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Students give Dean a hero’s welcome

Former presidential candidate tells capacity crowd to stay involved in the political process

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean dropped out of the presidential race in February, but the reception for his speech yesterday in the Salomon Center more closely resembled a campaign rally than a lecture on the long-term implications of this year’s election.

In a speech and long question-and-answer session marked by his trademark straightforwardness and punctuated by bursts of applause and occasional shouts of agreement, Dean struck hard at the Republican message, although he did not spare his own party for running a losing strategy.

“I think if we want to win elections as Democrats, we have got to stop playing on the Republicans’ field. The Republicans want to run every election on guns, God, gays and abortion. I want to run it on public education, health care and job opportunities,” he said.

Speaking to a crowd that included many “Deaniacs” and campaign volunteers, Dean emphasized the importance of mobilizing the grassroots in order to revitalize American democracy. Dean’s organization, Democracy for America, fundraises and campaigns for candidates in positions at city, county and state levels as well as in Congressional races.

“You know what the Republicans and the right wing did that was so smart so many years ago? They ran somebody for every office,” he told a raucously supportive crowd of 850, including those watching a simulcast in Salomon 001. “The name of the game is not in Congress … The game starts with school board and inspector of elections.”

The purpose of Democracy for America is “to build a progressive network around the country to try to recapture the Democratic Party, give it some energy, and to provide a real alternative to the right wing,” Dean told The Herald in an interview before his speech. “We don’t care if people can win or not … but the point of this is to have good, strong, articulate candidates who will make our case.”

Dean exhorted students to not just vote but canvass, give money and, most importantly, run for office.

“Voting, in my view, only gets you a D,” he said. “You want an A? You’ve got to run for office.”

Dean, the former governor of Vermont, told The Herald he has been speaking on college campuses in his work in support of Sen. John Kerry because college students have a stake in preventing a reinstitution of the military draft. “(Bush) has now dug himself into a really deep hole, and I think a draft is inevitable if he’s reelected,” he said.

In the question-and-answer session, students sought advice on how best to participate, hints as to Dean’s future political aspirations and an answer to the riddle of Bush’s popularity.

“The Republicans are essentially the best propaganda machine since Lenin,” Dean told The Herald. “I do not think that the American people are stupid, and I think they’re going to figure this out.”

Kerry, whom Dean said he tries to speak to every few weeks, “actually does understand policy, which is more than I can say for the current incumbent, who knows politics but doesn’t give a damn about policy,” he told the audience.

Dean dismissed the Republican assertion that Kerry “flip-flops” as identifying a weakness in President’s decision-making. “If you don’t flip-flop a little bit, you’re a crappy president, as Bush has shown,” he said. “This administration doesn’t care what the facts are.”

The Kerry campaign, he said, is coming out stronger, drawing Bush to compare Kerry’s attacks to Dean’s in a speech this week.

“I think the pensive part of this campaign is behind us and you’re going to start to see some bare knuckles,” Dean said.

As for the possibility of another Dean candidacy in 2008 or 2012, the former candidate said, “It was much easier to run for president when I had no idea what it took, so I certainly wouldn’t rule that out, but I’d think about it more carefully.”

Dean preached largely to an audience of the converted, most of whom arrived hours early to get a seat or stayed over from the class in the auditorium beforehand, but students said that hearing him in person drove home his message.

“It was really refreshing to hear him live and hear all the energy that we’ve heard about in the media during the campaign,” Cara Morse ’06 said.

“I definitely saw the type of argument and passion that got Dean so far in the primaries,” agreed Sean Siperstein ’05.

At least one audience member was less than enthusiastic about Dean’s dismissal of the need to go to war against Iraq. Pratik Chouguli ’08 wore his Bush/Cheney ’04 shirt to the speech and was disappointed that he did not have a chance to ask his question. “I wanted to ask, even not thinking there were WMDs, did you not think that it was moral to remove a tyrant and a genocide and bring democracy,” he said.

Professor of Political Science Darrell West, the director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, said he thought Dean had been a good choice for this year’s Noah Krieger lecture. “He’s an excellent public speaker, and he’s someone who’s very attractive to a youth audience,” West said. An unknown number of students had to be turned away from the lecture, and West said depending on the speaker, next year’s Krieger lecture might be simulcast in more locations.

Two years ago, West said, only 30 people attended a talk Dean gave at the Taubman Center. “Today, we have an audience of over 800,” he said. “I think that is a sign of the deep respect and great enthusiasm that this community holds towards Howard Dean.”

Herald news editor Sara Perkins ’06 can be reached at

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