NASHUA, NEW HAMPSHIRE—”I think General Clark is a good guy,” Howard Dean told an approving group of some 300 supporters at Rider Revere College in Nashua today. “But he’s a Republican.” With the exception of a couple of mild jabs of this sort aimed good-naturedly at his opponents, the former Vermont governor talked as if he had already been chosen as the Democratic candidate as he laid out his plans for defeating Bush in a general election.
The jibe at Clark by inference could be taken as a swipe at Bill Clinton—who is generally thought to be the man behind Clark’s candidacy—and the retinue of conservatives in the Democratic Leadership Council, including Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. For more than a year now the DLC has been trying to dislodge Dean as the front-runner—so far with no success.
To judge by the crowd that had jammed into the Dion Center, the DLC slime hasn’t worked here, and might actually backfire, bringing in more Dean votes. Dean said his hero was Harry Truman, who desegregated the armed services and had the courage to stand up to the Republican right and recall General Douglas MacArthur as supreme commander in the Pacific during the Korean War. MacArthur was and remains one of the icons of the Republican right. At that time the right was torn by isolationist desires and a desire to go to war against the Chinese.
Dean entered the jammed auditorium on a bitterly cold New Hampshire day in an affable mood. His shirt sleeves were rolled up, and his speech was that of a confident politican—not the harried, testy figure almost gleefully pictured in the mainstream press. He spoke knowledgeably about a range of subjects, from health care, which as a doctor he may know best, to foreign trade and Iraq. Attacks from the right-wing press hunkered down in the Fox Washington TV studio notwithstanding, Dean did not shy away from discussing 9-11, and promised as a first act of his presidency to rescind every single one of Bush’s executive orders pertaining to the environment. On Iraq, he said: “I think the Iraqi people would like a democracy. The problem is we’ve spent $160 billion and lost 500 lives because President Bush didn’t like Saddam Hussein.”
The Dean who appeared here today bears no resemblance to the Dean portrayed in the press as a candidate who flip-flops from one political issue to another, a blueblood with a Commie streak who summers in East Hampton and wouldn’t know a working stiff if he met one. Dean is about as moderate as they come. You left Dion wondering if this was the same man depicted in the fevered reporting of the general press.
Today I’m writing from Iowa, where I’ve joined more than 3500 volunteers who’ve converged here for the Perfect Storm for Democracy, to get out the vote for Howard Dean.
I keep thinking back to almost a year ago when Howard Dean stood up and spoke at the DNC and, later, the California Democratic Party Convention. He stood up against the war and against a Democratic party that had lost the will to fight. He stood up and told the truth about this president’s misguided policies—the truth about the war, about Bush’s tax cuts, about No Child Left Behind, about an administration that was selling our government to the special interests. About a government that was forgetting the people.
The pundits at the time all thought it was political suicide to openly question a president who was so high in the polls. But this campaign has never been about doing what people expected. It’s about doing the impossible. It’s about doing what is right for our country.
And the roar that came back from the crowd when Howard Dean had the courage to stand up for what was right—that was the sound of hope.
I want you to imagine where we would be today if Howard Dean had not had the courage to stand up, and if hundreds of thousands of Americans had not had the courage to stand up with him.
We’d be left with a personality contest between the same old Washington politicians—hedging their bets, following the polls, retreating from a single controversial word.
Instead we are filled with hope. We’ve awakened a movement. And we’ve made this election meaningful—a real referendum on the direction of our country.
Now, the establishment candidates who supported Bush’s war are trying to sound like Howard Dean. Now they say they will fight George W. Bush. Now they say they’ll fight the special interests and empower the American people. But these are the election-year shifts that have discouraged so many of us from participating at all. It’s not enough to second-guess your vote now that the war is unpopular—we need someone who will stick to his guns even if it means defying the pundits and the poll results, and who has the judgment to know what’s right from the beginning.
I support Howard Dean because he spoke sanity when nobody else would.