Last week Dr. Howard Dean brought his presidential bid to an end and returned to his home state of Vermont. Some would say Dean failed, brought down by his own anger as much as dragged down from behind by his howling pack of primary opponents. But in the larger context of politics, the pugnacious doctor succeeded wildly in his most ambitious operation ever—he implanted a spine in the beleaguered Democrat party and showed them how to get up off their knees and fight for a better America again. And for that, we owe the good doctor a tremendous debt of gratitude.
For the nation’s stale political pundits, Dean seemed to come from nowhere in his sudden leap to the front-runner position. Sure, he had been the governor of Vermont, but on the big screen, Vermont is just a tiny liberal state tucked into the panoply of tiny states called New England.
Yet Dean did something those pundits, and those they have been boringly analyzing for years, have failed to do: He energized Americans who have been alienated by the “insider politics” of wealth, privilege and power that have increasingly dominated our political landscape. Even more importantly, Dean sought and found strength and boundless energy in a resource most politicians fail to even acknowledge—America’s young people.
Not since the ’60s has anyone moved the nation’s youth to stir beyond the limits the staid older generations place upon them. But somehow, the redoubtable Dr. Dean touched some vital place in the consciousness of today’s rightfully disenchanted young people and cut them loose to pursue political action through their own avenues. The result still has the so-called political experts scratching their heads.
The young “Deaniacs,” as they dubbed themselves, used their computers to give voice to their political goals. Using the Internet with practiced familiarity, a nation-wide network soon took shape, spawning a host of novel political actions that stunned the sedentary world of conventional politics.
As President Bush shamelessly squandered the resources of the White House on his campaign, the young Deaniacs sent their messages and plotted their “meet-ups” and “flash” demonstrations by e-mail, surpassing even the speed of Air Force One and creating none of the massive waste and pollution.
While President Bush squeezed his energy and industrial cartels for millions, the Dean campaign astounded mainstream politicians by raising tens of millions online. Bush raised his millions at $5,000-a-plate dinners by promising to cut the exploiters loose on America’s remaining wild lands, letting polluters trade our health for their wealth, and bolstering the military-industrial complex through billions in unaffordable, budget-busting expenditures in an endless and pointless “global war on terror.”
Dean, on the other hand, raised his millions primarily through small contributions generated from Internet appeals that opposed the Bush wars, lauded international cooperation, and promised to clean up our long-suffering environment, provide affordable, quality education, and take care of our aged and infirm. Instead of digging for gold in the deep pockets of special interest contributors like Bush and most of his Demo opponents, Dean collected loose change from tens of thousands of Americans who were and are concerned about the direction in which the country is going.
The lesson to America’s comatose Democratic Party couldn’t have been more obvious. While the D.C. Demos and their highly paid advisors tried to win favor by espousing “Republican Lite” policies, Dean took the bull by the horns and wrestled with the thorny issues of the day. While “collaborators” like Montana’s own Max Baucus jumped party lines to pass Bush’s trillion-dollar tax-cuts that primarily benefit the rich, a Medicare bill that primarily benefits HMOs, and outlandish military spending that primarily benefits defense contractors and suppliers like Halliburton and Bechtel, Dean’s campaign took dead aim at, and stated direct opposition to, the exact same issues.
Who could forget whining Joe Lieberman as he vainly tried to paint Howard Dean as some kind of anti-patriot because he opposed the Iraq War? Of course Sen. Lieberman was joined by virtually all of his Congressional Democrat colleagues in voting to give Bush the authority to marginalize the United Nations, ignore world opinion, and launch the disastrous, pre-emptive war that promises to degrade America’s global credibility for years to come. But then again, “seasoned” politicians like Lieberman and Baucus never admit to making mistakes—especially mistakes of the magnitude and scope of Bush’s Iraq War—and these so-called “leaders” preferred to “stay the course,” no matter what the cost to present and future generations.
Dean, however, showed the wimpy Republicrats what it meant to fight for their beliefs and ideals. More importantly, he proved that there are tens of millions of people in America who are tired of the wanton corruption of “politics as usual” and are willing to speak with both their voices and their wallets to support real leaders who tackle issues head-on instead of hiding in their Congressional offices waiting for Bush to launch his next offensive.
The pundits will correctly point out that Dean failed to win even one primary, much less the party’s nomination. But what Dean did do was give courage to those who remain in the race. Sen. John Kerry, the current front-runner, followed Dean’s anti-war lead and found his voice in the recollection of the Vietnam War, a pointless disaster from which he still carries wounds. Now, Kerry and the loyal “Band of Brothers” veterans who served with him in Vietnam speak up loudly against the equally pointless Iraq War. In stark contrast, super-patriot Bush can’t find even one person who recalls serving with him while he was bravely protecting Alabama from the North Vietnamese Air Force in 1973.
Howard Dean may be gone, but he is surely not forgotten. For energizing our youth, pioneering Internet politics, giving the nation a new vision, and providing an example of bravery and conviction that has re-energized the Democrats by lifting them off their much-callused knees, we must say: “Thank you, Dr. Dean.”
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent. E-mail Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.