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You Have the Power is an energetic and detailed guide to restoring American democracy. It exposes the radical extremism of today's "mainstream" Republicans and shows Democrats how to be Democrats again. By reigniting hope, by tapping into the ...
You Have the Power is an energetic and detailed guide to restoring American democracy. It exposes the radical extremism of today's "mainstream" Republicans and shows Democrats how to be Democrats again. By reigniting hope, by tapping into the energy and ideals of the American people, Dean writes, the Democrats can restore America's strength and standing at home and abroad.
Drawing on his experience in the 2004 presidential election and the hope and inspiration of the people he met on the campaign trail, Dean shows how real people -- ordinary Americans like himself -- can come together to take their party, the political process, and their country back.
Election Days are always tense affairs, and Tuesday, November 2, 2004, was no different. I had ended my own campaign for the presidency nine months earlier, but in the weeks that followed, I had devoted myself to barnstorming the country on behalf of John Kerry and scores of other candidates who shared our vision for a fiscally responsible, socially progressive America.
I've been through several Election Days when my own name was on the ballot, and once the voting begins, there's a feeling of powerlessness — you've done all you can do, and now it is in the hands of others. Even with the radio interviews and get-out-the-vote calls I was making, this day felt the same way, especially given that I had early-voted in Burlington the week before.
I settled into my office at Democracy for America, the grassroots organization that had grown out of the Dean for America campaign, and began engaging in gossip that runs rampant every Election Day. "What are you hearing?" "Record turnout in Philadelphia?" "Some irregularities in Ohio?" "Long lines at the polls in southern Florida." From these disparate tea leaves, you try to divine the mood of 120 million voters and get a sense of what things will look like when the polls close.
By two p.m., we had our first real information — preliminary exit polling information from the battleground states. Exit polling data comes from the National Election Pool, a consortium of television networks and the Associated Press, and the information is distributed to those sources and other paid subscribers, all of whom have pledged not to divulge it or discuss it until polls have closed.
Inevitably, the data leaks out, and when it got into our hands, this was what we saw:
Kerry, up by one in Florida. Up by one in Ohio. Up by nine in Pennsylvania. Up by five in Wisconsin. Up by four in Michigan. Up huge in Minnesota. Down two in Nevada. Up two in New Mexico. Down two in North Carolina. Up seven in Colorado.
If these numbers held up, and that was a big "if," we were looking at a landslide.
News outlets were seeing these numbers, too. Though experience has taught us that exit polls are not to be trusted entirely, news organizations still use early exit polls to get an idea which way their coverage is going to go later.
Several news outlets, feeling that John Kerry was on the verge of unseating George W. Bush, wanted to talk to me about my feelings concerning the election, what I thought I had contributed and what it would mean for America. I agreed to go on NBC News, which sent a private jet to fly me down from Burlington to their New York studios.
On the flight, Tom McMahon, the executive director of Democracy for America, Laura Gross, my communications director, and I began playing the quintessential political parlor game, asking ourselves, if Kerry won, who would he nominate to be in his cabinet? Would he ask me? Would he tackle the issue of health care — one of my signature campaign issues — right away?
After we had landed at Teterboro Airport and were waiting for a car to take us into Manhattan, a flight attendant from another plane came up to me and asked how things were looking.
"Good. Really, really good," I replied.
She handed me a bottle of champagne that I imagine was left over from one of her flights. "This is for later."
I thanked her and held the bottle of champagne. I don't drink, but I felt like we might be able to put it to good use.
In the car on the way to the studio, I called my family and told them things were looking up. By the time we got to the city, we were seeing four p.m. exit polling numbers, which looked as good as, if not better than, those we had seen earlier. I called my family members again to tell them what we were hearing. At NBC's studios, I did a whirlwind series of interviews. I talked about the campaign, and about how I felt the election would be a referendum on President Bush's leadership on both foreign policy and the economy. I couldn't help mentioning that things were looking good for Kerry.
However, as the evening wore on and polls closed across America and the vote count (rather than exit polls) started to come in, things began to look not nearly as good for Democrats across the country.
Florida, Ohio, and Iowa started trending toward Bush. By about eleven p.m., the folks at NBC told me they wouldn't need my commentary anymore. They didn't need someone to talk about the reemergence of the Democratic Party. It wasn't looking like we had reemerged.
