Friday, April 20, 2007

On Chairman Dean

(DNC Chairman Governor Howard Dean will keynote the upcoming Oklahoma Democratic Party State Convention in Oklahoma City. A Denver Post writer recently posted the following thoughts about Dean and his vision for the Democratic Party. Here in Oklahoma the State Party has been the beneficiary of Dean's 50 State Strategy through staffing and technical support. Read the following interview with Dean then check out the DNC website at

April 8, 2007
The Chairman
Posted by John Aloysius Farrell

Hi. For this morning’s story on Howard Dean I traveled with the chairman of the Democratic Party to Eastern University, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and watched him launch a tour of evangelical Christian campuses.
A few days later, we sat down in his office at the Democratic National Committee and talked about the evangelical outreach program; the Denver convention; his 50 State Strategy; abortion, gun control and other issues. He seemed happy, and enthused, and ambitious and cocky - in short, like Howard Dean. Here are some segments from that interview.

On evangelical voters:

“We got 29 percent of the evangelical vote in the 2006 elections and we got 19 percent in 2004….Now there are going to be some people like that we will never get. But I have spent a lot of time talking to some very well known evangelicals and I’ll say….`I’m not even asking for your vote, all we are trying to do is make sure that we talk to each other.’ And that will change the whole dynamic in this country, because basically right now and there has been, since Karl Rove got here, a dynamic of division and anger rather than a dynamic of cooperation.”

On the 50 State Strategy:

“You ask everybody for their vote….you show up everywhere….you will be amazed who will consider voting for you if you only ask them.
“For 30 years we have basically been a shrinking party, ever since the Nixon 1968 Southern strategy … which evolved into a Western strategy and a rural strategy, and we just haven’t competed. We have been afraid to.
“And this notion that we are going to do the math and if we miss two states we are going to lose the presidency is crazy.
“If you want to be a national party and govern the country you have to respect the people who didn’t vote for you….When I was governor everybody was my boss. If you voted, it didn’t matter if you voted for me or against me you were still my boss.
“It is one of the things, one of the many things the president has done to debase the country….It happened in Colorado…where a group of people were kicked out of some rally he did because they had bumper stickers for Kerry. Well that is ridiculous. It is not good for the country.
“Unfortunately, the president…one of his many weaknesses…is that he is only president of half the people because he deliberately decided he didn’t care about the other half of the people. You know that is not the way to govern. You have got to be respectful of everybody, even those you disagree with.
“And you also have to stand up for something. That is the other thing that I believe. We are not going to appeal to everybody by trying to agree with everybody. We are going to go out there and say what we believe in a thoughtful and respectful way but make it clear that we have some core beliefs. That is something the Democrats have suffered from for a long time - a shrinking party concentrating on fewer and fewer voters and letting our beliefs be dictated to us by pollsters. That is a formula for losing on two counts.”

On why he ran for chairman:

“Because…I didn’t get the job I auditioned for. I was looking for another opportunity. I basically concluded that if I didn’t get the job I wanted the next thing to do was to try and get done what I wanted but through a different route, which is re-energize the Democratic Party and reestablish a Democratic majority and then get the party to understand it had an obligation to make sure America was a fair society, which is something that has been grossly absent … in the last six years. So I took this job because I believed it wasn’t possible to win the presidency without a party that was vibrant. And I met with the state chairs because they, like many Americans, were being ignored by the Democratic establishment. I thought that was a huge mistake….
“When I took this job what happened was we had existing parties in every state, but most…were dysfunctional because they had no resources of any kind and therefore they couldn’t produce; therefore nobody would invest in them; therefore they couldn’t produce.
“I decided that we had to make the state parties functional again; that it was impossible to run a campaign for 300 million people out of Washington; that you had to do it from the states and the counties, and that what we would do is recreate grassroots politics.”

