The Marchand Chronicles: Roemer, Dean & The DNCRoem If You Want To
The Marchand Chronicles
January 17, 2005
The fight over the future of the Democratic Party could get very vicious very soon.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is set to step down next month, and the ordinarily mundane task of selecting his replacement has suddenly become rancorous. The two likeliest candidates for his successor — former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean and former Indiana congressman and 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer — could be seen as representing the two divergent pathways at the post-election fork in the road the Democrats are facing.
Dean, of course, has name recognition, and a strong grassroots support that propelled him to the front of the presidential primary field, temporarily. After John Kerry failed to capture the White House and the Democrats lost Congressional seats in the 2004 election, this same base immediately backed Dean for the DNC job, hoping that the donations and buzz he generated as a candidate will work for the entire party.
Roemer’s path has been quite different. After six terms in the U.S. House, he quietly decided not to seek reelection in 2002. While in Congress, he was a member of the Intelligence Committee, co-authored legislation to create the National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States, and eventually sat on that panel after leaving Congress. His moderate stance on many issues prompted endorsements from the party’s congressional heavyweights: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and new Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
At face value, the Democrats’ dilemma would be whether to install as party leader the former anti-war candidate who claimed to represent “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” or the national security-credentialed moderate who’s won six elections in a red state. One problem: Roemer’s pro-life. This, more than any of his other political stances or leadership history, is the issue that will define him, at least in the intra-party circle. When Roemer tossed his hat in the ring, one AP story reported with the headline: “Abortion Foe Roemer Running for DNC Chief.” The first sentence: “Former Rep. Tim Roemer said Sunday that he's joining the race to lead the Democratic National Committee — a move certain to spark a heated debate about the abortion issue.”
It was prescient: abortion-rights activists defended their turf almost immediately. Kate Michelman, the past head of the organization formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League stated, “Tim Roemer's candidacy for chairman of the party threatens the very principles for which the Democratic Party has stood for many years.” Massachusetts’ DNC delegation leader Phil Johnston opined, “It’s a question of values and principles, and I don’t think you sacrifice those just because you lost an election.”
For what it’s worth, Roemer doesn’t ostensibly wish to alter the Democrats’ principles. On ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, he advocated inclusiveness: “I'm not asking to rewrite the platform. We have a majority of our party, an overwhelming majority of our party that is pro-choice, and I respect that.” He further added, “I’m not going to try to let people steer this party left, nor would I steer it right. It needs to be bigger.”
That sounds an awful lot like . . . Howard Dean, circa “Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” In fact, given the general tone of inclusiveness some Democrats have adapted in order to roll back Republicans’ perceived advantages in “values,” you can’t tell the recent statements of Dean and Roemer apart.
Roemer, from This Week: “I think we should not only be more inclusive on this issue, especially in the Midwest and the South if a candidate has those views, we should have them in our party.”
Dean, from a recent Meet The Press: “I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats . . . the Democrats that have stuck with us who are pro-life, through their long period of conviction, are the kind of pro-life people that we ought to have deep respect for.”
So the negative comments from Democratic pro-choice advocates are, to say the least, puzzling. It’s even more curious when one considers that the party chair doesn’t wield a tremendous degree of power when it comes to policy-making. Ed Rendell, who held the post during the 2000 elections, famously complained, “I basically take orders from 27-year-old guys in Nashville who have virtually no real-life experience.”
But in many ways, that’s precisely the point. The DNC chair will be, even if nothing else, the face of the Democrats, and at this crucial time for the party, image is everything. And even if both Dean and Roemer talk about appealing across the aisle, some left-wingers simply won’t stand for someone representing them who doesn’t toe the party line, especially on abortion.