Dean stumps Democratic ideals, plans |

Dean stumps Democratic ideals, plans

John Colson
Howard Dean

In his characteristic rapid-fire delivery to the faithful, Democrat Howard Dean pledged that his party has learned from past mistakes and is poised to take advantage of voter unhappiness with President George Bush and the Republican Party.”There is a real, substantive, deep desire for change” among voters, Dean said Saturday in a public address at Harris Concert Hall. He argued Democrats stand a good chance of regaining control of the House of Representatives if they can demonstrate “a new program, and a new direction for America.”Dean, the former governor of Vermont, 2004 candidate for the U.S. presidency and now chair of the Democratic National Committee, opened his talk with remarks about his sojourn in Aspen in the winter of 1971-72. He recalled that his jobs included a short stint working concrete, and then he washed dishes at the old Golden Horn restaurant at night while skiing 80 days on his $250 ski pass.Dean quickly warmed to the real subject: politics, racing through policy proposals, strategic planning concepts and the occasional one-liner like a tap dancer on speed.Ticking off a list of key issues that will headline the Democratic platforms in this year’s mid-term elections and in 2008, Dean said his party will focus on “values,” a territory that has been claimed by Republicans in recent years.Specifically, Democrats want to bring about health care reform that yields “universal health care” for all citizens; bring “openness and honesty back in our government”; and maintain a strong defensive capability while bringing troops home from Iraq soon.Dean stuck with the current Democrat party line, arguing that while the war in Iraq was “a terrible mistake” that he opposed from the start, “we can’t withdraw all our troops” immediately. Speaking of his own ideas about Iraq, Dean said the military should begin a “strategic redeployment” of troops. His plan would involve bringing some troops home within six months, sending others to a country near Iraq, and sending a larger force to Afghanistan to help stabilize that nation. All U.S. troops should be out of Iraq by 2007, he said.

Another key issue that the Democrats will address differently, he said, is abortion. To have an abortion or not is a difficult personal decision “that’s not for government to decide,” he said.”Abortion is not so great,” he said, “but this party is dedicated to keeping big government out of our lives.”As chair of the Democratic National Committee, Dean has been stumping for the past week, visiting Democrats around the country to raise money and boost morale.”I took over a party that was in good financial shape, but did not have a grass-roots effort … we do now,” he said.He said the Democrats had local party operatives only in about 20 “swing states” in the 2004 election, as opposed to a well-oiled Republican political machine that had grass-roots organizations in every state.Dean said Democrats are now putting down roots in every state, and declared that the results have already begun to show with wins in partisan contests in such Republican strongholds as Mississippi, Alabama and Utah.”We’re starting to win elections,” he enthused, adding that there is still plenty of time to organize before the next presidential contest.”I don’t mind modeling some of what we do after the Republicans,” he said with a smile, citing then-U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich’s “Contract on America, as we like to call it,” an electoral onslaught that in 1994 brought the Republicans control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in decades.Prior to that, he maintained, Republicans had been “Democrats-Lite,” and differences between the parties were blurred.

But mimicking Republican electoral strategies does not mean Democrats are trying to be like Republicans in policy matters.Democrats, he said, must “stand up and make it clear what the differences are” between the two parties, a line that brought moderate applause from the audience.He said the Democrats have a plan to “strengthen our borders and make sure that Americans control our ports,” a shot at President Bush recently giving management of some U.S. ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates.The Democrats also want to bring about “energy independence” for the United States through a domestic program emphasizing development of alternative energy sources that could “produce millions of new jobs” and help stabilize the economy.”We need middle-class tax fairness,” Dean continued. “The class warfare stuff doesn’t work.” What is needed, he said, is a “simplified” income tax system that evens out the tax load. A related issue, he said, is the need for pension reform, particularly now as corporations in fiscal trouble begin abandoning their pension obligations to employees, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab.As for public education, it needs to be more a matter of state and local policies, “no matter how pretty the slogan sounds, ‘No Child Left Behind.'”For the upcoming congressional races, “We are going to have some sort of a contract on America of our own,” he said, again referring to Gingrich’s political coup in 1994.Among the Democrats’ platforms will be pledges to raise the minimum wage, permit stem cell research, and call a halt to the sale of public lands for corporate profiteering. He said Democrats also will pledge to balance the federal budget, noting that the only president to do so in recent memory was Bill Clinton. The party would also immediately draw up ethics legislation to rein in the “Republican culture of corruption.”He conceded, though, that even if Democrats win back control of the House, “You may continue to see great polarization” between the two parties.

Still, reauthorization of the Patriot Act was postponed for a couple of months with Republican help, and there are other signs that Republican solidarity may be breaking up.”When your loyalty to your party is greater than your loyalty to your country, you’re not doing anybody any good, especially the country,” he intoned.Dean finished his talk by citing the parable of Cain and Able from the Christian bible. When God asked Cain where Able was (after Cain had killed Able), Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”Republicans, Dean said, have a similar philosophy in that they feel no responsibility for the poor, the homeless and the less fortunate.Democrats feel differently, he maintained.”We are the party of our brothers’ keepers,” he declared. And if that message can be transmitted effectively to the voters, “we’ll win the election,” he predicted.John Colson’s e-mail address is