It’s not been a happy time for us Howard Dean enthusiasts. I don’t often get excited about a politician running for office. I wasn’t excited about Bill Clinton’s candidacy. Al Gore’s left me wholly uninspired. But I was genuinely excited about Howard Dean’s candidacy. So it just makes me ache to see him go down in flames.
We were close, so close. In retrospect the mistakes are pretty easy to see. Dean placed too much emphasis on the Iraq war when polls showed most Americans did not consider it a burning issue. It had its place in 2003. It got him noticed and distinguished him as a candidate. But it worked against Dean in 2004 when the electorate started paying attention. It turned out they were more concerned about pocket book issues than the war.
We Deaniacs networked well. But we didn’t network as well with our neighbors as we should have. We needed to be knocking on more doors and calling more people on the telephone. Instead a lot of us spent our time posting our latest thoughts of the day on Dean’s blog.
And the campaign made some huge mistakes. It squandered $40M trying to lock in Iowa and New Hampshire. It succeeded in winning neither. I was shocked when I learned how much money the campaign spent. For a fiscal conservative it was a reckless strategy. Had Dean spent less he could now be carrying his message to those states he is now writing off due to lack of funds. Instead the coffers of New Hampshire radio and TV stations are bulging.
And Dean stumbled frequently with embarrassing gaffes. His primal yowl confirmed the doubts of all the Dean skeptics. Even though the incident was overplayed it showed a lack of political judgment. Dean always walked this fine line. He was always completely genuine. But there are times when a politician just has to fake it. He was too genuine for his own good.
Alas, the candidates I really like are almost always unelectable in the end. Perhaps that is because I am more of an idealist than a pragmatist. So I shouldn’t be that surprised by this turn of events. It is par for my course. But still it hurts. I thought, or perhaps wished Dr. Dean would be the exception, just this once.
And we organized, went to his meetups and sent him tons of money. I never gave a dime to a politician before, but over the last six months or so I’ve sent the campaign $450.
I found I wasn’t a lone voice in the wilderness. At his meetups I met plenty of people like me who not just wanted to take our country back into the mainstream but were eager to invest their time, their money and their energy to do so.
But apparently it wasn’t a critical mass of Democrats. I’m not too surprised because in many ways Dean is a revolutionary candidate, not an evolutionary candidate. Dean is the Democratic Party’s John McCain. Voters though appear to like their candidates more on the bland side. Democrats want decaf, not espresso.
The voters may be wiser than I am. John Kerry is a nice man and I tend to agree with most of his politics. As President he will be 1000% better than George W. Bush on his best day. Exit polls have made clear the voters also are determined to nominate the most electable candidate. Thrice wounded in Vietnam, Kerry has proved he is no chickenhawk. The most die hard military guy must respect Kerry’s service to his country.
But still I ache for Howard Dean. I guess it’s possible he could resurrect his candidacy but I think it’s over. This horse just ain’t gonna win.
But while Howard likely won’t be the nominee this time around, what Howard Dean and his campaign accomplished is still amazing. Howard breathed real life into the demoralized Democratic Party. He got people who were marginalized and disenfranchised to care about politics again. He got us to believe we could change the country. And we will change the country. We will just take smaller steps.
Thanks to Howard Dean the real issues have been addressed. No longer do we have candidates who support our debacle in Iraq. No longer do we have candidates in favor of more reckless tax cuts. No longer do we get half hearted position papers from candidates on the need for national health insurance.
Howard is the best citizen this country has seen in the last ten years. He showed us the meaning of courage and leadership. He showed that by taking unpopular positions when you know they are right you can be heard. It just takes a lot of nerve, persistence and chutzpah.
And he has demonstrated a new decentralized way to organize and to fight for what really matters. This candidacy may end but I don’t believe us in the Dean community will fade away. We may sulk for a while, but we will be back. First we will ensure whoever our party’s nominee is will beat George W. Bush. Then we will move this country back into the international mainstream.
We will take this country back. It’s a shame though that our far thinking visionary won’t be occupying the Oval Office. He would have been a great president.
And maybe someday he will be back, purged of his defects but still blazing with the primal energy and determination. I have not given up on Howard Dean. I hope this experience purifies and refines him. And perhaps the next time he will win.