Rather than fly home right away, I decided to swing by a party being sponsored by Democracy for New York and several other progressive organizations. I tried to stay upbeat for them, telling them that we were still waiting for results from Ohio, and congratulating them on the work they had done to ensure what would later prove to be a record Democratic turnout. But reality was beginning to settle in.
The flight home was much more subdued. I sat and reflected on all that had happened in the past year: A campaign that was, to many, a quixotic quest when it began had grown into a national movement, one that continued after my own campaign ended. I talked with Tom about what would be next for Democracy for America — the organization that had grown out of my campaign. I thought about what would be next for me.
When we got off the plane, we learned that Ohio had been called for Bush. I dropped Tom and Laura off at the office and headed home.
The next morning, back at the DFA headquarters, people were telling me that there had been voting irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere. They bucked me up by showing me that several members of the "Dean Dozen" — progressive candidates our organization supported outside of traditionally Democratic areas — had won. Still, we had lost the main event.
The days after the election brought a series of predictable recriminations: Where had Democrats gone wrong? What if John Kerry had run a different campaign? Immediately, some people began saying that in order to win, the Democratic Party needed to move more to the center — that we needed to be more like Republicans. Equally vocal were those who felt that the election had been decided on the issue of moral values.
I felt that we had tried being "Republican-lite," and it didn't work at all. My experience on the campaign trail and the victories I was seeing from some of the Dean Dozen candidates showed that people in so-called red states were hungry for an alternative, and hungry for candidates who were willing to stand up for their beliefs. Over fifty years ago, Harry Truman said of the Democratic Party, "We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don't need to try it."
As for the issue of moral values, I thought we were letting one question in an exit poll drive the entire Democratic Party into a panic. After all, the American people are more in agreement with our definition of moral values than they are with the persistent Republican invasion of personal privacy.
Beyond that, we seem to have forgotten somewhere that it is a moral value to provide health care. It is a moral value to educate our young people. The sense of community that comes from full participation in our democracy is a moral value. It is a moral value to make sure that we do not leave our own debts to be paid by the next generation. Honesty is a moral value. And yet these values appear to be absent in today's Republican establishment. Instead, they stand for little more than deficits, divisiveness, and deceit. We didn't need to change our values. We needed to start standing up for them.
Even before the election, I had talked sporadically with friends, family, and advisers about what would be next for me if John Kerry didn't win. One of the possibilities that kept coming up was my running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. At the time, my reaction was "absolutely not."
As a governor, I had seen the DNC as little more than an organization dedicated to electing a president, one that had long neglected cultivating the state and local candidates who would form the foundation of a strong party for generations to come. When I was a candidate for president, my interaction with the DNC was even more frustrating — it seemed like a bastion of Washington-based consultants who had no interest in hearing what I was saying, much less supporting what I was doing. Did I really want to lead a party that I loved but had been at war with for over a year?
Besides that, there was a lot of resistance within Democracy for America to my even thinking about running for DNC chair. A lot of our followers didn't consider themselves Democrats or have any particular love for the establishment of the Democratic Party.
Finally, I felt that the Democratic Party needed the type of overhaul that couldn't be accomplished from the top down, no matter who was at the top.
I had friends — both among DFA supporters and within the labor movement — who wanted me to consider starting a third party. They noted that my campaign had been a movement that went far beyond me; after my campaign ended, Dean for America supporters had set up Democracy for America organizations in just about every state. These people were active, energized, and ready to bring about real change in American politics. Again, I looked to them for leadership.
What I saw was that instead of abandoning the Democratic Party, DFA members began working within the Democratic Party to bring the bottom-up change that I had been talking about.
The first time I saw this was on a trip to northern California, where, along with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, I met with several DFA California activists. They told me that they had been going to California Democratic Party meetings and getting resolutions passed. I hate to say it, but I initially threw a bit of cold water on their work. I told them not to waste their time on internal fights. They didn't listen to me, and I'm glad they didn't. California's Democratic Party is organized by assembly districts, and in late December, the California for Democracy activists were elected as leaders in nearly fifty of them.
In Kentucky, where Democrats now hold the lowest level of public office leadership since 1955, Change for Kentucky sought to revitalize and reenergize the leadership of the state Democratic Party, and got over 250 "Dean Democrat" precinct leaders elected statewide.
In Maryland, Terry Lierman, one of my national campaign-finance chairs, ran for state party chair. Despite meager support from the Democratic establishment, he won.
