Okay, to start, I actually like Howard Dean. I thought he would be a better candidate than Kerry (yes, the "Taller than Mickey Rooney" award) mainly because there would be a definite choice between Bush and Dean. That impression was solidified throughout the lackadaisical campaign Kerry ran - imagine Dean not responding to a charge akin to the Swifties idjits, for example. HOW he would have responded may have been bad, but there would have been a response, all right.
Since I like him, I wasn't too worried when he won the DNC chair. I thought it would be worthwhile for the Dems to have someone who would fire back at the Republicans when they made some of their "with us or against us" statements. And I admit that on a visceral level, I even like some of his comments that have drawn ire recently - Tom DeLay ''ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence,", and the Republicans being a "white, Christian party." (By the way, the whole quote give some context: Republicans are "not very friendly to different kinds of people, they are a pretty monolithic party ... it's pretty much a white, Christian party." However, see below.)
So I'm not ready to demand he step down, nor am I that worried yet. (As Media Matters notes, Democratic contributions have been rising, contrary to what many in the media have said.) But there are some qualms.
Firstly, even granted some visceral pleasure that the Republicans are finally getting hit by some of the same stuff they throw (for example, Frist and Justice Sunday), it's still something that unnerves me. Politics is degenerating into a shouting match rather than a debate, and while I like the fact that the Democrats aren't being mute, I wish that they could be the voice of reason in the mob rather than the mob on a different side.
(Unspoken fear: Not only is this what the Democrats will become, be it under Dean or whoever, it's the only thing that will work. After all, the Republicans have mostly been this way for some time and have managed to win elections fairly regularly. I have trouble thinking of serious initiatives the Republicans have put forth that hasn't been rife with snarls, snaps and just churlish behavior. See Sensenbrenner for one of the latest scenes.)
Secondly, Dean's statements are just gold nuggets for the next campaign. I live in a Republican state, and I can hear one of the next ads: "Dean says the Republican party is a white, Christian party. We proudly admit we're Christian - what does that make THEM?" And the Democrats will have very little room to complain here. So even if it scores points in the short run, it will be used against them in the long run.
Thirdly ties in with the above - the statements he makes seems to show that he speaks first and thinks later. Surely there was a better way to make the point that the Republicans are fairly monolithic in terms of makeup, for example, instead of giving the next sound bite away. (And as I sit and try to write one, I find it's not so easy as all that...but to my mind, my attempts ("The Republicans seem to be pretty much the same, don't they?" or "It seems like you must meet certain requirements to be a Republican in their power structure." for example) at least aren't so obviously soundbite friendly.)
As I said above, the horrible thing is Dean may be exactly what the Democrats need in this political environment. It's bringing in the money, for one thing. It seems that reasoned debate and good facts can be swept away by hyperbole and insults, and if Dean can at least bring us to the table using that method...well, is that a good thing or a bad one?
I don't know.