Dr. Dean's cure for division

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By Steven T. Jones
Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean fired up the party faithful during a fundraiser at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco last night, displaying the passionate oratory that inspired the grassroots but prompted the mainstream media to turn on him during his run for president in 2004.
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File photo from the Guardian of London

He said the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 started "a national nightmare," but with the Democrats retaking Congress in November, "we are on the way back." He implored party activists that the power to fundamentally transform the country is in their hands. "It is all about grassroots and knocking on doors," Dean said. "The 30-second ads are not going to cut it anymore."
Yet for all his rhetoric about the superiority of Democratic Party values -- such as environmentalism and opposition to poverty and war -- there was something unsettlingly simplistic in Dean's tendency to label Democrats good and Republicans bad.

This is a man so content with the two-party system that he actually called the U.S. electoral system the best democracy in the world. Really. Those who value high levels of citizen participation, a multiplicity of good choices, and a lack of corporate sponsorship for all candidates would disagree. As a progressive, I can't remember either major party offering a candidate for national office that moved me or won my vote without my having to hold my nose.

"The American people never want quite as much change as they say they want," Dean said, a statement of astounding arrogance. Yes, Howard, we on the left really do want someone to deal with poverty and war and global warming, not just give the usual political lip service to these serious issues. But he advocated a go-slow approach, placing the greater emphasis on another imperative: "We have to hold the party together, which means we have to hold people from Texas and Kansas with people from San Francisco and New York City." True, but many of us argue that the Democratic Party needs to show principled leadership and boldly address this country's problems if anybody is going to be led by them. Dean doesn't see it that way, saying of the current Democratic Congress, "We're on probation. We have to prove we can govern."

Dean said the current field of Democratic Party presidential candidates is the most solid in a generation and all would be good presidents, presumably even those who voted for the Iraq War, which even he opposed before it started. But he said that doesn't matter because, "Unfortunately I told you so is not a good campaign slogan." No, it's not. But what about finding a nominee with the good judgment and courage to oppose this ill-conceived war and not fall for the Bush Administration's deceptions, which were appallingly obvious even at the time? How about a campaign slogan like "smart enough to see through the lies, bold enough to act on it." OK, maybe that needs a little work, but you see what I mean. Instead, the Democrats might actually nominate another John Kerry who can be mocked as being for the war before he was against it.

"This has been a really tough time in America," Dean correctly said. "We need fundamental change in this country. We have found ourselves in a bad way." Again, too true. Yet his recipe for change looks dangerously like the status quo minus a certain current president. Fundamental change looks different to me, and it might even come in the form of a third party challenge should the Democrats choose Hillary Clinton as their nominee.

But that's apparently not how Dean sees it (I say "apparently" because I was informed by organizers on the way into the event that Dean would not be taking any questions, something that doesn't strike me as very democratic or grassroots). Instead, Dean closed with this: "The next president is going to be a Democrat and we'll have one country again without these divisions."

Yeah, I'm sure that when our best-in-the-world democracy gives us President Bush followed by President Clinton followed by another President Bush followed by another President Clinton, we're all going to be singing kumbaya.