I'm a big supporter of Dean, and I agree that what he said was pretty stupid, from what I've read about it. You might agree with the spirit of what he said - it seems he was quoted out of context, and meant to refer to the Republican leadership rather than their supporters - but if you need to have that spirit explained to you, then the speaker is doing something very wrong.
As I've said before, American politics is a contest between the evil party and the stupid party. Exceptions abound, of course, but that's how it's looked to me. The torture issue and peoples' responses to it seems to be a very good test of this. You've got one party whose leadership encouraged unnecessary torture and claimed that it wasn't actually illegal, and their partisans (with some notable exceptions) are apologizing for it every step of the way, and questioning the patriotism of people who think that car thieves shouldn't be tortured to death before they've had a trial*... and you've got the other party who didn't say one single word about it during the presidential election, whose leadership is barely talking about it even now. To me Dean just seems like example #514 of that pattern.
About him, though, I think two or three offensive comments isn't enough to say that he was a terrible choice for chairman of the DLC, and it's definitely not enough to say that the party's going in the wrong direction.
As for the verbal gaffe, John Cole wrote a lot about it here. Talking about the Democrats' extreme image problems, he says,
The solution to this problem for the Democrats would be to stop exposing themselves to attacks. The best way to do that would be to stop doing and saying stupid things. Like claiming that all Republicans don't work hard (forget the context, Kos- you know what you are dealing with in the age of soundbites). Or not allowing the Chairman of your party on television until he knows the difference between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
I always love stuff like that, and it's hardly the first time I've heard it about Dean - Rob Clemm made a similar argument once, which reminds me, I want to post this rant I wrote about him. A heavily edited version of it made it into the CT, but I just had so much fun writing it that it's a shame to let the un-Bowdlerized version go to waste. But anyways, I'll start caring about Dean saying stupid shit after they can fill a series of books with his malapropisms, mixed metaphors, mangled grammar, and mindlessness. "I understand small business growth. I was one," "I've coined new words, like misunderstanding and Hispanically," and "I know something about being a government. And you've got a good one,"** - those weren't Dean. The point is, until Dean gets elected to a position as important as Bush and starts saying stuff as ridiculous as Bush does all the time, I will listen to the people who make fun of Dean's speaking ability. And I will laugh.
But as for Cole's argument that Dean represents the power of the lunatic fringe of the Democratic party, he's way off-base. I agree with the poster Kimmitt:
Wha...? The whole point of pulling the Party to the left is to be something other than Republican Lite -- to offer an alternative. I'm really not sure what you mean by Left, anyways; most of us are clamoring for fiscal sanity (formerly a conservative value), someone to bother to get around to bring bin Laden to justice, and a foreign policy that isn't bone-stupid. Everything else is thoroughly negotiable; witness the accolades for pro-life Senator Reid's leadership.
And finally, I think attacks on Dean are a big sign that the center has shifted a lot. I mean, wanting to avoid breaking international law, only going to war as a last resort, not wanting to amend the constitution to formally create an excluded group for the first time since slavery - since when are these liberal positions?
* I might be summarizing too much. Some torture victims have died, and some torture victims were put away for relatively minor crimes unrelated to terrorism like car theft. I don't know if the groups overlap, but I don't think it matters.
** Actually, that's only sort of funny. If he actually meant to say it, that's scary as all hell. "I am the state?"