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Dean-O's Demise

What's Howard Dean's legacy? Embracing Bush hatred and moving the Democratrs to the left.

11:00 PM, Feb 18, 2004 • By FRED BARNES
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WHAT HAS HOWARD DEAN WROUGHT? The answer is not what he's been credited with. Sure, he raised money on the Internet, activated some previously inactive Democratic voters, and built an impressive database. Fine. But his most important legacy was pulling the Democratic presidential candidates to the left and encouraging Democrats to criticize President Bush with venom. This hasn't improved their chances of ousting President Bush.

In his appearance after the Wisconsin primary Tuesday, Dean boasted of influencing the other candidates on the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the No Child Left Behind education bill. Indeed, he did just that. Both John Kerry and John Edwards voted for the war, the Patriot Act, and No Child Left Behind. Watching Dean soar into the lead for the Democratic nomination last summer by angrily rejecting all three, Kerry and Edwards became harsh critics of what they'd supported. Without Dean, it's unlikely they would have changed their tune so totally (and egregiously), shifting leftward and risking the charge of being flip-floppers.

So Dean had enormous influence. Real Clear Politics insists Kerry and Edwards would never have voted against the $87 billion to fund the troops and reconstruction in Iraq--except for Dean's presence in the race. No doubt that's correct. Dean was still leading when they voted, and surely he would have excoriated them if they'd made another pro-war vote.

Dean's furious rhetoric--he called Bush "the enemy"--prompted the other candidates to criticize Bush more severely. Why? Because Dean's mean-spirited, vicious attacks seemed to thrill Democratic audiences. At one point, Kerry called the president "unpatriotic." Edwards was milder but still strident at times in zinging Bush. Certainly Dick Gephardt was affected by Dean's rhetoric, though not enough to back away from his war vote. He compensated by calling Bush a "miserable failure."

The myth about Dean is that he jump-started a moribund Democratic party and brought new people into the fold. Upon Dean's withdrawal yesterday, Edwards gave him credit for enlisting "hundreds of thousands of Americans who had never participated in a campaign before." Kerry echoed Edwards. Dean, he said, "has done an extraordinary job of invigorating a whole group of people who were divorced from the political process."

This is nonsense. If Dean had the effect of enlarging the party, there's one place we would have seen it consistently--in the caucuses and primaries. But it didn't happen.

Let's look at the three contests where Dean made the most vigorous effort: the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and Wisconsin primaries. In Iowa, the Democratic caucuses attracted an impressive 124,333 voters. This wasn't a record. In 1988, the party's official estimate of the turnout was 125,000. In New Hampshire, turnout did soar from 156,862 in 2000 to 219,787 in 2004. But there were only two major candidates four years ago--Al Gore and Bill Bradley--compared to five this year, two of whom come from states bordering New Hampshire. Still, the 2004 turnout is a record.

Not so in Wisconsin, where Dean recently declared he would win. He finished a distant third. The state has 4 million eligible voters, 25 percent of whom voted in the Democratic primary. That was a nice turnout, but 38.9 percent showed up in 1988 and 27.4 percent in 1984.

The silliest point about Dean is made by friendly pundits. They say he aroused a sleeping Democratic party. Sleeping? Democrats were enraged by the way the 2000 presidential race was decided and infuriated by Bush's use of the homeland security issue to whip them in 2002. They were, as the press noted, rising in anger. Dean tapped the anger, true. But he didn't create it.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.