Dean spends last stint as fellow backing Kerry

by Colin Barry | 8/10/04 5:00am

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean sat down with The Dartmouth on Aug. 5 to discuss the upcoming presidential race, the state of the American left and his own personal plans for the future.

In an interview, Dean said he would fully dedicate himself to Democratic nominee John Kerry's campaign for the next three months leading up to the presidential election.

"I'm going to do pretty much whatever [Kerry] asks," Dean said, including raising money and traveling on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

During the Democratic primary season last winter, Dean ran a hard-nosed campaign and had been critical of Kerry's positions on several issues, including the war in Iraq and health care coverage for poor Americans.

However, Dean dismissed such disparities as immaterial to his present support for Kerry.

"The policy differences between me and Kerry are really tiny compared to the policy differences between me and George Bush," Dean said.

After his defeat in the primaries, Dean has thrown much of his energy into Democracy for America, a grassroots liberal organization that draws much of its leadership and support from the ranks of former Dean organizers.

The former governor said he hopes Democracy for America will address the Democratic Party's inability to craft an effective grassroots movement in the past 20 years.

"Republicans have been successful at the grassroots because they know who they are," Dean said. "But Democrats have been trying to be Republicans."

If Democratic candidates are willing to stand up for socially progressive policies, Dean said, American voters will support them.

Accordingly, Democracy for America will provide financial and political support for "fiscally conservative, socially progressive candidates."

"We've raised a lot of money -- something in the neighborhood of two million dollars -- and we've got a huge grassroots organization. We still have more people on Meet-up than anyone else," Dean said, referring to a website that helps interest groups organize local and regional gatherings.

On Monday, Meet-up listed Democracy for America as having over 169,000 registered members.

The future of Democracy for America will depend somewhat on the outcome of November's presidential elections, Dean said, but the organization does have a long-term focus and mission.

"Even if Kerry wins, we'll continue to concentrate on local candidates and issues like healthcare for everyone," Dean said, citing school board and state senate races as a particular focus for his organization.

Dean, who was widely admired for his use of technology in the Democratic primaries, credited widespread Internet access with helping to make grassroots organizing vastly more effective.

"It's very expensive to do grassroots organizing without the Internet, and it's also difficult to have two-way communication with your supporters," Dean said. "The campaigns of the future will recognize that the Internet is not just a tool but a community of real people."

Dean kept fairly mum about his role in a possible Kerry administration. Although he acknowledged he would certainly consider a position "if I'm asked" and "if Kerry wins," Dean declined to speculate on what he would be most qualified to do. Political pundits in recent weeks have put Dean forward as the possible Secretary of Health and Human Services in a Kerry White House.

At the College last Thursday and Friday for his final summer stint as visiting fellow, Dean visited several classes, engaged in panel discussions and urged undergraduates to get involved in the political process at a barbecue at Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority.

He also participated in a brown bag lunch discussion Thursday with students and faculty about the prospect of a military draft.

Dean will return to Dartmouth in November to deliver a lecture after the presidential elections. He has visited campus multiple times over the summer as a Class of '30 fellow.