Howard Dean at Randolph College

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    Howard Dean was the featured speaker last night at Randolph College in Lynchburg, invited by a student leader on that campus who had been inspired while in the 8th grade by Dean’s 2003-2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Dean’s visit fit well with one of his latest goals – inspiring young people to stay involved in politics.

    In an hour-long address to a full auditorium of college students and community citizens of all ages, Dr. Dean hit upon a diverse range of topics, from the recently passed health reform bill to his 50-state strategy and why he has great hope for the next generation as citizens and leaders.

    Dean noted that in 2008 more people 35 years old and under voted than persons 65 or over, a demographic politicial earthquake that helped elect Barack Obama president of the United States. Exit polling showed that more than 60% of the under-35 electorate voted for President Obama, and the margin was 67% for voters under 30.

    Dean’s 50-state strategy grew out of what he observed as he traveled around the nation in 2003-2004. He saw how energized grassroots volunteers could be when they felt empowered to take their destiny into their own hands and received encouragement from a national political figure. As one woman in Seattle said to him on his 2003 campaign swing known as the Sleepless Summer Tour, “I thought I was all alone.”

    Dean used Alaska’s last senatorial campaign as an example of how Democrats need to have a presence everywhere in order to take advantage of unforeseen circumstances. When long-time incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens was indicted and tried for not reporting personal gifts and favors, the 50-state strategy meant that Democratic organizers had already been on the ground there for some time. The result of being prepared is Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK).

    Some of the other subjects Dean covered are below:

    Values Voters: Dean pointed out what he said the Republicans have known for a long time. All people vote their emotions, not their logic. There are neurological reaserch studies that have proven that fact. As Democrats, we have to be able to articulate the values that are the foundation for our positions. To further that while DNC chair, Dean quietly met with religious leaders all over the nation, including evangelical leaders like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren. He wanted them to see Democrats as caring people who also had spiritual values.

    Young Voters: Young Americans 30 and under have grown up in a society where they have interacted with people of varied races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientation. Many of the strictures that kept groups of Americans living separate and unknown to each other were ended by the changes wrought in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It is the young Americans under 30 who only know the resulting society. Consequently, they tolerate people who are different from them more easily because they know them as human beings.

    These young people want to put aside the so-called culture wars – abortion, gay marriage, religious differences – and focus on the problems that they see as dangerous to their future – climate change, environmental degradation, governmental debt, loss of jobs to other parts of the world. Dean has found in his travels very few young Americans who consider themselves either far left or far right. For the most part, they occupy the pragmatic middle…as does the president they helped to elect. Young evangelicals are not very different. They want solutions to poverty, climate change, human rights.

    Tea Party: In the Tea Party, Dean is reminded of the grassroots energy unleashed by his presidential campaign. He does not, however, feel that the Tea Party will be a lasting political force. “They represent what America used to be. Time is not on their side,” Dean said, meaning  the fact that the majority of Tea Party people are over 50, rather affluent, and white is a destructive demographic time bomb for them.

    Health Reform Bill: Howard Dean had many problems with the recently-passed health reform bill, as did many of us. However, he said he is glad that it was passed because it will lead to real reform in the future. The exchanges created by the law are good, Dean said, and will provide small business a way to give help to their employees yet control cost to the business. Dean told the audience that the bill as passed actually was a bipartisan bill, even though no Republican voted for it. It is basically a national version of the bill passed years ago in Massachusetts when Republican Mitt Romney was governor and the Democrats controlled the legislature, including the so-called individual mandate.

    Federal Debt: The only way that this nation can solve the serious problem of the national debt is for everything to be on the table for negotiation – entitlements, taxes, the Pentagon. That’s the reason President Obama wanted a commission to recommend solutions that Congress could only vote up or down, an idea that Congress refused to put into the final legislation.

    I’ll close with a brief personal note. It was wonderful for this old “Deaniac” to hear Howard Dean again. He is as forthright and clear in what he thinks as he ever was. I still say what I did back then. He reminds me of Harry Truman…but with a medical degree.  

    • …what the Democratic Party would be like today if Dean hadn’t run in 2004.  And I’m usually so horrified that I don’t think about it anymore!