Yesterday Howard Dean unleashed yet another over the top attack on Republicans. In a speech in San Francisco he said Republicans are "a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a white Christian party." (Quote here.) This coming soon after his comments that most Republicans "never made an honest living in their lives". If politics were sports one might say that Dean is producing lots of locker room bulletin board material to fire up the opposing team.
So what's the strategy here? I don't think Dean has simply gone off the deep end. He must think that this rhetoric will help his party win elections. But how? A possible explanation is that Dean has decided that a motivated base is the most important factor in winning elections. Others have drawn this same conclusion from last year's presidential campaign and Karl Rove's Republican strategy in particular. As a result, Dean may think that his job as Democratic Party chairman is first and foremost to provide red-meat to the party faithful in order to get them fired up. His comments certainly will do that when presented to the right audiences.
This explanation also seems consistent with Dena's fundraising success during his Presidential campaign. He amassed a large warchest through individual donations by appealing primarily to the left wing of the party during the run-up to the primaries. He may think that this approach will translate to fundraising for the party as a whole. To date it doesn't seem like it has been successful - the DNC is trailing the RNC in contributions so far this year.
The obvious negative of making this type of inflammatory comment is the possibility of a negative backlash among moderates. There certainly has been plenty of reaction in the blogosphere. I wouldn't be surprised if previous DNC chairmen have made similar comments in the past but with less publicity. Because of his recent presidential run Dean probably has a higher profile than most party chairmen and the diversification of media has helped to spread the word.
Not a few conservatives seem to think that Dean is shooting himself and his party in the foot with these types of statements. I'm not so sure. Regular blog readers are certainly aware of Dean's remarks, but I'm no so sure the average man on the street is or cares very much. The DNC chairman is a lot less important than the president or a senator and the average, non-political junkie citizen may not care that much. Various Democrats have felt it necessary to distance themselves from Dean, but politicians are always trying to cover themselves (and some Democrats like Harry Reid have supported Dean lately).