Careful with that Ax, Rahm

Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean, a doctor, wants to be Health and Human Services secretary. And with the influence White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has with President Obama — Dean won't make it to the shortlist.

Senior staff writer Alexander Bolton had a great story in our paper this week about how Dean has been sidelined from the list of true contenders to take on HHS due to Democratic "family politics." And The New York Times reported today that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), Obama's good friend, is the most likely pick.

Dean's allies include Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa, though some more centrist Democrats wonder if Dean could work with Republicans to shepherd healthcare reform through the Congress. Some of his supporters are furious and wonder how Dean — who led the party through capturing the House, Senate and White House during his four-year tenure — could be treated this way. Obama's campaign modeled itself after Dean's "50-State strategy" last year, pumping money and manpower into red states where Democrats had only dreamed to tread before. How close did he come to winning Montana?

When Emanuel was running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Dean's mission to spread resources throughout the country in order to build parties in every state drove him bananas. He had targets to meet, understandably. But there is never a good time to think long-term, as short-term needs seem always to come first. So Dean's strategy became a burden in 2006, but clearly, along with his Internet fundraising prowess, he pioneered the fundamentals Obama used to win the presidency.

When Obama tapped Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to succeed Dean at the DNC, Dean was not invited to join them. It was a powerful signal that Emanuel is a co-pilot now, up in the cockpit of the Obama administration. Not inviting Dean to the presser at the DNC wasn't just impolite, it verged on contemptuous. It was a moment soaked with high-school drama, very un-Obama. None of this means Dean would be better than Sebelius, only that Emanuel is awfully powerful.


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