On Howard Dean
Published on Thursday, April 24, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
On Howard Dean
by Marty Jezer

A reader from Florida writes: "Whatís your feel with Howard Dean? His supporters in Florida are increasing." From an activist friend in California, I hear: "Whatís with your Governor Dean? Is he for real?"

Iím not the only Vermonter being asked these questions. And Iím not the only Vermonter amazed at the emergence of Howard Dean as an anti-war candidate, the Eugene McCarthy of the upcoming presidential campaign.

To me, Howard Dean was the governor with the overly-tight collar and a head that looked like the protruding bulge of a squeegee ball. Then came the battle over civil unions.

In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court unanimously ruled that gay couples are entitled to equal rights and protections under the law. I initially castigated Dean for coming out against gay marriage. He chose to make a stand in support of civil unions. And stand he did. Right-wing Republicans attempted to make civil unions the issue by which they would bring down moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats. The debate was ugly, but Dean was heroic. On radio phone-in shows and in speeches and public appearances, he took on the abuse, bigotry and phony science of the homophobic following and did not give an inch. He turned the debate and the election that followed into a referendum on human dignity and dignity won. The bottom line with Howard Dean is that heís a decent guy with backbone.

As Governor, Dean had little to say about foreign policy and no contact with Vermontís peace movement. His opposition to the Iraqi War is a surprise. But there is substance to his critique and, as evidenced by the civil union fight, heís not likely to soften his position in order to pander for votes.

On Thursday, April 17, Dean issued a statement titled "Bush: Itís Not Just His Doctrine Thatís Wrong" on a progressive web site, www.commondreams.org. His critique of the Bush Administration was so thorough and bold that I was suspicious that it was published on Common Dreams. Was this an attempt to fish for lefty votes? I was therefore relieved to see the statement posted on Deanís official web site (www.deanforAmerica.com) as well. In it, Dean accurately portrays Bush as a dangerous ideologue who has broken with traditional American politics in both foreign and domestic policy spheres. His unilateralism has undermined the war on terrorism, which depends on international cooperation, Dean says. "War should be a last resort," not a policy choice that takes the place of diplomacy. "On Day One of a Dean Presidency, he writes, "...I will tear up the Bush Doctrine. And I will steer us back into the company of the community of nations." This is good rhetoric and good statesmanship.

On domestic policy, Dean accuses Bush of dividing the American people by race, class, gender and sexual orientation. He acknowledges that his fiscal conservatism "did not make the progressive community happy," but argues that "social justice must rest upon a foundation of fiscal discipline." Though Dean, as a budget-balancer, short-changed essential social services, his pride that, unlike other states who face billion dollar budgetary shortfalls, Vermont is in good fiscal shape must be respected.

Dean has appropriated the late Paul Wellstoneís line that he represents "the real Democratic Party." Thatís arguable. The Democratic candidate closest to Paul Wellstoneís progressive politics is Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a founder and co-chair of the congressional progressive caucus. Kucinich has a long record of progressive politics and Iíll write about him in a future column.

I was on the fence in 2000, wanting Gore to win but wanting Nader to get a big vote, especially in states like Vermont where Gore was sure to win no matter how many people voted for Nader. Though I believe Gore blew his own election, I was not happy with the way Nader ran his campaign. His glib assertion that Democrats and Republicans represent tweedledee and tweedledum will forever haunt him.

A third party presidential challenge from the left would be reactionary and traitorous in the 2004 election. The Bush Administration and the ideas it represents must be decisively defeated. That wonít be easy. A terrorist attack, another jingoistic war in the Middle East or, as I suspect, a move against Cuba might set the administrationís terms for the election. On the other hand, Bush can no longer position himself as a moderate or a "compassionate conservative." And more states may be bankrupt and more government programs slashed even as the wealthiest Americans reap their tax cuts.

But the Republicans play to win. They plan to spend $200 million even before the campaign begins and will likely bury the Democrats in campaign fundraising. The Republicans have scheduled their convention for New York City in September 2004 in order to appropriate the memorial services for the victims of 9-11. This may backfire, of course. Liberal New Yorkers may not appreciate right-wing Republicans turning their tragedy into a campaign photo opportunity. But the administration was able to convince a majority of Americans that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9-11. Itís not inconceivable that theyíll convince that same majority that George W. Bush is Rudy Giuliani.

The New Hampshire primary in the spring of 2004 will be a shake-out for Democratic candidates. In 1968 a strong showing by Gene McCarthy forced Lyndon Johnson to give up on re-election. A strong showing by a peace candidate in New Hampshire is needed to force Democratic hawks like Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards from the race. Howard Dean, Vermont being New Hampshireís neighbor, could be that candidate.

A Dean-Bush election is not an impossibility. Dean would attack the Bush administration, as he did on Common Dreams, on foreign policy, taxes, health care, and issues of tolerance and decency. The Bushies would bash Dean for supporting homosexuality. Dr. Dean, I am sure, would rise to that occasion.

Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at mjez@sover.net