Dean Campaign Now At Its Best

March 4, 2004

I’m convinced that the Howard Dean campaign is now at its finest. Yes, I know he’s out of the race, but that’s part of what I mean.

I actually went to my first Dean MeetUp last night. It’s not that I’m so slow to get involved. It’s just that I was working as press secretary for the Dennis Kucinich campaign until a few weeks ago.

I still think Dennis would make by far the best candidate to go up against Bush, and by far the best president. That hasn’t changed – though of course I know it ain’t happening. What’s changed is my position toward the Dean campaign.

I used to think of them as a sort of cult of deluded innocents. Many of them honestly believed that Dean would stop the war, that he would reduce corporate influence in government, that he favored universal health care, that he would replace so-called free trade with fair trade, and that he would repeal the “PATRIOT Act.” In other words, they thought he held the very positions that Dennis Kucinich did.

I remember a young Deaniac coming up to offer me a Dean sticker last summer. I asked her why I should support Dean, and she didn’t really know what to say. So I asked if it was because she supported the death penalty or because she opposed the Kyoto treaty? Or did she want to maintain the bloated Pentagon budget, Star Wars included? Was she against gay marriage? Did she want a new general for the War on Drugs?

“This is Howard DEAN,” I’m talking about, she said in frustration, as if I were describing some monster of my own imagination. But she didn’t actually know what any of Dean’s positions were, so she went running back to her group of Deaniers of Reality to ask them. But they weren’t sure either.

The Dean that these hundreds of thousands of young people supported was very often a Dean I would have loved too. And here’s the beautiful part: they still support those same positions, without the goal of electing Dean. They’re urging each other to run for local offices to promote a progressive agenda. They’re strategizing to take over local and state Democratic parties for the purpose of promoting what they thought Dean was and still think he is, but I agree with them now — and who cares what Dean the actual human being would do or say?

The real Howard Dean always seemed to have trouble maintaining the same position in two consecutive speeches to different audiences. He engaged in false advertising, libel of other candidates, lies, and contradictions. He’s like the Bible: you can find support for almost any position in the transcripts of his remarks. But he seems to have no core he will not jettison. I imagine that if Kerry and Gephardt had opposed the war, Dean would have supported it to distinguish himself. After all, if you look even a little closely at his position, he did support it. He continues to this day, to my knowledge, to support the occupation and the war-based economy. He was going to continue paying for the war, the Pentagon, and “homeland security,” while simultaneously balancing the budget – which would have meant disaster for the favorite issues of most Deaniacs. And I used to think it was unfortunate (OK, I thought it was tragic) that they were blissfully unaware of this.

Do I sound bitter? Yes, I resented the Dean media hype that convinced so many people that Dean was something they wanted him to be. But now I see the Dean campaign as a positive force. At the MeetUp last night, I saw a crowd of mostly young people organizing to reclaim the Democratic Party for Wellstone’s democratic wing. They said they were anti-war, pro-populist, and wanted to start creating jobs in this country. At first I was a little disturbed that they still didn’t see Dean the way I saw him. But then it occurred to me that at this point that didn’t matter.

This crowd was passionately for media reform. They seem to have no idea that the media created Dean last Spring, but they know damn well what it did to him this past winter, and they want change. And they’re right!

I don’t know if Dean himself should continue to try to lead this movement, or if Joe Trippi should. I suspect Trippi would do a better job except that most of the Deaniacs are more loyal to Dean.

The trick will be to expand this group to include the supporters of the other campaigns, to maintain the focus on building local power and developing new leaders, and at the same time to put some of this energy to work to defeat Bush in November.

While I see Dean as not too different from John Kerry, many Deaniacs – just like many Kucitizens and Sharptonians and Naderites – see Kerry as almost a part of the problem. But I talked to the Dean MeetUp about working to register new Democrats in swing states (since I now work for ) and the majority of them were enthusiastically for it. They’re going to keep waving Dean signs at least for a while, but their focus is precisely on party building, and they are exactly right. That’s what’s needed and achievable.

We must not let these people leave politics!

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