This Wednesday was Dean Meetup night. Mother Nature did her best to keep me away. Severe weather made my trip home from work a half hour longer than usual. That left me little time after getting home and find something to eat before rushing out to the 7 PM meeting. The Chantilly public library was not available this time, so our host moved the meeting to the Centreville Library instead. This is quite a bit further from my house. The rainy weather and early darkness exacerbated the traffic problem. It took me 35 minutes to make the drive. You would think that with eight lanes of traffic and limited intersections there would be enough room to accommodate traffic on Route 28, but it was almost all stop and go. I arrived a couple minutes late to the meeting, when I had hoped to arrive a half hour early to help set up!
The meeting was quite similar to my last and first Dean Meetup in October and had about the same number of people: 40-50 altogether. There were however some exceptions. The buzz throughout the meeting was on Dean’s comment two days earlier that “White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not them, because their kids don’t have health insurance either and their kids need better schools, too.”
Several people, including many die hard Dean supporters found his remarks offensive. I thought it was a poor choice of words. What Dean was saying was that for Democrats to win, Democrats had to be more inclusive, and that includes bringing in under the tent people who lean Republican. This makes a lot of sense: many people who vote Republican in the south are Wal-mart workers and live from paycheck to paycheck with no or little benefits. Health insurance is something they cannot afford. Dean’s rivals of course jumped up and down on the remark and tried to imply Dean is a racist, which he isn’t. It was just a stupid remark. Dean can do that on occasion. I sometimes wish he were as careful with his choice of words as Bill Clinton. On the other hand Bill Clinton usually seemed stage managed; Dean comes across as someone who genuinely says what he believes. It is that personality and energy, I pointed out, that is largely responsible for his popularity. He’s not part of the buffed and pampered Washington elite.
There were more people who were undecided or leaning between Dean and Clark at this meeting than the last. The pros and cons of each candidate were discussed at some length. I’m not sure we convinced any Clark supporters. A couple people left early figuring they had heard enough.
One encouraging sign was the presence of an African American family. A young son in the family, about ten years old, was a big Dean fan and waxed eloquently about his favorite candidate.
We also wrote letters to swing voters in Iowa. I wrote two letters to two women at the same address, so I wrote each differently and expressed my opinion that Dean was something truly different. About 80% of the attendees were at their first meetup. Those of us who had been to one before knew what to do and started working on our letters while the debates continued.
One area of contention was whether Dean should foreswear federal matching funds. This is the Bush strategy. With no opponents in his primary Bush has already amassed $170M in contributions from fat cat Republicans. In the last quarter Dean collected $14.8M, a new record, but Dean’s average contributions were less than a hundred dollars each. It is clear that Dean’s support comes from average working people, not fat cats. Even so we will need a lot more people to come close to matching the contribution that Bush will so easily raise. I voted to go without matching funds. It’s not that I don’t believe in public financing for campaigns, it’s just that as long as someone can opt out to their advantage, our campaign shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage.
One person asked how the campaign would reach out to African Americans and other communities. Dean has drawn his support from mostly white and liberal people. Our hostess, Geri, said that it was up to us, not the Dean campaign, to make these connections. She suggested we take up the issue and involve more of our African American friends. This is what is really unique about the Dean campaign: it is genuinely people powered. People don’t follow instructions laid down by Joe Trippi at campaign headquarters. At best Trippi and Dean set broad goals and communicate them through their web sites and web logs. Issues get thoroughly thrashed through by his supporters on his Blog for America web site. I find it remarkable that Dean would let his supporters make his decision on whether to forego matching funds for his campaign.
In the month since my first meetup a few things are becoming clearer. A month ago Wesley Clark was a phenomenon and a worry. Now his luster has been dimmed quite a bit. Clark is still playing catch up, and Dean Supporters have proven to be committed to the man and his cause. I spoke with a very nice lady I saw from the last meetup who lives in my neighborhood. She says instead of spending $30 a week at Barnes and Noble, as she used to do, she contributes this money to his campaign instead. I said I pretty much send him $50 every month when I pay my bills. When a special solicitation comes out I tend to send more. I haven’t added it up but I suspect I’ve given the Dean campaign at least $300 so far.
And so we in the Dean Camp continue to move doggedly forward. We are aware that Howard Dean is not the perfect candidate, but he does offer the personality and creative ideas that we expect from a winning candidate. We do hope though that Howard learns to temper his remarks a bit. There is still a year to the election and Dean can’t afford too many more major gaffes. We’ve got to win this one and take back our country.
You can help by learning more and perhaps contributing to Dean at Dean for America.