Report on my first Dean Meetup

The Thinker by Rodin

I attended my first “meet up” for Howard Dean last night.

For an internet savvy person like myself I wonder why it took me so long. It’s not like I haven’t been working in electronic communities for nearly 20 years now. I’ve been contributing to the Dean campaign for several months now, listening to his speeches on line, haunting his Blog for America site and basically fascinated by what he seems to have started. I’ve come to the conclusion that with Dean it’s not so much what he says as how he says it. He has personality and he has attitude. I can’t say that any of the other candidates, with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich. In many ways Dean is the Democratic Party’s response to John McCain.

Still these are worrying times even for Dean Supporters as a hitherto largely unknown, recently Republican, but highly respected Wesley Clark recently threw his hat into the Democratic nomination. In fundraising Dean still has “the big mo” with 14.8 million dollars contributed in the last quarter. But in polls he is not so much slipping as is Wesley Clark has filled in the undecided column. This puts Dean in a competitive position again.

Nonetheless I’ve been excited by the Dean phenomenon. At the meeting last night at the public library in Chantilly, Virginia we learned that the average contribution to the Dean campaign was $87. This is amazing. You can guess what the average contribution to the Bush campaign amounts to: thousands and thousands of dollars. The Dean Campaign is funded by the masses. The Bush campaign is funded by Republican fat cats. Even among the Democratic candidates, most of the remainder get their money the old fashioned way: via the rubber chicken circuit.

Dean supporters are the real deal: large numbers of average Americans giving part of their hard earned money and lots of their free time to a candidate they believe in. I don’t think this has been done before in modern history. Moreover, Dean, unlike all the other candidates, can concentrate largely on campaigning instead of raising money. Soliciting contributions over the Internet makes the cost of getting contributions very small. More money can be used to build the campaign, instead of being funneled into more fundraisers.

The Dean Campaign used an existing site, meetup.com, to arrange the logistics of putting otherwise disconnected strangers together. Volunteers agree to host a Dean gathering in their home or in some public space. The Chantilly library was a good choice because about 50 people showed up; most living rooms won’t accommodate crowds of this size. There might well have been more people except the meet up software seems to have been a bit confused, and suggested that our meet up had been moved to another location in Annandale.

The lady facilitating the meeting was a lady named Geri about my age or a little older. I volunteered to help her set up and she took me up on it. The meeting was at 7 PM but I arrived at 6:30 PM. A young guy named Sam was already there and he and I started setting up chairs. Geri arrived a bit late and had us rearrange the place. She needed tables because tonight was a letter writing night.

The Dean campaign seems savvy enough to send packets to meet up organizers. She had a box of brochures, bumper stickers, buttons and lots of writing paper and envelopes, with stamps already inside the envelopes. We lined up some tables near the door and made sure attendees put their names on the attendance sheets and wore name tags. Geri dragged in a TV set and VCR. Her packet came with a short video from the Dean campaign that she used to start the meeting. It was a good video. Howard Dean’s passion clearly came through, and many of us clapped or applauded certain lines. (I particularly like this often repeated observation that he simply tells the truth, and it scares the hell out of Republicans.)

The video followed with 45 minutes or so of general discussion. We had a few people who were just curious and not committed to any particular candidate. We shared our thoughts and opinions on the man and the campaign. I shared my experience working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee back in 1987-1988 and how disenfranchised I felt when I realized our government was truly up for sale. I said I was excited by the Dean movement because it was the antidote to this mess, and I hoped the decentralized, empowered Dean people would have the energy to take back not just the White House but the Congress as well. Virtually all of us wanted to roll back the Bush years. We want our old country and old values back. In that sense perhaps we were conservatives. Most of us were progressive, but we believed in balanced budgets and for the United States to be a full and equal partner in international affairs. We discussed some frequent myths about Howard Dean, such as that he is a liberal and that he is not electable. I think we opened a few minds that night.

Some people lobbied for particular causes. One person needed people to hand out flyers. Others wanted to staff a table at a Fairfax City parade. Another wanted help reaching out to the senior community. These efforts met with mixed success; not everyone had quite the energy to attack all these causes.

The last part of the meeting was a letter writing exercise. We were asked to compose two letters, in our own words. The first letter went to Al Gore, Jesse Jackson or Bill Bradley. I made mine to Al Gore and said that he should endorse Howard Dean, and I listed my reasons. The second letter depended on your congressional district. In my case it went to Virginia Governor Mark Warner and it followed a format similar to the one I wrote to Al Gore. We addressed, sealed and stamped them ourselves and turned them into Geri.

I was expecting a younger crowd, but it was truly a mixed crowd with the exception that there was not an African American in the room. (We did have some Oriental and Hispanic Americans.) There were a number of students from George Mason University, there were a number of senior citizens or retired folk, and there were lots of middle aged people like me. The common theme though was a feeling of disenfranchisement and horror with three years of George Bush as president and a dogged determination to take our country back.

