May 8-14, 2003
Photo By: Michael T. Regan
Presidential candidate Howard Dean, here to raise money and his profile, chats about war, economics and his resemblance to Josiah Bartlet.
The man who would be Eagle One is moving, on his way out of town, to Princeton.
It has been a quick visit to Philadelphia for Howard Dean, the good doctor from Vermont who is one of nine Democrats seeking the partys nod to take on George Bush. The states former governor -- in many ways the real-life version of Martin Sheens fictitious West Wing president, Josiah Bartlet -- has been here for almost an hour now to raise funds and, just as importantly, raise his awareness on the morning after his partys earliest debate ever.
The 54-year-old Dean, who signed into law Vermont's civil union legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry, arrives in Philadelphia during the Equality Forum, an international gay rights event. At Mixto, one of the best Latin restaurants in the country, Dean delivers a quick pep talk to the hundred or so very enthusiastic Dean-o-philes eager to give their cash, and their hours, to the man they want to see in the White House.
The room is mostly white, with some Latinos -- like Angel Ortiz, who helped sponsor this event at a time when he is facing his stiffest election challenge yet -- and few blacks. There are many lesbian and gay activists and political heavy hitters, like Ortiz's legislative aide, Mike Marsico.
Long road: Polls show Howard Dean trailing his partyâs leaders.
Photo By Michael T. Regan
Arriving candidate-fashionably late, Dean is given a raucous welcome and delivers his stump speech, taking on Bush and the squeamishness of his own party, and acknowledging the homogeneity of his audience.
It is a big moment for the candidate.
Just days earlier, Zogby International released polling data showing Dean trailing the party's top contenders, with Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt widening his lead to 25 percent (among voters likely to take part in the January 2004 Iowa caucus), followed by Massachusetts Senator (and frequent Dean sparring partner) John Kerry with 13 percent and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman at 9 percent. Dean, by comparison, garnered support from 6 percent of the 387 likely voters. Also, the Zogby poll shows that, of the nine Dems, only Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is less familiar to voters than Dean -- 77 percent of respondents said they were unfamiliar with Kucinich compared to 69 percent for Dean. And all this comes right on the heels of a debate that some observers say the candidate could have handled better.
But if Dean is feeling disappointment on this glorious Sunday, he's not letting on as he moves through the swarming throng of supporters on the way to his next stop in the grassroots outreach he calls "meetups" -- gatherings of supporters who coalesce via the Internet and get together for rallies like this.
Howard Dean could not have asked for a better day to be in Philadelphia. Thousands of people who will likely be his most ardent supporters have gathered here for the Equality Forum.
Though he won't be taking part in the Forum, Dean takes the opportunity to lash out at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community's arch nemesis, Pennsylvania junior Senator Rick Santorum, whose recent comments to the AP engendered so much anger.
On the sidewalk outside of Mixto, as a very Dean-friendly crowd gathers, the candidate rakes Santorum via his answer to a question from an NPR reporter, who is here to ask him about that and then leave.
"I was deeply disappointed," Dean says of Santorum's comments. "The senator, as many Republicans, tends toward divisiveness. I think equating a group of people with child molesters is despicable."
Dean is quick to turn Santorum -- whom he has already asked to step down -- into a liability for Bush.
"I am terribly disappointed that the president of the United States is coming to his rescue," says Dean. "It is bad enough when a United States senator deliberately divides us, but when the president, for political purposes, also divides us, as he divided the races when he used the word quotas' deliberately, we need a new president."
That said, the woman from NPR departs.
"Let's walk," says a Dean campaign official, giving me about 10 minutes alone with the candidate, in no small measure because former CP Editor in Chief David Warner's life partner, Larry Biddle, brings in money for the Dean campaign as deputy national finance director.
It is hectic, keeping pace with Dean, shoving a microphone in his face as we walk briskly westward on Pine Street, heading toward the Dean Machine.
The first thing I want to know is what Dean -- who, as governor of a largely rural state, never had to deal with the large-scale problems of a major urban center -- will do for Philadelphia. There are plenty of other questions as well. In our time together, Dean talks politics, economics, race, lobs a shot at George Stephanopoulos and even plays up his resemblance to President Bartlet.
Education, says Dean, is the key to how he will help Philly.
Howard Dean: I think the "No Child Left Behind" bill is a disaster. [The legislation is officially described as changing "the federal government's role in kindergarten-through-grade-12 education by asking America's schools to describe their success in terms of what each student accomplishes."] I have yet to meet an educator anywhere in America who thinks this is a constructive bill. I want to get rid of No Child Left Behind. It is a huge unfunded mandate that caused property taxes to rise everywhere in America. Then I want to fully fund our share of special education, which we were promised by the federal government 30 years ago -- that [failure] also raises property taxes. This president gave everyone an income tax cut if they have lots of money, but then he took away the money from the middle class by raising their property taxes, and that has to be undone. And I would say [get] rid of the majority of the president's tax cut and [move] toward a balanced budget and then [use] the federal budget to fund property tax relief and smaller class sizes by fully funding education.
City Paper: How much of the Bush tax cut should we get rid of?
HD: Most of it. There are a few things that will help small businesses and small businesses are the way to turn around the economy. Small businesses create more jobs than big businesses do and small businesses don't move their jobs off-shore, so this economic revival ought to be about making sure that small businesses can hire extra people and can invest in capital.
CP: How tough will it be for an antiwar Democrat to win?
