Thursday, February 17, 2005

Two years ago, I was steamed--about what was obviously going to be a ruinous war in Iraq (well, ruinous except for its promise as a recruiting tool for al Qaida) and about tax cuts we couldn't afford, lavished on the rich. For the first time in my life, I paid keen attention in 2003 as the presidential primaries began warming up. In June, intrigued by a tape someone sent me on the internet of Howard Dean speaking to a small gathering of seniors in Iowa, I investigated his record as governor of Vermont. I was impressed. Among politicians, he is a diamond in a bucket of rhinestones.
Dean comes from old money, but he deepsixed his nascent career on Wall Street to become a doctor--not a society doctor, either, but just a general practitioner in Burlington. He did his residency there and volunteered at a low-income clinic despite the harrowing schedule every resident has. Soon after he went into practice, he began volunteering his time with the local Democratic Party and eventually won a seat in the state legislature. So his schedule was packed: he practiced medicine, worked in the legislature, continued to volunteer at the clinic, and spent time with his wife and two small children. He and Judith bought a modest ranch home where they still live. Eventually, he became governor and held the office for eleven years. He took Vermont from the red ink to black and kept it there. He wanted free health care for Vermonters, but only--only?!--succeeded in getting free health care for those under eighteen. And he still kept as tight a grip on Vermont's checkbook as I do on my own.
Given his gutsy opposition to the war and his record of fiscal responsibility, I decided he was my man, and I became an active supporter. We all know how his run for president ended amidst charges of "angry Howard" and that tempest in a teapot "scream". But Dean's demeanor wasn't angry. He just didn't mince words about being dragged into a war costly in lives, money, and international respect. He said it was cause for outrage, not peevishness. As he watched the nation sink further into debt by an additional $500 billion each year, he was concerned and, yes, angry. Annoyance wasn't going to cut it.
Dean didn't get the nomination, and Kerry didn't win the presidency. So how discouraged are we Deaniacs? We're more determined than ever. Howard Dean has urged all progressives to work to change the political landscape. We plan to do that. Now that he is chairman of the DNC, we have more faith that the Democratic Party will stand for the values we cherish. We have a leader who could have been one of the fat cats, but who chose, his whole life, to help ordinary citizens. That's what Democrats should stand for. Some pundits and elite Democrats worry that Dean will drag us too far from moderate and independent voters. I think he will show moderates and independents what commitment to fairness and equality looks like. Those same elites in our party worry that we'll lose the big corporate donations. Money that amounted to bribes might indeed dry up. We grassroots supporters will have to fill the coffers ourselves. That's all for the good. It will be our party again.


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