It was easily past midnight. After a week of long hours in the New Hampshire winter cold, little sleep, and eventual disappointment, we should have all collapsed from a combination of exhaustion and the figurative gut punch delivered to our candidate and us by the Democratic voters who turned out for the New Hampshire primary.
Instead, we found ourselves standing around an empty parking lot in Concord, New Hampshire not wanting to lose the sense of camraderie we had shared through the travails of being a volunteer on a well-financed presidential campaign in the dead of a New England winter. As we began to part, we promised not only to stay in touch, but meet again soon. One of us boasted, maybe it was me, I no longer remember, that we’d all see each other on January 20 the following year for the swearing-in of our candidate. I remember little about the fellow college student from Missouri, or the native from New Hampshire, or anything about the third person who made up our early morning survivor’s rally.
The man who brought us together that night and for the six days leading up to the primary had been Howard Dean.
Unlike most other volunteers on Dean’s presidential campaign in 2003 and 2004, I knew of the man for more than a decade. He had served as governor of Vermont for more than 10 years – eight of those when I was growing up in the state. In 2002, he began crossing the the Connecticut River to New Hampshire to speak to small crowds about the need for health care reform. That was to become the centerpiece of his campaign in the Democratic primary.
Then the lead-up to the Iraq War happened. With many Democrats in Congress falling in line with President Bush on the war, Dean came out against the war. In February 2003, he ordained himself the representative of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” His campaign took off as he spoke out against the war in Iraq.
Eventually, the campaign faltered. Dean’s loss in Iowa was compounded by his now infamous Dean Scream. With all his hopes now set in NH, he lost there and dropped out in February. In the years following his run, he maintained his reputation for being an outspoken voice for the Left. As DNC Chairman, he helped bring Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
When you are paid staff on a campaign, it is your professional reputation on the line. As a volunteer, especially on a presidential race, you put your pride and sense of self as a citizen on the line. You step into the political arena and try to do what you can to persuade fellow citizens that your candidate is best. And if you lose, but have fought righteously, you’ll be numb and sad and shaken. The morning after the loss, I rode Amtrak from Boston to New York in a daze because I not only thought we had a chance (note the first person plural – there is an ownership factor on campaigns), I thought Dean was the best person for the job in 2004 and that the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire had done a great disservice in depriving the rest of the country from having him as a choice.
That ownership and pride can stick around long after the campaign is over and other election cycles have come and gone. Earlier this week, a friend of mine sent me an article from Salon that opened my eyes to a simple fact: 2004 was a very long time ago. And it led me to a conclusion: I’m Done with Howard Dean.
According to Salon, Dean has been trading on his reputation as a darling of the Left as a DC lobbyist. While I was partially aware of Dean’s biopharmeceutical dealings during the health care debate, Salon’s article, “The Seduction of Howard Dean,” is the damning portrait of a man who once promised to be a different type of political figure.
During the 2009 debate over health care, Dean came out in support of biotech firms that wanted to bar biopharmeceutical generic drugs for 12 years. This would have made these drugs far more expensive for consumers. The consulting firm Dean works for, but is not registered as a lobbyist, just happens to represent the very biotech firms Dean supported in an op-ed he wrote for The Hill.
Dean’s non-lobbyist lobbying isn’t limited to fields he is well versed in, such as health care since he is a doctor. As a “strategic advisor” who does spend time talking to members of Congress, Dean has also become an outspoken and paid supporter of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian militant group. Since 1997, the MEK has been on the State Department’s Terrorist list and is considered by many to be a cult and carried out the Saddam Hussein ordered massacre of the Kurds in 1991. Reading some of his comments about the MEK, and you’d think he was the court sycophant.
The Washington Times asked Dean about his relationship with the MEK and he acknowledged that he had been asked to speak with them, but he knew nothing about the group. So he did his research on-line. Now he receives $20,000 a pop for ten minute speeches. Maybe Dean hasn’t heard of Wikipedia, because the MEK page is a pretty well sourced run-down of the MEK’s super shadiness and litany of human rights violations.
I’m not naive to the fact that people get paid to front groups they know little about or put their name on causes they don’t necessarily believe. It is just a fact of life in that moral swampland we call the Beltway. I think the charge against Dean that stings most for me is that he isn’t registered as a lobbyist. When Dean ran for president, he ran as, Salon put it, a plainspoken doctor. Dean for America seemed strikingly close to the West Wing’s Bartlett For America. Dean ran on issues, but he brought people to his campaign on this promise of being something different, something better than what we’d been getting from politicians of both parties. Now he ducks rules and transparency by not registering as lobbyist.
Less than a decade later, Dean is not just no better than those politicians. He is worse. As one of the many supporters, contributors, and believers in Dean for America, the reality is far bleaker. It is now, Dean for Dean. And for that reason, I’m done with Dean.