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Dean isn't the problem

DEMOCRATS ARE running against Howard Dean instead of George W. Bush and the GOP -- or, better yet, running for principles that matter to the country.

It makes little sense, unless the intent is to destroy what's left of their shell of a political party.

Dean, the head of the Democratic National Committee, is under attack by fellow Democrats who are allegedly upset at his partisan rhetoric. Critics such as Senators Joseph Biden of Delaware and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina are taking their shots at Dean, just as if they were sitting next to him during a debate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Manchester, N.H. They sound like they are positioning themselves for a future presidential campaign rather than working together to rebuild a party with a message for the future.

How shocking: Dean said, ''I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for" and defined the political landscape as ''a struggle between good and evil." Is that any worse than the comment by Harry Reid, the Democrats' Senate leader, who said of Bush, ''I think this guy is a loser." (Reid later apologized.) Is it worse than Senator Hillary Clinton of New York saying: ''There has never been an administration, I don't believe, in our history more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda."

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Dean's predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, was famous for personal attacks against President Bush. He described Bush as being AWOL, or absent without leave, during his stint in the National Guard and declared that ''George Bush continually lies."

But Democrats never cared what McAuliffe said; all that mattered was the money he raised, compliments of his vaunted schmoozing skills. Now a few hot-shot donors are upset that Dean isn't stroking them as constantly as McAuliffe, and suddenly he's a failure. According to a recent report in ''The Hill," during the first three months of this year, the DNC raised $14.1 million, ahead of the pace McAuliffe set in 2001. Dean is focusing on fund-raising in small increments through the Internet, as he did during his 2004 presidential bid, which revolutionized presidential campaign fund-raising. That's the big picture Democrats should focus on. Broadening the donor base from the bottom up is good for the Democratic Party.

If Democrats want to get outraged, why not get outraged over daily efforts by the Republican National Committee to marginalize Democratic opposition? The RNC dubbed Democrats ''the Party of No." The RNC is constantly spewing out press releases accusing Democrats of ''hypocritical and obstructionist" comments and ''baseless attacks." When liberal Democrats stand up to conservatives in Congress, they are derided as ''the Michael Moore branch of the Democratic Party."

Yesterday the RNC put out a ''Democrat Leaders' Report Card" which gave the Democrats an ''F" in communication skills, civics, and unity and an ''A" in obstruction. It is hard to argue with the assessment, and that -- not Howard Dean -- is the Democrats' problem.

Congress is a place where voters expect partisanship to yield to compromise. And Congress is where the Democrats have failed to convey a sense of mission and purpose, probably because too many are running around the country running for president.

For Democrats, running for president in 2008 apparently means running against Dean in 2005. It is so much easier to run against the former Vermont governor than to fight for real principles. Bush meets with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two are finally forced to address a 2002 memo written by a British official suggesting that the United States had ''fixed " intelligence to justify the impending invasion of Iraq. Both leaders deny that the memo accurately reflects events. Case closed? Where are the Democrats brave enough to press the president on that issue?

General Motors announces it will eliminate 25,000 jobs, and its CEO complains that health benefits reduce profits. Where are the Democrats brave enough to say the burden falls on GM to design fuel-efficient cars people want to buy rather than on workers who produce those cars? Where are Democrats brave enough to say that the Bush mentality -- don't start thinking about tomorrow -- is wrong for the environment and the country's economic future?

If Democrats in Congress did their job, Dean would be the chorus. Now he's the whole act. Dean's fellow Democrats would rather boo him than themselves.

Correction: On June 7, I wrote that Barack Obama is the first black US senator from Illinois. Carol Moseley Braun was the first black US senator to represent that state.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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