Anger Management 101

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The latest edition of Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean for President last week. This surprised a lot of people, including me. But Gore 6.0 seems more radical than previous models, with a passion upgrade from the glitches in 5.0 (clumsy populist presidential candidate), 4.0 (clumsy earth-toned presidential candidate), 3.0 (loyal Vice President) and 2.0 (militant New Democratic candidate for President in 1988). Watching Gore and Dean together on the podium — twins in dark blue suits and light blue ties, Gore in populist growl-shout mode, complete with intermittent Southern accent — I realized the utter logic of the move. The two have so much in common. They're the angriest guys in the Democratic Party. The Bush re-election campaign website already features an anti-Dean video titled When Angry Democrats Attack.

Dean and Gore are angry in different ways, though. Gore's anger is personal. He is angry at Bill Clinton (yes, for Monica Lewinsky but also for being such an impossible act to follow). He has been angry at Hillary Clinton since 1993, when the elected Vice President found himself competing with the unelected Vice President for Bill Clinton's attention. He is angry with Joe Lieberman — and with the moderate Democratic Leadership Council — for criticizing the "people vs. the powerful" theme of his 2000 campaign. He and Dick Gephardt have always been bitter rivals. And he probably doesn't like John Kerry or Wes Clark very much either.

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This is not to say Gore's motivation for the endorsement was entirely negative: he clearly admires Dean's brand of anger. And, yes, they do have similar positions on the war. Gore also loves Dean's consultant-free iconoclasm, the legions of fanatic computer geeks, the sheer energy of the campaign (as opposed to the careful, soporific, consultant-laden nature of Gore's candidacy). For a guy who has spent his life smack-dab in the Washington establishment, the endorsement firmly, and finally, establishes Gore as an outsider.

Dean's anger is tactical, not visceral. His brash, peremptory manner has camouflaged the fact that he is by far the best politician among the 2004 Democrats — which is one reason Republicans should postpone the champagne if Dean wins the nomination. The doctor diagnosed the Democratic electorate before any of his opponents did, and he shaped his candidacy to fit the mood, which was, in a word, ballistic. Furthermore, Dean understood that party activists were not just angry at George W. Bush; they were furious with the Democrats in Washington who were letting a minority-elected President have his way at every turn. Dean's prescience — and Gore's presence — has created a formidable candidacy and, quite possibly, a potent new strain of liberalism that may supplant the traditional Old and New wings of the party. Let's call the Dean-Gore faction the New-New Democrats.

Both Dean and Gore were outspoken last week about the need to remake the Democratic Party. (When Hillary Clinton was asked if the party needed to be remade, she responded with one word: "No.") "The party has to change to meet the new situation," explained Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. "It's been a long time since Democrats were totally shut out of the government. We don't know how to be a true opposition party — to do the sort of guerrilla warfare that Newt Gingrich did."

The grass-roots dismay began with the disputed election result in Florida, 2000. The Republicans seemed far more tough-minded in pursuit of the prize, bringing in their heavy guns — the Jeb Bush operation, family consigliere Jim Baker and, ultimately, five Supreme Court justices — to win the presidency. Then the Democrats in Congress made the disastrous assumption that Bush would be amenable to bipartisan compromise. "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape," the fanatic G.O.P. tax cutter Grover Norquist later said, in what could stand as an epitaph for the gullible Congressional Democrats. No less a liberal than Ted Kennedy gave his imprimatur to Bush's No Child Left Behind education bill, only to find that the money he expected to fund the program had been left behind. Democrats also enabled Bush to pass his tax cuts, his Medicare prescription-drug plan, the Patriot Act — and, the most egregious case, the Iraq war resolution. When Howard Dean made his landmark speech to the Democratic National Committee last February, he opened by asking, "What I want to know ... is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the President's unilateral attack on Iraq?" The audience — leading Dems from the outback — went wild.

Democratic factions tend to be sedimentary. The oldest Old Democrats are blue-collar economic populists like Dick Gephardt, who also tend to be pro-military, churchgoing and socially conservative. In the 1970s they were supplanted by radical-liberal activists, refugees from the 1960s protest marches who tended to be antiwar, antipoverty, passionate about civil rights and civil liberties and more secular than the lunch-pail crowd. Bill Clinton's New Democrat movement was an information-age reaction against the two previous generations — a free-trade, business-friendly revision of traditional Democratic economics and a socially conservative reaction to the excesses of 1960s liberalism (especially when it came to law enforcement and welfare reform).

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