HD: I think it can be done principally because standing up against war was a matter of examining foreign policy and proving that the president was wrong. Nobody thinks Saddam Hussein is a good person and everyone is delighted he is gone, including me, but the problem is, we've now set, along with support of almost every major Democratic candidate, a policy of preventive war that is going to get us in trouble later on and other countries will use that for justification for their own wars. I think we could have contained Saddam indefinitely and I don't think he was a danger to the country. The president said he was and now there is no evidence at all that weapons of mass destruction ever were going to terrorists and I didn't think there was that much evidence to begin with. I am very willing to use American military power. I don't think you can run for president and not be willing to do that, but I think you have to be much more clear than [President Bush has been] about when to use it, and I also think that we ought to use diplomacy first and I think this president has avoided that at all costs.
CP: What would be your next move in Iraq?
HD: Now that we are in Iraq, we have to make sure it becomes a democratic society. That is going to take a long time. They have no institutions for the rule of law at all. What we need is to bring in NATO and the United Nations. The right wing objects to that because they think the French and Germans weren't nice to us, but this is not about the French and Germans. This is about American troops, who, every day that they are there, are going to be seen more as occupiers and less as liberators. The reason we need NATO and the U.N. in is that that will take pressure off American troops and save American lives and make sure the reconstruction of Iraq can take the time it needs to, because there is no way the American people are going to put up with American troops in Iraq for 10 years, and it is going to take at least that long to turn Iraq into a democratic society.
CP: How do you react to Kerry using his war-hero status against you?
HD: I don't. Senator Kerry was a war hero in Vietnam and we should respect him for that, but that was 30 years ago. Now we have some substantial differences on how to conduct foreign policy, and we have very significant differences on American tax policy, about American educational policy, and those differences are fair game.
CP: How do you think your stance against the war and the president's tax cuts are resonating with the American public?
HD: I don't think most of the American people have much of an idea who I am, but they certainly do in Iowa and South Carolina and New Hampshire. And that is our job in the campaign, to make sure our views get out.
CP: At the fundraiser, you said back in the day, people were "more self-destructive." How destructive were you?
HD: That's the only thing I agree with George Bush on -- that it is irrelevant to the presidency. And I am not going to get into it. How did he put it? "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible," and that doesn't have much relevance to the presidency and I am going to leave it at that.
CP: Sat., May 3, was the earliest Democratic debate in history. What does such an early debate say?
HD: It says we can beat the president. He is very strong in the polls, but there are a lot of people a) who think he can be beaten, and b) are desperate to get him out of there because of his incredibly destructive economic policy.
CP: How did the debate go?
HD: I think it went fine. We got to air some differences, which was fine. And, it is a hard format with nine people and not much airtime and [moderator] George [Stephanopoulos] is somewhat of a control freak. We mostly got to talk about what he wanted to talk about, rather than what we wanted to talk about.
CP: What did you want to talk about that didn't get talked about?
HD: I would have liked to spend a lot more time on why we need health care and how to stimulate the economy in terms of helping small businesses. I would like to have had a more reasonable discussion of foreign policy, instead of "he said this" and "she said that."
CP: What do you have to do to excite the electorate?
HD: The people who know me are excited and the question is, how do I branch out to others? And that is what I am doing now. The next six to eight months are going to be spent reaching out to groups just like that, getting them excited and working. We have 19,000 volunteers in 200 cities. That number is growing by 1,000 every two or three weeks. The enthusiasm is there. The question is, in a nation of 290 million people, how do you get that message out? And that's word of mouth. And the Net is an incredibly powerful organizing tool.
CP: How do you, a Yankee, reach the Southern voter?
HD: The message I give to people is this: If you are only interested in white voters in the South, they have been voting Republican for 30 years, because Republicans have divided us by social issues. What I say is, "Do your kids have health insurance?" First. Secondly: "Are you happy with the quality of your kids' schools?" Third: "Do you think your kids have a decent chance to get a college education?" Fourth: "Have you had a raise in the last five years?" Fifth: "Has your job gone to China?" If after those questions voters aren't thinking about whether they should vote Democratic or not, then they never will vote Democratic. I want people to put aside all the social issues that divide them. What's more important, the Confederate flag or health insurance for your own children? And those are things, variations of that, you can talk to every American about. A lot of Americans are hurting because of the president's economic policies. What they need to do is understand that Republicans will never make that better, because they can't control money, they can't balance budgets, they borrow money they don't have and they give it away to people who don't need it.
CP: What's wrong with your party? They've knuckled under to Bush.
HD: They are so desperate to get elected that they are willing to do anything. That's why they don't get elected.
CP: Explain affirmative action to people who feel that no one deserves an extra shot at a job.
HD: It is in their benefit, because the people who feel that way don't understand that they will be the beneficiaries of that. A lot of working people who are white don't like affirmative action because they think it gives someone of color an advantage over them, but that's not true. If you run affirmative action properly, it gives people who don't have advantages the advantages they otherwise wouldn't have and that includes a lot of white people who are really struggling too.
CP: There was an overwhelmingly white crowd at Mixto. What does that say and what do you do?
HD: We just reach out. My organization in South Carolina is overwhelmingly African-American, so it is uneven state to state. We do have a plan and a project to bring more African Americans and Latinos in particular into our organization. We're having some success with that, but it is going to take some time.
CP: What about the Josiah Bartlet comparison?
HD: I love it. Martin Sheen endorsed us and I couldn't be more happy.