund-raising face of the ruling political party, it's that Dean has been willing to take his cause into every corner of every state. His famous "scream" after finishing third in the 2004 Iowa caucuses involved Dean listing off what seemed like all 50 states, which he promised supporters he would take in the weeks and months ahead. In 2005, he announced his intention to build the Democratic Party in all 50 states, including red regions like the Deep South, as well as red districts in blue states. Most recently, Dean has announced that he's taking the 50-state strategy global, with plans to consult on campaigns and technology for center-left parties around the world. Once humankind begins colonizing the galaxy, Howard Dean will no doubt be there to pioneer the Democrats' 50-planet strategy.

 
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