A friend described Netroots Nation as like a giant family reunion with Howard Dean as the crazy uncle. I thought that was about right as I watched him yesterday addressing a crowd outside the convention center as part of Barack Obama's "register for change" voter registration drive. On another reasonable view, however, Dean is more like a patriarchal figure, the foundational character from which all else flows. Ultimately, though, I think that's wrong -- Dean is not a blogger himself and is, at the end of the day, a bit besides the point when it comes to the larger movement.
He and his 2004 candidacy happened to be the point around which a lot of the early netroots energy coalesced. Over time, however, it's become clear that the real leaders of the movement were include a large number of folks who were early Dean supporters or followers, but that Dean himself plays an essentially peripheral, symbolic role in the whole thing. And it's to his credit, I think, that he's basically accepted that role and done it well while also focusing diligently on his job as DNC chief. I recall being skeptical at the time that Dean would work out well in that task, but I think he has.