Passed Over For Administration Job, Howard Dean Lobbies From The Left


(h/t Heather.)

I, for one, am thrilled that Dr. Dean is outside the White House, agitating for real healthcare reform. He's much more effective out here than on the inside, being back-stabbed by Rahm:

Howard Dean has emerged as President Barack Obama’s chief antagonist from the left on healthcare reform, raising questions over whether Obama made a mistake by snubbing Dean for a position in his administration.

Dean’s strong advocacy for creating a broad government-run health insurance program, known as the public option, has become a headache for Obama while at the same time giving liberals a powerful spokesman with national credibility.

Dean, who once declared himself a representative of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” has been traveling the nation this summer offering his own views on Obama’s healthcare proposal. His uncompromising stance is reminiscent of his 2004 presidential campaign that took many Democrats by surprise, and has begun to symbolize a rift between the president and those activists who played a major role in electing him.

Oh, yeah. Yoo hoo, over here! Remember us?

“Howard Dean has been the bully pulpit for the grass roots, expressing what the majority of Americans across the country are feeling but using his profile to make it newsworthy,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal activist group that supports the public option.

“It might have been a blessing in disguise that Howard Dean was not brought into the admin because it has allowed him to be bully pulpit for the overwhelming majority of American people who support the public option.”

Soon after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a television interview that the public option is “not the essential element” of healthcare reform, Dean took a strong opposing stance.

“You can't really do health reform without it," Dean said of the public option in a television interview Monday, calling a major government role “the entirety of healthcare reform.” His comment spearheaded a week of liberal criticism of the administration’s mixed messages on healthcare reform. (Obama insisted on Thursday that his position on the public option has not changed and described it as “a good idea” but “not the only aspect.”)

His potential to torpedo the administration’s signature domestic proposal is somewhat ironic given Obama’s efforts to enlist potential adversaries in his administration rather than face their wrath.

Dean was once considered a candidate for secretary of Health and Human Services. Obama passed him over while appointing former rivals and potential adversaries to Cabinet posts. He named his primary rival Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State and asked Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a longtime critic of Democratic fiscal policy, to serve as secretary of Commerce.

Dean’s friends and former advisers privately blamed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for the snub, recalling the bitter feud between the two over how to spend party funds when Dean was Democratic National Committee chairman and Emanuel headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Yeah, but Dean would have been a reminder every single day that it was his strategy that won back Congress for the Dems, not Rahm's - and that Rahm's candidates are the ones blocking healthcare reform. And well, you know how sensitive Rahm is.

“It was a mistake not to have brought Dean in; he’s a doctor, he’s smart, he’s a good organizer, he might have been able to be an effective insider,” said Al Felzenberg, a presidential scholar who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Felzenberg noted that discontented liberals helped cut short the administrations of former Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, and Dean could do the same to Obama.

“If the Daily Kos people weigh in, they could make life hard for Obama,” Felzenberg said in reference to an influential liberal website.

Dean’s allies say he is motivated by his extensive healthcare experience and his desire to improve the system, not by old grudges.

But some analysts note that Dean has raised his profile by taking on Obama.

“Since leaving the chairmanship of the party he has been looking for a niche for himself,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “He’s not a man who, having once enjoyed public acclaim and attention, is willing to give it up very easily.”

Ross said that Dean’s outspoken role in the health reform debate “allows him to become a spokesperson for a very important element in the Democratic Party and gives him an enormous bargaining chip with the president."

“In a sense Dean becomes an antagonist of the president, and anyone who has a high-profile antagonist of the president is going to get a lot of attention. This is not a blogger somewhere; [Dean] occupies an exalted position that is made more exalted by him taking on the present.”


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