In defense of Howard Dean

By Sarah Eldridge

In two previous articles in the Maroon, Andrew Hammond has tried to make the case the Howard Dean is not a Democratic candidate who can beat President Bush in the upcoming presidential election. His assessment of the situation and the factors at work consistently underestimate Dean’s capabilities, appeal, and potential.

In his original article, Hammond worries that Karl Rove will “sink his teeth into” Dean, making Dean unpopular with anyone who isn’t from the Northeast. This complaint is not particularly relevant—Rove and the Bush administration will attack any candidate who emerges as a front-runner; this is not specific to Dean, nor is it a reason that Dean can’t beat Bush. It is just part of the crassness of Republican campaign strategy.

Hammond also points to Dean’s lack of experience as a major barrier to winning? Although Dean does not have direct foreign policy experience, he has concrete goals for dealing with current foreign policy issues: he wants to get American troops out of Iraq and work on reconstruction through the U.N., and he wants to aid Israelis and Palestinians in the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state. He plans to involve the international community and to undo the damage done by Bush’s isolationist policies. Dean is ready to assume responsibility for these issues and to keep the American public informed about the United States’s actions abroad. This will not “appear pathetic” to the American people, as Hammond fears—rather, it is a marked and welcome change from a cabinet whose prior “experience” has led it to be practiced at the art of deception and at furthering private agendas dictated by special interest groups.

On domestic issues, Dean is a strong candidate with a great deal of experience. He is committed to improving quality of life for the average American. He has promised to take the government out of the hands of special interest groups and give it back to ordinary voters. This means no more tax breaks for big companies who might donate prodigious amounts of money to candidates. Dean’s fundraising method has already begun to combat this type of campaigning he declined federal funds which match contributions made by supporters, but places a cap of $45 million on fundraising. This strategy will allow Dean to obtain the funds he needs to be elected. Then, with the support of the American people—not just American corporations—Dean will create programs that benefit large sectors of the population. Dean’s experience as governor of Vermont has prepared him extremely well for this kind of domestic policy.

Although he neglects Dean’s ability to appeal to people on the basis of issues, Hammond is quick to mention what he calls Dean’s lack of “charisma.” On this point Hammond is simply wrong. Howard Dean may not be good at slinging mud in other candidates’ faces on national television, but he is very good at reawakening political interest in formerly apathetic voters. He has shown himself to be honest, straightforward, committed, and passionate about serving his country. He has used the Internet to reach out to uninspired Americans across the nation and sparked a grassroots movement unequalled by any other candidate including President Bush. This is not the work of a man without charisma.

Lastly, Hammond argues that Dean cannot possibly build the electoral map needed to beat Bush. One of his major reasons for this claim is that Dean is not from the South and hence will never gain support there. But in fact Dean has been reaching out to Southerners through issues that are as relevant in Tennessee as they are in Vermont. Jesse Jackson Jr. supports Dean’s policy in the South as an important change from other candidates’ approaches: ” make wedge issues out of prayer in school, the Ten Commandments on public buildings, civil unions…It is Dr. Dean who is reminding us that the combination of poor and working class blacks and whites, North and South, united in coalition around a common economic agenda of jobs, health care, education and housing will constitute a winning strategy in 2004.” Furthermore, Dean’s support base is much more widespread than Hammond seems to realize. Dean has received a joint endorsement from the Service Employees’ International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Both unions have considerable minority membership and are powerful influences on working-class voters.

Howard Dean is the front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination. He is a firm liberal with strong economic and domestic policy records and clear goals for foreign policy. His honesty and charisma have built him a network of supporters that transcends socio-economic, racial, and regional boundaries. He has raised more money than any other Democratic candidate, and his refusal of federal funds will enable him to maintain financial strength. He has received support from groups with diverse membership and important political influence. Howard Dean is ready to beat George W. Bush.