On the 50 State Strategy and his 2004 campaign:

“This is all about empowering people. That, I learned from the campaign. The campaign was a huge learning experience for me about people, about the desperateness for feeling some sense of control over their lives which has essentially been stripped from them by the Right Wing. And the willingness of people to understand that they did have power over their lives.
“They created me. I didn’t create them. I came from no place. We started with $160,000 in the bank, and our first office was a second floor office over a chiropractor’s office in Montpelier…started from nothing. And that was because people were so hungry to reassert some influence over their own lives. And that was what that campaign was all about. And the way I run the DNC is modeled on what happened in that campaign. I was taught by my supporters and not the other way around.
“When I went to Seattle as this candidate no one had heard of and 10,000 people showed up, I just was blown away and it happened again in Bryant Park in New York. It was just astonishing. And then I realized that people had power, they just didn’t know it. And that is where `You have the power’ came from. And that once they were willing to exert it, they could be trusted with it….
“We were in the same vicious cycle that the state parties were in: every four years somebody would come along and run a campaign and the DNC wasn’t part of that. And that is not a prescription for how to get your message out to 300 million people. You have to be at it all the time. The Republicans - I make no bones about it - we have copied a lot of things from the Republican National Committee. They know how to win elections. They are very well organized. They have great technology. All of which we have now exceeded - we may not have exceeded in terms of organization but I know we have better technology now.
“We have to be organized and disciplined and we have to be everywhere and that is basically the philosophy that came out of my campaign and it worked.”

On his clash with congressional leaders over money and other resources last fall:

“I am the CEO of this corporation….
“We raised this money and we’re going to spend it the way we think we ought to spend it in order to build the party. The other guys had their own objectives – to take over Congress, to take over the Senate – and of course we are going to be very supportive. We were very supportive. But we are building for the long term here….
“I don’t think I want to get into it, because I don’t want to rekindle those fights. But there are some very interesting statistics about whose targeted races won and whose didn’t.”

On why party building is important, even in states that tilt Republican:

“We put a quarter of a million dollars in Mississippi a year…for staffing. We don’t give them money but we give them staffing. And why is that? Because…we have a Democratic legislature in Mississippi and we hope to continue to have a Democratic legislature in Mississippi. That stuff matters.
“We need to be in Mississippi for two reasons. First of all we need to build for the future. And second of all there are 50,000 kids in Mississippi who are dependent on a Democratic majority in the Mississippi House; which is all that stands between (Republican Gov.) Haley Barbour and stripping those kids of their health insurance. That is why we have to be in Mississippi for now, and we have to be in Mississippi for later, because some day we will win Mississippi. And that day will be never if you don’t start now.”

On the chance that a Democratic president, or the 2008 nominee, will convert the DNC to his or her own political purposes and drop the 50 State Strategy:

“If you have a Democratic president that will be up to the Democratic president. I am not going to think about that….
“This is a long haul….It has proved that it works. We are not talking about huge sums of money.
“What we are really doing is investing in states and giving the presidential candidate a baseline in every state so that as we select the target states for 2008 the field will be wider. One of the most extraordinary things about the 2006 election was the field kept getting wider and wider the closer you get to the election.
“If you get the president, the right wing president, having to campaign in Idaho and Nebraska on the last weekend before the election you know you have done your job right. Because you are always better playing on their territory than you are on our territory. If you are playing defense in politics, you are losing. Period. So you never want to play defense in politics. You always want to be fighting on their territory; and that is what we did in 2006 and that is what I intend to do in 2008….
“Nobody can build what we have because nobody will get the state stuff, except us, because we have a relationship with the states….It’s going to be collaborative. My job is to get the next President of the United States elected as a Democrat.”

On polls that show Americans don’t know what Democrats stand for anymore:

“I think there was a lot of gnashing of teeth about that. About branding. We spent a lot of time on that with Senator (Harry) Reid, his office, and (House speaker) Nancy Pelosi and also mayors and governors. And I think that is going to be the hardest thing – to rebrand the Democratic Party.
“But I’ll tell you what I want the brand to be. Two components of the brand will be…tough, and fair. That is what I think we have to be. That is what people expect out of a leader. I think they liked Bush because he was tough, but then of course they realized he wasn’t fair. The only other question is do you have something about competence in there, because that sets us apart from the Republicans.
“Among the public I would disagree that nobody can tell you what the Democratic Party stands for. Fairness is something that ranks high among Democrats. Fairness slash compassion. The only thing is, that is not enough to win. You have to have toughness. I think our argument is not putting 12,000 kids in Walter Reed Hospital and not taking care of them. Toughness is also being smart, and that is something that has been absent in this administration.”

