My first reaction to the news that Dean may become DNC chair was negative. But the more I think about it, the more I grow to believe it may not be a bad idea.
1. I think we can all agree that Dean is a masterful strategist. For one thing, he managed to propell himself out of total obscurity on the national stage to the frontrunner position for the Democratic nomination. He also fundamentally changed the presidential race. Dean lost because he won: as other candidates increasingly co-opted his aggressive criticisms of the administration, he began to seem as one voice among many. By contrast, before Dean's rise to prominence most candidates (certainly Kerry and Edwards) were very uncritical of the administrations foreign policy.
Dean's addition of bitterness to the Democratic tenor was a success. Let's not forget that by summer 2003 Bush held a double digit lead overy every Democratic dandidate; by winter 2004, six months later, after Dean's rise and fall, Bush was trailing each democratic candidate by 2-3%. The new democratic rhetoric worked better.
Finally, I hardly need to mention Dean's innovation in using the internet to raise large amounts of money based on small donations from a large number of people.
2. A year ago I joined Republicans in thinking some of Dean's statements were nutty. At this point, however, Dean appears largely vindicated.
Dean was widely criticized for his reaction to the toppling of the Saddam regime. "We should have contained him," he said, but we went on to overthrow him. "I guess that's a good thing." (emphasis mine)
At the time, Dean was widely mocked for having to guess that Saddam's removal was good. Further events, though, showed that Dean skepticism was correct: Saddam did not have WMD programs, was not a threat, and our invasion has resulted in (best estimate) 100,000 more deaths than Saddam would have caused if left alone. In both strategic and humanitarian terms, we can conclude that Saddam's removal was not a good thing (this, of course, may change if a stable, democratic Iraq emerges but this outcome is far from certain).
3. The problem with Dean is that he represents, in popular conception, the more liberal wing of the party. Certainly he was succesful in drawing many on the far-left to the polls. His presence might alienate many moderates in the Republican party that Democrats might have otherwie appealed to.
But - most of the "moderate Republicans" I know would not even consider voting for Kerry. If they were unhappy with a former marine/prosecutor who initially supported the war, and only turned away from it when it became clear that WMDs were a myth and the Bush administration did not get any credible commitments from our allies; who advocated tax cuts, opposed most liberals on gun control, criticized Republicans for excessive spending, criticized the President for not sending enough troops to Iraq, vowed to increase the size of the armed forces, supported the death penalty, faulted the President for cutting federal aid to police departments across the country...and so on...then is there any reason to make sacrifices to keep appealing to these people? I'd say, not enough to prevent Democrats from appointing the best strategist/fundraiser possible to the DNC chair position.