In short is was a fun time, but it was also useful and meaningful. It felt very much like democracy in action, something we often talk about in theory but fail to carry out. Despite the fact that most of us had never met before, we felt bonded and started calling each other by first names. As the meeting wound up (the library closed promptly at 9) a number wanted to go out for drinks and unwind. I hadn’t anticipated that and declined but it might be fun to do it some time in the future.

I am sure I’ll be at the next meet up and probably at subsequent ones too. It was fun, I felt empowered and I felt connected. I felt that what we were doing was not wasted effort. I felt hopeful and a bit determined to do what I can to take my country back.

If you are a progressive I encourage you to go to deanlink.deanforamerica.com and sign up for the November meet up. Check out both deanforamerica.com and blogforamerica.com. I can tell you for sure now that this movement is very real. It’s a great way to do good for your country as well as to meet new friends. Don’t feel you have to be a Dean supporter to attend. Just go and observe. I think you will be impressed.

Thoughts on Dean vs. Clark

The Thinker by Rodin

Wesley Clark’s campaign has rocketed out to the stratosphere, despite problems that should be crippling like a virtual lack of organization. I guess a lot of uncommitted Democrats were just hoping and waiting for him to say “yes”. Look at him go! He announces and the following week he is leading the pack, at least according to Gallup which did a poll for CNN and USA Today. This poll shows Clark leading the Democratic candidates for president by a large margin: 22% vs. 13% for Dean, his closest competitor. The same poll says that if the election were held today between Bush and Clark that Clark would win 48 percent to 46%. (Bush’s approval rating is down to a record low of 50%, according to this poll.)

It must be about image because it can’t be about substance. So far Wes has been pretty silent on substance beyond vague generalities. He’s actually stumbled a few times, suggesting in Tampa that if he had been in Congress he might have voted for the war with Iraq, then back tracking. I doubt those who were polled heard these little gaffes.

Dean, who was used to being in the limelight, is now back in the pack and playing the challenger role again. Meanwhile on his website he is challenging his supporters to contribute $5M over the next 10 days. It’s an audacious goal. Will he make it? If he doesn’t some will say he is losing momentum, perhaps at the expense of Clark. I did my part and gave Howard another $50.

I’m still trying to understand the Wesley Clark phenomenon. I understand the Dean phenomenon pretty well. Dean articulated a clear antiwar message and put together a savvy internet marketing team. He tapped the energy of those who wanted to change this country and empowered them by putting them together in MeetUps. He has to spend little of his time or attention on fundraising. This helps him concentrate on campaigning. The other candidates, except Clark, are still trying to figure out what hit them. They were operating under the old rules.

I think there is something in the American character that likes guys riding high in the saddle. Bush gave this illusion and perhaps that’s why he won a narrow victory in 2000. Democrats want to look up and admire someone too. Clark gives them the image of someone who is supremely capable and competent. It can be intoxicating. And we Democrats want to win so badly in 2004. Clark looks like the obvious choice, at least at the moment.

But Democrats also need to look rather seriously at this guy. He is a Johnny come lately Democrat. He candidly admits he voted for Reagan and Bush, both times. I certainly like his position on the war and the United Nations, but given that he has mostly worn conservative credentials it makes me wonder how sincere a Democrat and liberal he really is.

Those looking for vast right wing conspiracies might also consider vast Clinton conspiracies. Bill Clinton has let it slip that Wesley Clark is his man. Maybe it’s because he’s from Arkansas. Or maybe since Bill represents the moderate, centrist Democrat he thinks he has outfoxed Howard Dean by picking Wes. Clinton probably perceives Dean as unelectable and too liberal, and found a way to bring his perfect man into the running to ride the growing tide of disenchantment against Bush.

It remains to be seen if the Clark candidacy has wings. He may be smart, but he’s never run for office before and there is a steep learning curve. He is bound to say the wrong things from time to time, and come across as ill prepared. It may not matter if voters, as they seem to be, are more concerned with personality than they are with issues.

But it is way too early to rule out Howard Dean. This is the Democrat with the money and with the organizational skills that the others seem to lack. He can still collect money hand over fist via the Internet simply whenever his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, wants to. He just puts another Louisville Slugger bat on the web site and the money pours in. That money buys a lot of media attention. Moreover Dean, unlike any other candidate, has grass roots. He has people turbo charged, not so much because they think he is the ideal candidate, but because he has them believing they are empowered.