On sharing the role of party spokesman with the leaders of Congress:

“In the beginning I was pretty outspoken but now others have that role. When you have the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader you don’t need the chairman of the party being on the talk shows. But early on I was on a lot of those talk shows because I felt I was one of the leading spokesmen for the Democratic Party.
“You know, I am happy…but I am not as visible as I was…because we have the majority in Congress and the House. That is real power. We didn’t have that when I started and now we do. My object is not to make sure I am the center of power. My object is to make sure things get done. I am very satisfied with what is going on in Congress. I am very happy. I think Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi are both doing a great job and I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t think so, as you well know.
“I want to rebuild the Democratic Party but I want to rebuild the Democratic Party because it is good for America, not because it is good for the Democratic Party. I happen to think that most of the things that are good for America are good for the Democratic Party and vice versa. The issue of fairness. The issue of an economic system that works for everybody and not just a few people. That is good for America, but it also happens to be a core value of the Democratic Party. But I didn’t take this job because I’m a Democrat, I took this job because I’m an American and I think our country is in real trouble.”

On his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe:

“Terry did a great job here.
“If I had an $18 million debt to pay when I got here we would have been dead. We couldn’t have done any of these things.”

On selecting Denver for the 2008 convention:

“I wanted to go if we could. I wanted to do the hard thing and not the easy thing. It is easy to go to someplace where everybody loves you and there are no problems. But if you want to expand the pie to get more votes you have to go to the places where people don’t know much about you or maybe they don’t love you because they have heard the wrong thing about you from the opposite party and you haven’t been there to defend yourself. And I knew enough from my own campaign that the Rocky Mountain West was ready to go our way.
“There is one thing about the Rocky Mountain West folks is they may tend historically to be a little bit Republican. But they are not conservative, they are libertarian. And Bush is a control freak. `Do as I say. Live the way we tell you to live. We don’t give a damn what you think. It’s my way or hit the highway.’ That doesn’t go well in Colorado or Arizona or Wyoming.
“I lived in Colorado…in two stints…I lived in Denver and moved furniture the first time when I was in college and I lived in Aspen for a year, doing concrete and dishwashing and skiing…before it turned into Fifth Avenue on our slopes…so I just knew we had a chance. Because I knew what the Republicans were doing was really offensive to kind of the spirit of the West, because the West was libertarian, not necessarily conservative. I think we can win those states. I believe it is possible for the next Democratic nominee to win Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
“Utah and Wyoming are probably a little tough but you know it doesn’t mean we won’t work there. As I tell the story – I go through all these things we won in 2005: the mayor of Mobile, Alabama, the mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, four special elections to their zero in Mississippi, and then I say, and my cousin, the Irish Catholic Democrat, which makes him a triple minority in Utah, is mayor of the largest county in Utah, which has a million people, second only to the state itself in terms of its electoral size…Peter Carone. Go look it up. People love him. Salt Lake County.”

On the risks of choosing Denver:

“I wanted to go West. I have to say I discovered this is very complicated – the convention. You can’t just go in and say, we are going to go West. It has a lot to do with who can do the best job on the hotels, who has the transit system that works for you, who can raise money, because that matters, what kind of facilities you have – so Denver wasn’t best in everything but they were the best in some things and that is what really matters.
“Clearly, labor relations is an issue in Denver. It is probably the hottest one right now and we need to deal with that. But I think we can do that. Again, if you go where it is easy all the time you don’t get any additional votes. You don’t get any credit. So, Denver is a little risky, but if you don’t take risks you don’t win.
“It came down, as you know, to Denver, Minneapolis and New York. None of them were a slam dunk. All were really tough. In fact there was a time when we didn’t think we were going to go to Denver. It’s very, very complicated….
“They used to have a site selection committee, which was basically 50 people you owed favors to, who would be wined and dined and the cities just got sick of that. It was costing them a fortune. And the chairman makes the selection anyway. So we got rid of that and we just sent a technical team out….only six or eight people…and they did all the work….
“It is hard to resist the chance to take credit…but I have been in Washington long enough to know that if you take it you get screwed.”

