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Why Him?

…after all, Howard Dean ran for president way back in the 2003-4 Democratic primary, an eternity in politics.

In the interim, however, Dean chaired the Democratic National Committee 2005-9, stressing grassroots involvement. As in his presidential campaign, he got input from activists all over the country, and saw to it that they had excellent tools, such as doorhangers and a script for ringing doorbells. He made the DNC campaign in all 50 states. In 2006 this 50-state strategy got us 15 new seats in the House and new majorities in 8 state legislative chambers, versus the Rahm Emanuel (DCCC) strategy of hitting up fat cats and ignoring the grassroots, which would have garnered us only 9 new House seats. The Obama campaign openly recognized the 50-state strategy’s role in their historic win. Indeed, a lot of Dean campaign staffers played key roles in the Obama campaign.

To get to these victories, and many more in statehouses, Dean also invested DNC money, to the howls of the establishment, in state parties, many of them disorganized & missing out on campaign technology. Dean also upgraded the DNC itself, making use of the latest internet tools and savvy polling (Brilliant Corners, Cornell Belcher). Unfortunately, after Dean left the DNC the strategy reverted to the usual fat-cat shakedowns, with subsequent loss of seats amid the tea party onslaught of 2010.

These days Dean appears regularly on MSNBC (at least once/month), CNBC (ditto), & the Sunday talk shows (several times/year); engages right-wingers like Rick Santorum or William Kristol in debates at universities (for example: Dean – Santorum debate at Cornell ); and speaks at events like Netroots Nation, where he’s hugely popular. And of course he advises the million-strong advocacy group he founded in 2004, The Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley is proud to be allied with DFA, which supports candidates and issues with money and help, always after input from the local DFA members. One example: Barack Obama for US Senate in 2004, when his Republican opponent looked like a shoo-in. Others: Jerry McNerney 2006, Ami Bera 2012.

Dean’s presidential campaign changed politics in this country forever, starting with his electrifying speech at the California state party convention March 15, 2003 (Road to the White House, starting minute 24:30; also Howard Dean Sacramento I and Howard Dean Sacramento II ). In the darkest days of the Bush administration, he tapped a nerve: “We want our country back!”

From early 2003, using the new structure of Meetups; house parties with live conference calls; and a lively blog and website, the Dean campaign attracted hundreds of thousands new to politics as well as a lot of us who’d been involved before. The Dean campaign famously pioneered online fundraising and especially organizing, always anticipating what the grassroots across the country needed. We became a community, one that still persists. you see it at, for example, Netroots Nation, where Dean always gets a thunderous welcome.

Dean ran on his record as governor of Vermont: in the only state that doesn’t require it by law, he balanced the budget in all 6 of his (2-year) terms; he instituted near-universal healthcare, the first state to do so; and, at some personal risk (Kevlar vest, bodyguards for his kids) as well as electoral risk, signed the first civil unions bill in the country in 1990, when it was at 36% in the polls. As a physician Dean thought far beyond the usual election-cycle perspective of most candidates. For example, Vermont’s “Success by Six” program, which furnishes parenting classes, a home visit from a nurse, job search training, & other help for new parents that want it, has paid off twenty years later and beyond, with far lower crime rates and more graduations. Some environmental programs were planned for results as far as 100 years into the future.

But another reason “why him,” and which also explains why Dean keeps getting invited back to talk shows and public forums, is his native outspokenness, bluntly telling it like it is, so refreshing versus mealymouths on our side and outright liars on the other side. Nor does he mince words about things Democrats could do better; not stuck in Washington, he’s kept his outsider perspective. A great role model!