I am impressed far more with Dean’s supporters than I am with Dean himself. Most of the reason I give him money is because he can feed the energy of these people. This is one determined bunch of people, and they are talking to everyone they know. Don’t think they plan to stop with Howard Dean’s election. They want more. Much more. They want to take back the congress and the country. They want to reverse the last four years. They want to drive a stake through the heart of neoconservatism. He has lots of supporters but most of them are 20 or 30 somethings. In other words he has energized the disenfranchised younger voters, got them to care, and got them to organize. And they will vote in much larger numbers in 2004.

This may well turn into a tsunami a year from now. If Clark is the better candidate so be it. But don’t dismiss the Dean phenomenon. It is much more real and it has legs. I’ve caught the wave too. I’ll be going to my first official meet up for Dean on October 1st at the Chantilly, Virginia regional library. I hope to see some of you there. I want to be part of this energy. I want to take back my country.

Dean is Oxygen for the Democratic Party

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

Continue reading “Dean is Oxygen for the Democratic Party”

Howard Dean for President

The Thinker by Rodin

No, Dean is not my ideal Democratic presidential candidate. He doesn’t even come close. The current crop of candidates, frankly, offers pretty poor choosing. I’m not a big fan of Al Gore but even old boring Al would be a better choice than any of those running for president. Someone like Hilary Clinton would be ideal but she won’t run, and has ruled out 2008 as well. So we Democrats will have to pick from one of the announced candidates, and a fairly sorry lot they are overall.

Democrats always have a few “you have GOT to be joking” sorts of candidates. Al Sharpton wins this one hands down. But many of the rest aren’t much better.

Sadly also in this category is Dennis Kucinich, a former mayor and now Congressman representing the Cleveland area. Dennis has a real problem: mainly he comes across as a very annoying, the sort of person you would never invite to a party. Unless American voters have a real sense of humor he can’t get elected and he is so far to the left he’d be lucky to win his own district.

Then there is the inside the beltway crowd, trying to distinguish themselves but in general being spineless standing up to President Bush.

There is Dick Gephardt, under whose sterling leadership the House of Representatives actually lost Democratic seats in 2000 and 2002. As a consequence (although he won’t admit it) he resigned as House Democratic Minority Leader. No one is really sure why he is running or what he figures his appeal is, but it’s not the first time he threw his hat into the ring. Sorry Dick but your record speaks for itself and you are as exciting as milquetoast. Next!

John Kerry is hoping that some of the Kennedy mystique will rub off on him because he knows Ted personally and hails from Massachusetts. Besides, he is tall and square jawed. But he voted for war with Iraq even though he should have known better, although he now claims the Administration fed him bad information.

John Edwards is, like Kerry, a junior senator. He hails from North Carolina which is good politically because a Democrat who can’t carry some southern states is unlikely to win the White House. But he also voted for the war in Iraq and he really hasn’t distinguished himself very much. Most of his money comes from trial lawyers. Maybe he’s hoping a close resemblance to John Ritter will win him some votes.

Joe Lieberman ran, and lost, with Al Gore. Joe voted for the war, of course, but has a much larger problem: in many respects he is a closet Republican. Arguably that might be an asset in this election but he doesn’t offer much in the way of vision. If the Democrats were to be pragmatic and look for a centrist candidate he would be an obvious choice. That may not be the way to win the White House this time though. One strong point with Joe is that he is an excellent debater. He wrapped rings around Dick Cheney; consider what he could do with George W.

Bob Graham is my #2 choice. He voted against the Iraq war and understands the real terrorism problem, i.e. it’s Al Qaeda, stupid, not Saddam. As a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee he knows just how badly this war has been portrayed. Arguably he could win his own state (he has never lost an election) and he is a strong centrist candidate. But he comes across as more than a little goofy.

Carol Moseley Braun lost her last election to a Republican. It’s unclear why she is running. It’s nice to have a woman and a black running and she is reasonably liberal, but she really has nothing to distinguish herself and generates no discernable passion from voters.

That leaves Howard Dean. I would like to be more passionate about the guy. Hopefully in time I will be. I tend to like what I see but I also see some warning flags. He is a moderate Democrat who appears to the liberal wing. He has balanced state budgets many times, even during challenging economic times. He made universal health insurance available to virtually all residents of his state. His singular claim to fame (and perhaps his downfall) was pushing for a civil union bill in Vermont. Doubtless the Republicans will make hay of it if he is the nominee. He was passionately against the war in Iraq and is very passionate about engaging this country again in the international community, and ending our one sided isolationist approach toward the rest of the world. What I think will happen if he is the nominee is that people will discover a fiery but determined centrist democrat who leans enough to the left to bring in those people who are passionate on those causes. But he is a guy who speaks his mind very plainly and sometimes says inappropriate things.

I’ve actually given his campaign some of my money. We’ll see how he does. If he picks up steam I will probably give him more money. I like what I know of him, but he has yet to make me an enthusiastic supporter. He just seems to be the best of a rather poor crowd of candidates.