It felt as cold as January in Iowa last night. We lack the snow, but we certainly have the bitterly cold weather here in the Washington area. That didn’t stop me from bundling myself up in my woolies and heading out to the Reston Regional Library for my fourth Dean Meetup, even though a large part of me wanted to stay somewhere nice and warm and vegetate.
Of the four Dean meetups I have attended, this one was probably the best. About forty people showed up, many arriving very late. There were no donuts this time and for that I was grateful (since I am trying the South Beach diet, and don’t need the temptation). A lady named Jennifer was our host again. Faces are starting to look familiar. I saw Diane, a lady who lives about a mile away from me and who I met at two other meetups. She reported her birthday bash for Howard back in November was a success and she raised over $700 for the campaign.
The attendees this time though were especially sharp and politically astute. Maybe that’s a factor of being in Reston, a community that is relatively liberal by Virginia standards. We had two people there who described themselves as ex-Republicans. The guy at my table spoke eloquently about how the Republican party has moved away from the one he knew. He said it has morphed into the party of big business. He is shocked that traditional values like fiscal constraint were thrown away in a desire to push corporate and religious values at all costs. And he is mad as hell that Bush went to war with Iraq, because in the campaign he marketed himself as an isolationist. If Dean is attracting thinking Republicans, this is very good news. I hope there are a lot more like these two men.
About seventy percent of attendees were at their first meetup. One couple (who recently arrived from Florida) wowed us with their tale of attending a Dean meetup last March.
The big topic for discussion this month was what happened to the Democratic Party. We largely agreed that the Democratic Party had slipped under Bill Clinton into being a quasi-Republican party. We doubted that Hubert Humphrey would have been pressing for NAFTA or would have gone quite as far with welfare reform as Bill Clinton. Don’t get me wrong; I admire Bill Clinton. But he was a very corporate friendly president. In general attendees at the meetup were both appalled and more than a little scared by how far we have gone toward becoming a corporate-ocracy.
We generally agreed that the Democratic establishment saw Dean as a populist and therefore a threat to them remaining in power. We like that Dean is invigorating and bringing new blood into the party, seems to cowtow to no one, and distances himself from the inner beltway Democrats. We see that as Dean’s key ace in the hole. He speaks from his heart, sometimes to his regret, but his passion is real as is his determination. It is that passion that is contagious and keeps his campaign growing, I believe.
The video showed the staff at Dean’s Iowa campaign headquarters. It was good to see a lot of ordinary people, many of whom are much younger than I am, working passionately for the man. It was followed by a couple minute speech from Howard to us. I don’t know how Howard does it, but he connects with me. When he spoke it was like I could feel the empowerment flowing out of the video screen and into me. He told us we would take back our country. And I believed him.
We know a lot depends on the next month in these early primaries and caucuses. Dean is ahead in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but Clark is taking the number two spot in New Hampshire, even though he is not campaigning there. Dean’s margin of victory in Iowa, according to the polls, is pretty slim. So we spent the last part of the meeting writing letters to Democrats in Iowa and New Mexico.
I wrote my letter. (I would have written two, but we ran out of addresses. I’ll write the other one tonight after I get it from his web site.) The theme of my letter was that Dean represented the one person who would truly take our country back to where we were. Elect any of the others, I wrote, and we will effectively have the status quo. The Republicans and Bush have taken us so far to the right that we cannot continue in that direction. We must now stand up for our values and move the United States toward the international mainstream again.
It’s a daunting task. The Republicans have so much more money, and the primaries will drain time, energy and money. Then we must marshal these resources to win the general election. But it will be tough to come close to matching the fundraising by the Republicans. But after watching Dean last night, I believed we could do it. He makes me believe the impossible. He makes me feel empowered and hopeful.
Underlying all of it is a nervousness about Dean himself. Will he implode? Will he make that one fatal gaff that brings him down? His assertiveness is a double edge sword. It gets him attention and draws people too him, but he is often rash and doesn’t think before saying things. In that sense he is the opposite of Bill Clinton, who carefully measured whatever he said. Unlike Clinton though there is no confusion on what Howard Dean feels and believes. His passion and determination is unmistakable and wholly sincere.
It was an exciting meetup and this is an exciting time. In truth if Wesley Clark upstages Dean I can be happily support him as a candidate. Clark might well be more electable. But Dean has my heart and brings out my passion. I feel nothing for Clark. Our task ahead is daunting, but the victory will be all more joyous when we triumph over the odds. And we will triumph!