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US Democratic Party Chairman's Comments Stir Controversy

Howard Dean
Democratic Party Chairman and former presidential contender Howard Dean is making news again, but not the kind of news some Democrats want. Some members of his own party are unhappy with Dr. Dean's verbal attacks on Republicans.

Howard Dean is that somewhat rare breed of American politician who usually leaves little doubt as to where he stands on a given issue.

But some of his recent comments about Republicans are getting him into hot water with members of his own Democratic Party.

Howard Dean is a medical doctor and a former Vermont governor who came to national prominence during the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries when he lost to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

He recently said that a lot of Republicans had never made an honest living in their lives and that the Republican Party is pretty much a white Christian party.

Dr. Dean was asked about that last remark on NBC's Today program.

"I think it is true that the Republicans are in fact largely a white Christian party," he said. "There is nothing the matter with that. I am a white Christian myself. But they do not include other folks and this is a very diverse country."

Republicans were quick to take exception to the Dean remarks, noting President Bush increased his support among African-American and Hispanic voters in last year's election.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska found Dr. Dean's comments offensive.

"Politics should be about uplifting the debate," he said. "It should be enhancing the debate. It should be about inspiring our young people and inspiring our nation. It should not be about tearing things down or tearing people down or incendiary commentary that is really kind of nonsense."

Several Democrats had negative reactions to the Dean comments as well. Delaware Senator Joe Biden told the Don Imus program that while he often agrees with Howard Dean on the issues, he did not like the tone of his remarks concerning Republicans.

"The Democratic [Party] chairman does not speak for me, an elected United States senator," he said. "No party official speaks for me anytime, anyplace, under any circumstances. And I think the rhetoric is counter-productive."

But many Democrats say they support Dr. Dean's tough talk about the Republican Party and President Bush, and there seems to be no serious move to force him out as chairman of the Democratic Party, a post he has occupied for the past four months.

Dr. Dean was largely chosen for his organizational and fundraising skills, though the Democrats currently lag behind the Republicans this year in campaign fundraising.

American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman says Howard Dean has plenty of other things to worry about, including rebuilding the Democratic Party, especially in a number of Republican-leaning states.

"The Democrats now are just beginning to build alliances with those kinds of outside organizations like MoveOn.Org and others," he said. "But they are way behind in terms of building infrastructure and having spokespersons in the popular culture broadcasting their ideas."

Democratic Congressional leaders have cautioned Howard Dean that his main job is a party organizer, not party spokesman.

When he took the party chairmanship, Dr. Dean promised that he would not make another run for president in 2008.