Bashing Howard Dean is in vogue right now, and has been for years, I guess. But I am sticking up for the guy.

Last week Dean came out strong, asking both sides to think about unity, a conclusion, and victory in the fall. He spoke directly to the loser, trying to assuage that candidate, who will, he said, lose with 49.8 percent of the vote: "That person has got to pull their supporters in behind the nominee."

Sure, it is wishful thinking. Hillary Clinton doesn't look like someone ready to ask her voters — women, white men, Hispanics and older voters — to support Barack Obama. Obama would be challenged to keep a straight face asking black voters and young voters to support Clinton. They won't come over in significant numbers.

But Dean must soldier through an historic moment for the party, one that could set it back decades if all goes wrong. It is more than a daunting task. He is not a powerful or influential leader in the party, but he is trying to strike a tricky balance. If he is seen as interfering too much, either side can accuse him of shutting out their voters (or the voters of the next 10 contests who haven't been to the ballot box). If Dean does nothing there is no cover or guidance for superdelegates and the battle could easily end up on the convention floor. This is no easy straddle, and while there may be more opportunities for his leadership in the weeks and months to come, for now I think Dean has done all he can.



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