On whether his moderate positions on contentious social issues like abortion and gun control are angering the party’s liberal interest groups:

“We haven’t changed our position on womens rights. We are just saying look for where there is common ground.
“I happen to come from a state where there is an enormous amount of hunting, so I probably find myself on a different side than an urban Democrat on gun issues. I probably find myself where (Montana Gov. Brian) Schweitzer is, for example. But I don’t think that has to be a party issue. What I said during the campaign is cities and states ought to be able to make their own rules about guns. Because the need is so different. In an urban environment the vast majority of the people are in favor of gun control of some kind. Well that is their business. But I don’t think we ought to have a national gun control law
“In my state we had the lowest homicide rate in America. We were always in the bottom two or three or four. So why should gun control be imposed on Vermont, or Montana?
“We have got to be flexible on that issue….On the other stuff, we are not going to give up on civil rights for every American - including gay and lesbian Americans - and we are not going to give up on women’s rights.
“But…there are things we can all agree on…most of us can all agree on…70 or 80 percent. One of those is that we ought to reduce the number of abortions dramatically. Now the Republicans always talk about that and the abortions always seem to go up a little under Republican presidents. So…instead of looking at the things we disagree on all the time, why not look at the things we agree on and get those done. Instead of fighting over things that never get settled….
“Initially there was some concern (among feminists) and the reason was people from my generation fought like crazy for these rights. And…when you change the language the concern is you are going to change the willingness to stand up and preserve the rights: I’m not.
“I make that very clear. We are as committed to gay and lesbian rights, and women’s rights, as we always have been. But I think there are things we can work with people that disagree with us on. We ought to focus on what we can do together instead of focusing on fighting all the time. If you came to me and said, Okay I will work with you as long as you agree to make abortion illegal, I’m going to say, `Absolutely not.’
“Abortion is something that it would be better that we didn’t have to have, but we do have to have it because otherwise women die in back alleys and we do have to have it because there are certain circumstances under which the government ought not to be inserting itself into peoples private lives. Now, having said that and therefore put myself at odds with so-called pro-life people – and I would maintain that Democrats are every bit as pro-life, in fact more so, than Republicans are, by definition because we do support all the programs that are essential for life and the Republicans never seem to get around to doing that – having said that I can then say to the folks who call themselves pro-life and want to have no abortion, okay, we are never going to agree on this issue.
“But there is a middle ground. Not having anything to do with whether you outlaw abortion or not - because we are never going to agree - but we all agree that we ought to be reducing the number of abortions. Why don’t we focus on that, instead of focusing on something we are never going to solve?
“The evangelicals don’t have much of a problem with contraception for the most part. It is the Catholic Church that has that problem. But you know you can’t have everything. We will work with people who want to reduce abortion, but that is going to have to include some contraception. I’m not saying we are going to be able to work with everybody. Some people are just going to say no. That is fine. The Catholic Church, maybe you can’t work with them on the issue of abortion, or contraception but you can work with them on social justice issues, you can work with them on immigration, you can work with them on education, you can work with them on health care. So there is a whole agenda there that the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church share.
“I’m not saying we are going to get every conservative to vote for us, or even something close to half the conservatives, but the message I want to send to people who don’t vote for us are, you may not vote for us but we still are willing to respect you and work with you on the areas we can agree on.
“They talk about abortion as a series of values. Well, we have values in abortion too. They are, we believe it is wrong for the federal government to intervene in personal matters; we believe that rapists don’t have as much right as the 14-year-old girl they have impregnated; we believe that women have a right to make up their own minds about things in their personal life that ought not to be dictated by a predominantly male group up here. Those are important values. Values of independence and the individual being able to stand up for themselves with some rights and freedoms, as opposed to what we would call their values. They will put their spin on it, but we should not be absent from the value debate.”

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