One Democrat stands out: Howard Dean

D“In order to change America, we are first going to have to change the Democratic Party, and make it stand for its principles once again.”
– Howard Dean, speech in Iowa

Democratic frontrunner Dr. Howard Dean is going to be very important in the 2004 election race. He is leading key national Democratic candidate polls and recently took the lead in the important Iowa and New Hampshire primary polls. His campaign had the highest level of fund raising among Democrats for the last quarter, garnering roughly $10 million in contributions between April and June. Now, his Democratic opponents are responding with desperation, with the most desperate ad hominem attacks coming from Joe Lieberman, who has fallen in polls over the last two years at a proportional rate to Dean’s ascension.

Although Dean has used the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s line, “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” he is not strictly a liberal Democrat. Some of his more leftist views – such as his opposition to the war in Iraq – must be considered along with his history of balancing budgets and cutting taxes as governor of Vermont. But most importantly, Dean stands out from his competitors through his demeanor. He does not appear arid and disconnected, as John Kerry does and as Al Gore did in 2000, nor does he threaten to be ineffectual in office like Richard Gephardt. So who does Dean most resemble? Perhaps only Bill Clinton in 1992 is the best match.

Indeed, Dean represents the vanguard of the Democratic Party, a leader who has been long in coming. By the time his sluggish competition comes around on an issue, Dean has usually been trumpeting it for months. For example, Dean was one of the first democratic candidates to speak out against the war in Iraq, oppose the president’s tax cuts and present new ideas on health care. His boisterous emphasis of some key issues also seems to align favorably with polls.

The doctor knows his constituency; statistically, Americans are most concerned about the occupation of Iraq, the slumping economy and rising health care costs. Dean has promised he can make a multilateral occupation of Iraq work by collaborating with the same European allies that President George W. Bush has alienated. He is one of the few Democratic candidates who wants to roll back all of the president’s tax cuts to afford the things Americans say they want, like prescription drug benefits, Social Security and a strong military.

Whatever you think about the president’s fiscal policies, Dean’s position shows conviction and realism where his opponents appear to have no backbone. Finally, Dean’s health care plan does not repeat the Democrat’s single-payer mantra and opts for a system our starved budget can actually afford. His plan would help those in need while preserving a system that has enabled this country to have the most innovative medical research in the world.

I think Dean has a good chance of winning the Democratic nomination, and when he does he will stand a good chance of unseating Bush. I say this in full knowledge that the president has a record-setting war chest to work with and strong support from his party behind him. But what Dean lacks in funding he makes up in energy – watching him speak can be exhilarating, and seeing Green Party members, Perot supporters, moderates and Midwest Democrats rally around him speaks to the passion his campaign is inspiring.

Dean has the look of a winner, rhetoric of a people’s man and populist support money cannot buy. His campaign melds idealistic slogans like the one that opened this column with pragmatic policies that will actually make it through Congress. Some of his opponents have similar sounding ideals, but with Dean you get a sense that here is a man who can actually do it. He can push through a real Democratic agenda. I even imagine him drinking champagne in 15 months time – whether or not he has won an election – knowing he was the only Democrat who fought the good fight.

Mitch Mosvick is a Carlson School of Management senior. He welcomes comments at [email protected]