I think it was 1980 or so when then Gov. Ronald Reagan was just starting his run for the presidency. He was in a candidate’s forum in New Hampshire and was getting dissed by the host who said “Turn Mr. Reagan’s microphone off.” To which a very upset Ronald Reagan lashed out “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” The crowd went wild with approval. Here was a Republican who could only take civility so far before his true nature came out. And it connected with the voters. It may have been the defining moment of his whole campaign. It cast him in the eyes of Americans as not quite the man they thought they knew. They liked the genuine article.
Actually I was a bit enamored with George Bush (Sr.) at the time. I didn’t vote for Reagan in 1980. But I did admire Reagan’s spunk. Arguably because of it the Republican Party caught fire too and the rise of the neoconservatives began. Like them or hate them, they shook up their fathers’ dour little party, usually out of the majority, took the presidency, captured the Senate in 1984 and in 2002 hit the trifecta: all three branches of government fell under their sway. All, perhaps, sparked by one dissed and somewhat pissed Ronald Reagan whose spirit came through at a defining moment and connected with the average voter who, until then, saw him as just another governor.
The Democratic Party is a lot like the Republican Party in 1980. Joe Lieberman reflects the careful centrist, trying to ride in the wake of Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s successes and hoping that there is something there in the center that can win the Democrats the next presidential election. And as my blog readers know, I think the 2004 presidential election is eminently winnable for the Democratic Party, barring some major changes to the economy and in the war on terrorism that are highly dubious.
To use a metaphor, the Democratic Party is burning the embers and is nearly out. There is nothing the neoconservatives would like more than to kill us altogether. What we Democrats need though is something to spark the embers and feed a little, no a LOT of oxygen into the fire. We need our Ronald Reagan.
And I think we have him in Howard Dean. The DLC and the DNC don’t like to admit it, of course, but Howard Dean scares the hell out of them. He is shaking the Democratic Party from the bottom up. The DNC will, of course, claim to be neutral about who wins the presidential nomination. But of course they aren’t. They want someone who is familiar and who plays well against all the key demographic brackets. Perhaps Kerry will do, although he is very Northeastern. They’d be happy with Lieberman or Edwards.
But these candidates have neither much soul nor passion. They’re just kind of like milquetoast: dry and uninteresting, but really packaged like most Democrats we’ve seen lately. They are not the fancy new labels on the shelf; they are more of the same Geritol. Lieberman is clearly a good debater and could twist Bush around a flagpole in a debate, but Gore did the same thing and it didn’t seem to matter on Election Day.
Howard Dean has soul AND passion. It’s not that his followers are all that passionate about his policies. The liberals running after him at the moment have only a vague notion that the guy has much more in common with Lieberman than he does with the late Paul Wellstone. Dean is basically a centrist. This will become clearer as people understand him. Right now they just see a man not afraid to speak his mind clearly and forcefully and to let the chips fall where they may when he believes he is right, like on the foolishness of our war with Iraq or on balanced budgets. Democrats and, I think in time, the general public will connect to a man with spirit. Bush doesn’t have any.
Go Howard go! Stir us up! Get us to your meet ups. Keep doing unconventional ads like your latest spunky ad against Bush right in the heart of Texas. Tell it like it is! We need to hear not just the truth; we need to feel your passion. We need to be stirred up. We need to put aside politics as usual and find our spirit and our courage that has been nearly whipped out of us by the relentless Republican and neoconservative onslaught. We need to believe we can and will not just win the presidency, but take back the nation and the country in 2004.
That won’t happen if Lieberman or Kerry wins the nomination. They might well win the White House but they won’t change the congress. That will take a lot more. That will take an infectious spirit and leadership that in the current pack only Howard Dean possesses. He is the Democrat’s response to the Ronald Reagan phenomenon. He is oxygen for the Democratic Party. Let’s welcome him for crying out loud and give him wide berth. And let’s keep our fingers crossed that Dean has the savvy to be different but not obnoxious. It’s a fine line but one he has to stay on.
What can you do? Contribute to his campaign! Please! Yes, Republican fat cats can write big checks but Dean is proving he can raise in volume and small contributions what Republicans do in relatively small volume and large sums. Send him $25, $50 or $100. I’ve contributed $100 so far and will continue to do so unless he screws up in a major way. Dean is the real cowboy of this race. Bush has always been a cowboy pretender. If you want spirit and passion in your president, look no further than Howard Dean.