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Weissman: Dean, His Democrats, and Mr. Bush's War

Dean, His Democrats, and Mr. Bush's War

By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 15 June 2005

Why do Democratic Party leaders and their friends in the mass media spend so much time attacking Howard Dean? And why do so many of us who oppose Mr. Bush's war in Iraq now shower Dr. Dean with praise, even love, despite his reluctance to join with us in opposing the continuing presence in Iraq of American troops?

Answers to both questions focus on the current fight among Democrats over the direction the party should take.

Those who've led the party in past years never wanted Dean to win the chairmanship. They prefer the status quo and feel indebted to the major financial contributors, who have little interest in seeing the party resume its traditional role as a true champion of the poor and middle classes.

Dean is now confirming the old leaders in their worst fears. He is attempting to weaken the influence of the big donors by raising money in small increments over the Internet, much as he did in his own campaign for president. He is also revitalizing state and local party groups, giving more clout to grassroots activists, many of whom want the party to come out strongly against the war.

Unlike the Old Guard, Dean understands two key dynamics needed for the Democrats to win elections. The party must engage the passion and conviction of the grassroots activists. And it must reach out to millions of people who no longer believe that politicians of either party fight for the interests of average working families.

"People want us to fight," Dean told the party's executive committee. "We are here to fight."

The Old Guard fear that the party will get out of their control and are naturally fighting back. The conflict has grown so severe that three major fund-raisers quit the Democratic National Committee, one of them citing "strategic differences."

At least for now, most of the differences are over style and political dynamics. The bluestocking Dean might at times sound like a populist, but he remains a centrist Democrat and fiscal conservative. And, like most leading Democrats, he argues that the United States must stay in Iraq no matter how much our presence there fuels greater conflict.

"Now that we're there, we're there and we can't get out," he told the Minnesota ACLU on April 20 of this year. "The president has created an enormous security problem for the United States where none existed before. But I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy now that he's there."(1)

Many of us who want to bring the troops home believe that Dean is dead wrong, and we will continue to tell him so. But that's just the point. By revitalizing the party's base and reducing the power of big money, he is giving us an increased chance to make our arguments and move the party in our direction.

This is an opening we cannot afford to ignore. Activists like the Progressive Democrats of America have already gotten several state party organizations to come out strongly against the war, and the battle has only just begun.

In time, Dr. Dean may join the anti-war movement. But, even if doesn't, he needs and deserves our support in his fight to keep the Democratic Party open and democratic.


(1) "Howard Dean Warns of Danger in Iraq Pullout," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 21, 2005.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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