Former Clinton campaign manager James Carville has always been a little strange. But after the recent congressional elections, he seems to have completely lost his freakin' mind.
After a historic election in which the Democrats gained 29 seats in the House (after recounts), four in the Senate (plus two Independents who will be part of the Democratic Caucus), gained six state governorships, and gained 320 seats in state legislatures, including taking control of eight statehouses, what was Carville's recommendation?
Fire Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Not only that, Carville asserted, we needed to replace him with one of the only Democratic Senate candidates who lost a close election, Tennessee's Harold Ford.
"Suppose Harold Ford became chairman of the DNC," he said recently. "How much more money do you think we could raise? Just think of the difference it could make in one day. ... I just appointed myself his campaign manager."
Dear Lord. Somebody fetch a net.
Carville and his cronies in the Democratic Leadership Council (aka the Hillary Clinton Wing) found fault with Dean's insistence on what's come to be called the "50-state strategy." Rather than the traditional democratic strategy, which was to concentrate on a few "key districts" where the party's Wise Men figured they had the best chance to gain seats, Dean put the party's time and money into building Democratic Party infrastructure everywhere in the U.S.
But the biggest gripe the DLC types have with Dean is that he's "abrasive" and that he hurts fundraising as a result. (Imagine what it must be like to be called abrasive by James Carville). Dean was "confrontational," they griped. He'd alienate the voters.
Then there was "The Scream," where Dean was caught on tape exhorting a cheering crowd to keep fighting.
Later it was revealed that the network reporters (you know, the so-called "liberal media") had mixed down the audio track of the crowd noise so that, instead of sounding like what he was -- a man trying to be heard over a noisy crowd -- Dean sounded like a raving maniac. "The Scream" turned Dean into a laughingstock and probably cost him the presidential nomination.
But who's laughing now? The 50-state strategy worked. Instead of a narrow majority in the House, the Democrats have a solid one. They took the Senate, which even some Democratic optimists doubted would happen.
The 50-state strategy helped toss the arrogant pronouncements of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove that the Republicans would henceforth enjoy a "permanent Republican majority" into the Dumpster of History.
And as for confrontational: When the Democrats stopped worrying about whether Republicans would say nasty things about them, stood up and said what they believed in, people listened.
And when they listened to what Democrats actually had to say, rather than the spun Republican version of it, they liked what they heard: The war in Iraq is stalled and needs new direction. We need an increase in the minimum wage. Someone needs to fix the Medicare prescription drug bill so it's not a feeding trough for big pharmaceutical companies. And we need to get rid of the corruption, criminality and cronyism exemplified by people like convicted Congressfelons Randy Cunningham and Bob Ney, not to mention creepazoids like Mark Foley.
People heard a message that cut through the noise of Republicans bleating about how "all the Democrats were about was hating Bush." People heard the message, and that message worked.
It worked despite the Republican tactics of fear. It worked despite the desperate attempts to make the election all about John Kerry's lousy stand-up comedy. It worked despite Republicans mocking Michael J. Fox. And it worked because those things were all the Republicans had left. They'd thrown real conservatism out the window with record deficits and intrusive government, and their claim to the moral high ground left town on the same bus with Mark Foley.
They spent so much time equating the war in Iraq with the war on terror that, when that war started turning into a quagmire and the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld in prosecuting that war was revealed, people no longer trusted the Republicans to be the party that could save us from the bad guys. Pretty soon it was hard to believe that the Republican Party stood for anything at all other than maintaining power, whatever the cost and whatever sleazy tactic or slur they had to use.
The conventional wisdom about George W. Bush and his party was that they won because people thought, "Well, you may not agree with them but at least they stand for something." When that failed, so did they. And when the Democrats stood up and stood for something, they won.
That's the legacy of Howard Dean, and it drives Carville and the me-too Democrats in the DLC, whose strategy for victory has always been to turn the party into Republican Lite, straight up the wall.
But then, what has James Carville won lately?