June 19, 2013
Howard Dean Should Have Been Obama’s Pick All Along
Posted on Feb 5, 2009
I suspect that Dean’s strained relationship with Obama’s White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, with whom he famously clashed over strategy during the 2006 midterm election—Emanuel wanted DNC money to be targeted where it could help Democratic congressional candidates win immediately while Dean was intent on a long-range plan to build party infrastructures in all 50 states—might have had something to do with the talk of his unofficial consideration for the HHS post evaporating so quickly. Emanuel, unlike Dean, is regarded as a strident partisan who remembers transgressions and rewards fealty. But just as presidential candidate Dean paved the way for now-President Obama’s use of the Internet as a campaign tool, it was DNC Chairman Dean whose 50-state strategy helped candidate Obama keep John McCain on the defensive in traditional red states.
Obama might have ridden into office on a wave of popularity that included most swing voters and a good number of Republicans, but the Democrats in Congress, who now firmly control both houses, can claim no such appeal. Amazingly, Congress overall had lower approval ratings than George W. Bush going into the 2008 election. The danger of partisan overreach that could produce a crippling backlash against Obama a year or two from now is great.
Dean has been humbled by the challenges and realities of serving as a chief executive. In addition, he deserves credit for his successful turn as DNC chair, a post he aggressively sought and improbably won, and for which many observers did not consider him well suited. Dean was a true Washington outsider who took over a broken political machine and achieved astonishing results.
The position of HHS secretary would play to Dean’s proven strengths—his medical training and his ability to work within budgets, to name just two. And no one could bring more passion to the job. To my mind, an old congressional hand, a Washington insider—another nominee like Tom Daschle—who knows how to wheedle and stroke egos and trade this for that in order to make things happen the old-fashioned way would not achieve meaningful reform on health care. There are just too many entrenched interests, and Washington insiders are congenitally incapable of making things happen with so many well-connected players trying to affect the game’s outcome. If people think insurance company paper pushers are doing more harm than good as they take decision-making powers out of doctors’ hands, imagine the damage that could result from an effort led by a career politician with no understanding of the dynamics at play in our health care system, let alone the human organism. After so many years of fruitless rhetoric by politicians, why not let a medical doctor with proven success as a political operative and a record for plain talk and common sense have a chance?
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