Does Howard Dean at the helm of the Democratic Party matter?
Most analysis and pundits, as well as many critics on the left, are saying no. First, as N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out (quoting that "muckraking" left-wing publication, Counterpunch), Dean is no progressive, and second, the party chairman is just a fund-raiser, with no power to set policy or direction.
In fact, however, Dean could make a difference, particularly on the issue of Social Security, and that could make a difference in the party's fortunes in next year's Congressional elections.
It seems clear that the Bush administration has overstepped badly in its attack on Social Security. The effort to scare young people with talk of the system going bankrupt has not worked. Even the tame corporate media have not bought this story for the most part. While they submissively adopt the administration's terminology, calling the president's demolition plan a "reform" effort, many news outlets have pointed out the falsehood of that bogus bankruptcy claim.
Now many Republican in Congress, faced with the prospect of going to the voters next year, are anxiously telling the president to back off, to slow down.
Where Dean comes in is in his instinct to be combative.
The reflexive Democratic response to every issue in recent years has been to seek compromise, to back off.
Social Security is no place for this to happen. As any general knows, with the Republicans in retreat, the Democrats need to go on the attack.
Democrats have their strongest issue in decades in the fight over Social Security and they should be going for the jugular on it.
They have a president who has squandered his credibility, first with his now fully exposed lies about Iraq, and now about his transparent lies regarding Social Security.
Meanwhile, Republicans as a party have been exposed as liars. For years, the GOP has cried foul saying the Democrats unfairly tried to frighten voters by saying that Republicans were out to weaken or destroy Social Security. They always insisted that they had no such intention.
Now that claim stands fully exposed. The Bush administration and the Republican majority in Congress clearly are on an ideological crusade aimed at gutting the retirement program and causing its collapse.
Dean needs to make that case, and to bring the party, and its elected officials with him. They need to make the argument that Democrats will not compromise on Social Security, and that they will not allow the president's plan to peel younger workers off of the program with a promise of "private" investment accounts.
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