Jonah Goldberg

When Howard Dean was still on top of the world looking down on the Democratic presidential nomination, the indispensable columnist Mark Steyn, writing in the Wall Street Journal, dubbed the good doctor the figurehead of the "bike path left."

This was a reference to Dean's decision to leave the Episcopalian Church because his parish had opposed his plan to build a local bike path. As Steyn noted, what made this controversy remarkable, considering the recent dust-ups within the Anglican community, was that this was not in fact a gay bike path, nor a path one biked on the way to a gay marriage. No, this was just an ordinary bike path, and, for all the theological issues involved in the controversy, Dean's church might just as well have been a McDonald's or a Jiffy Lube. It was just, in Dean's words, a "big fight." "I was fighting to have public access to the waterfront, and we were fighting very hard.."

Steyn contrasted Dean's readiness to rumble about a bike path with his more leisurely attitude toward war. When Saddam was captured, Dean had said, "I suppose that's a good thing." When the butchers Uday and Qusay were killed in a raid, Dean said, "The ends don't justify the means." About Osama bin Laden, Dean explained in 2003, "I don't think it makes a lot of difference" if he's tried in the Hague or in the place where he orchestrated the murder of thousands of Americans. Asked if the Hague would be good for Saddam, too, Dean airily replied, "Suits me fine."

In short, about the war on terror Dean was dismissively blase. About bike paths he was a pit bull.

This is all relevant because Howard Dean has emerged from the ashes of John Kerry's immolation to run the Democratic party.

Interestingly, many elected Democrats insist he will not lead the party. Sen. Joseph Biden, for example, explained: "No party chairman has ever made a bit of difference in the public perception. . He's not going to have a policy role."

So, apparently, Dean will be little more than the guy who calls the repairman when the DNC's Xerox machine is out of toner. So why did the party's nominal leaders oppose his campaign to be DNC chair? That Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid failed to stop Dean suggests that the base marches to his drum, not theirs.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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