I'm going to ask a simple question: Who is the head of the Democratic Party?
It's not Howard Dean. Howard Dean is the head of the Democratic National Committee--an essential arm of the Democratic Party--but not the force that steers the ship. It contends with the Democratic Congressional election committees, the Democratic Leadership Council and the big Democratic donors.
It's not Barack Obama. Not yet.
It's not Al Gore or John Kerry. They ran for the presidency and lost. They were granted primacy and did not retain it.
The head of the Democratic Party is still its erstwhile president: William Jefferson Clinton.
Clinton has refused to give up that mantle for the last eight years. Al Gore won the presidency in 2000 but was denied it by the United States Supreme Court. As they say, "close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Gore chose not to associate himself with Clinton during his campaign for the presidency. It would have been a wise decision had the Supreme Court chosen to follow the law.
John Kerry's own flaws as a candidate simply amplified Bill Clinton's non-involvement in the 2004 campaign. Make no mistake: The Clintons looked at 2008 as Hillary's Year. They short-armed support for Kerry and began amassing a campaign chest that would eventually amount to a quarter-of-a-billion dollars.
The Clintons were more than confident during the 2008 primaries; they approached the nomination as a foregone conclusion. But Barack Obama came along as an object lesson against failing to hustle... against taking things for granted... against hubris. He ran a more focused, more disciplined, more prepared campaign. The Clinton effort to do away with primaries that determine their nominee by caucus is proof that the Clintons haven't given up on 2012. They didn't develop the ground game necessary to compete effectively in caucus states (I live in Hawaii--a caucus state--and Clinton had ZERO presence and effectiveness here).
Barack Obama will not be the leader of the Democratic Party until the floor vote is over and he completes his acceptance speech. It is right and fitting that Gore, Kerry, and Clinton will speak before him. But Clinton is the one passing on the mantle. His speech has to be letter-perfect or he can kiss his stature in the Democratic Party goodbye.