Robert Novak

 National chairmen are supposed to fire up the troops, but Dean's rhetoric crosses a line. What he said was too much even for so tough a partisan Democrat as Rep. Barney Frank, who attended his state's convention in Lowell and was appalled by Dean's language.

 Dean's deficiencies as face and voice of the Democratic Party were supposed to be overcome by his legendary prowess, evident by his run for president, raising funds in small packages. That so far has proved a grievous disappointment. First quarter figures show the DNC received only $13 million from inviduals, compared to $32 million raised by the Republican National Committtee (RNC). Overall figures were $34.2 million by the RNC, $16.7 million by the DNC.

 Dean has not always kept himself faithful to the Democratic message. On Feb. 23 at Cornell University, he blurted out that Social Security benefits -- if the system is left unchanged -- 30 years from now will be 80 percent of what they are now. That was a shocking departure from the party line that nothing has to be done.

 But the only place that Dean's Social Security departure appeared was in the Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper. His limited exposure generally means that little of what he says is communicated to the public. He has been convinced that he has nothing to gain from face-to-face debates on television with his cool, well-organized Republican counterpart, Ken Mehlman.

 Accordingly, anticipation of Howard Dean, cut loose and unmuzzled, on "Meet the Press" Sunday is unsettling for the party's faithful. This will be his first exposure as chairman on a major network interview, and Russert predictably will be well prepared with a rap sheet of the chairman's verbal assaults. The prospect that Dean will make juicy additions to that collection unnerves Democrats.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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