02/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

We'll Miss The Vermont Rebel Yell

There's a story on Politico, discussing outgoing DNC chair Howard Dean's absence from Tim Kaine's press conference. The speculation is that Obama and Rahm Emanuel are basically giving Dean the back of their hand and walking away, which is a pity, because Dean is at least partly responsible for the big Democratic turnaround over the last four years.

Remember when we all complained that Democrats had no spine? When he ran for president in 2004, Howard Dean had spine to spare. The man denounced the war in Iraq, kind of like that Obama fellow, made health care a real issue again, and he campaigned with a fire and passion that we hadn't seen in a politician in years. Up to then, candidates just played it safe and kept their passions beneath the belt, but not Dean. His famous scream after losing the Iowa Caucus probably buried him, yes, but at least this Vermont physician's rebel yell was heard far and wide. Democrats would matter again soon, if they actually cared.

Kerry never had a chance to beat Bush, partly because he played it safe. He was the "default" for the Democratic Party: a noble loser with no backbone and no passion. He lost nobly and, not coincidentally, his best speech by far was his concession. Democrats are proud losers, most of the time, but not the Good Doctor Dean.

Dean also has to be given credit for kick-starting the Democratic Online Machine, for what it is. Online fundraising, blogs, social networks -- these were all part of Dean's big new way of campaigning, and soon everybody else was following suit. Dean was the first online candidate, who grew his support on an online grassroot network. The Democratic Party would not have the huge online advantage it has today if it weren't for Dean's original push. And Obama certainly knocked McCain (and Hillary) out of the park in terms of online organization and fundraising. People are still getting emails from Obama and Plouffe asking for donations. Who should get credit for that? Not just the Facebook dude.

Finally, we've got the 50 State Strategy. Another Kerry gaffe was simply going for the Blue States and crossing his fingers. Not a chance there. Dean saw the map differently. He knew that it wasn't so long ago that Democrats could take Virginia and Ohio and Florida, without it being a huge upset. Without the two years of ground work Dean put in as DNC chair after the 2004 election, the Democratic Party might not have captured those states in 2008.

Now, nobody deserves a cabinet position; no, these jobs should go to the best possible candidate. But Obama shouldn't dismiss Dean's contributions. The Politico story quotes a friend of Emanuel on the new Chief of Staff's thought process, saying:

"I talk to Rahm every day," said the friend. "Neither he nor I have mentioned the name of Howard Dean. It's just not on his radar screen."

That's precisely the problem. Forget what got you there, and you might just be leaving sooner than you thought. Can Kaine bring that same passion, that forethought to get online, that strategy that blew open the map? We'll find out, but I doubt we'll ever see him scream.