Many of us who supported Howard Dean should be having a mixture of feelings right now ranging from hurt, anger, rage and general sulkiness. But if we withdraw from political life at this time we are making a deep mistake. The country, and particularly the Democratic Party needs our talents and energy now more than ever.
Dean always said the campaign was not about him but about us. By “us” he means the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. If we fail to assert ourselves now within the party then we have failed in our true mission. Getting Dean elected was a great goal but the odds were always very long. There were lots of candidates out there and only one can be the nominee. We wanted a revolution but we got an evolution. This should come as no surprise. Now we must complete the mission: we must bring progressives back into prominence in the Democratic Party. We must make the Democratic Party the Democratic Party of old again.
We should not descend into an internecine war. We should not try to topple the Clinton Democrats, or those who follow the Democratic Leadership Council. In truth the DLC has not done well either. Its poster child Joe Liebermann never polled out of the single digits. The DLC wing of the Democratic Party is already a fading memory. We Deaniacs can be proud that we have rushed in and occupied their space.
To start with we need to continue occupying this space. Howard Dean told us it is important to keep voting for him even though he is no longer campaigning. This is because this gives us delegates at the national convention, and that gives us a say in the party platform. It is there that we can make our voices heard. It is in Boston that we can assert that our party should be passionately committed to equal rights for all (and particularly for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trangenders). There we will also stand up and fight for platforms that call for progressive energy policies that emphasize renewable energy sources and conservation. We can insist that our nation do something real to reduce global warming and respect the world ecosystem. We can also press our party to be fiscally responsible and to work for true universal health insurance for all Americans. We should insist on a fair tax code that does not penalize either the poor or the working poor and requires the rich to provide more of their income in taxes again. In doing we also show that Democrats are truly a party of the people again.
It is also crucial that our country become mainstream again. Our country must be eager to work with the United Nations and other countries to create pragmatic broadly supported international solutions to world problems. We must lead the party and our country toward a longer vision that is not so parochial and recognizes the complexity of the world we live in.
In the short term it is important to work to elect not only a Democratic president but to elect a Democratic congress. We should enthusiastically endorse and fund John Kerry’s campaign, if he turns out to be our nominee. We should work among ourselves, but also with progressive networks like MoveOn.org to turn the election into a rout of Republicans in general. We should be inclusive and let bygones be bygones. We should work with the Kerry, Edwards, Kucinich and even the Sharpton camps to push common goals and values. We need to assert our progressive values, but we need to be nice and persuasive about it.
We need new goals. Our short-term goal must be to remove Bush from office and to elect a Democratic congress. We have the ability to seriously tackle both of these with our existing network. Our long-term goal should be to keep America moving in a progressive and mainstream direction.
Dean for America needs to evolve. It needs to become the Democratic Progressive Network. We need to promote the DPN as an alternative to the Democratic Leadership Council. Howard could be our spokesman, but he doesn’t have to be. There is plenty of new talent among us that is there and could be easily harnessed.
As for Howard Dean, John Kerry would be wise to work to have him on his team. Howard Dean has unique talent and energy that no other candidate has. He would be ideal as the new head of the Democratic National Committee. He should be stumping the country not necessarily for Kerry, but to stir up activists to vote for Democrats in state, congressional and senatorial campaigns. If Kerry were elected, as I fully expect, Dean would make an excellent cabinet secretary. He would be a natural as the head of Health and Human Services, but let’s not rule him out for other key posts. I could see him as Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State. From my perspective Howard Dean’s future continues to look very bright. His talent should not be allowed to atrophy.