In Oregon, Jenny Greenleaf, a DFA activist in Portland, knocked off a twelve-year incumbent to win election as a DNC member.
These victories weren't being organized from our headquarters in Burlington. They were happening because activists and organizers wanted to change the Democratic Party — and then use the Democratic Party to change politics in America.
In many ways, the movement wasn't ideological so much as it was practical. These people were trying to move the Democratic Party back to the organizational model that had worked for us in the past, but that we had abandoned in the era of soft money.
As I watched what was happening in state party after state party, I realized there was no way I could indulge thoughts of leading a third party when the people whose ideas I trusted and whose energy I relied on were working within the system to strengthen the Democratic Party. If these activists were really bringing about change in the Democratic Party from the grass roots up, it might just be possible for me to help them by working to change the party from the top down.
I began to rethink my decision not to seek the chairmanship of the Democratic Party.
Of course, the more I thought about it, the more I saw that I had no idea how one went about running for DNC chair. I began talking to folks who had been through it. Most notably, I sought the advice of veterans of Ron Brown's 1988 campaign for DNC chair.
Ron had run for DNC chair as an outsider who many thought was too liberal, but he came in and built the foundation for President Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996. There were some parallels between his race and the one I was considering, and the fact that Ron's widow, Alma, supported me firmed my resolve to try.
Running to lead the Democratic National Committee, I quickly learned, means running a campaign that is focused on the votes of 447 people. The DNC is perceived, somewhat incorrectly, as an establishment group. In actuality, it's a pretty good microcosm of the party as a whole — there are some insiders and some outsiders. It also includes a lot of folks hungry for change and even hungrier to win.
I started calling around and began finding that even though most people felt my campaign for president had been divisive, they were grateful for my work on behalf of John Kerry and John Edwards after the primaries.
On December 8, I went to George Washington University to give a speech about the future of the Democratic Party. I wanted to answer what had become the two prevailing schools of thought on our electoral losses: that we would need to move to the center, and that we would need to retake the issue of values. I told the assembled crowd, "There's only one thing Republican power brokers want more than for us to lurch to the left, and that's for us to lurch to the right. What they fear most is that we may really begin fighting for what we believe — the fiscally responsible, socially progressive values for which Democrats have always stood and fought."
I still hadn't decided whether to run for chair, but my speech was a clear statement about the course I intended to set should I be elected DNC chair.
The next day I attended a meeting of the Association of State Party Chairs in Florida, and the message I delivered there was largely the same.
A few days later, I was at a similar meeting in Atlanta. One participant asked me, "What is your southern strategy?"
Without thinking, I responded, "Show up." I told him that we couldn't win races we didn't run. We needed to stop writing off entire regions, start running fifty-state campaigns, and start putting up candidates for every office. The more I talked about what we needed to do, the more excited I became about the prospect of doing it.
On January 11, I sent out an e-mail to my DFA membership announcing my decision. The subject line said simply, "I'm running."
We decided to take my campaign directly to the DNC members. I spent days on the phone, talking to members all across the country. On weekends, I went to different states to meet with members. I sent personalized letters to all 447 members. I told anyone I didn't know that I looked forward to meeting them. In a lot of the envelopes, I tossed in a copy of this book, or a DVD of my GWU speech and an appearance on Meet the Press.
After I had written to them, I called them. I just started going through the list alphabetically. I began every phone conversation: "Hi, it's Howard Dean calling." One woman in Nevada actually thought she was getting a robotic, pretaped call. It took a minute to convince her that it wasn't.
The resistance to my candidacy once again came from Beltway insiders, who said that my election would signal a leftward lurch in the party, that we'd be permanently relinquishing the South. But those claims were rebuffed from some of my earliest — and bravest — supporters. For example, Chairman Scott Maddox, Vice Chair Diane Glasser, and the entire Florida DNC membership unanimously endorsed me early in my campaign. Former congressman Wayne Dowdy, the chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party, did the same. Jay Parmley, the state chair in Oklahoma, endorsed me as well. Jay in particular took some heat for standing with me. But collectively, they demonstrated that my message of "show up" was resonating, and that Democrats throughout America were looking for change.
Meanwhile, the calls were going well. Other candidates in the race began to drop out. Everyone I talked to just wanted to win. They thought it would be good to shake things up. And I told them that was what I intended to do.
On Saturday, February 12, 2005, the members of the Democratic National Committee honored me by electing me to be the party chairman. In my acceptance speech, I told them what I had been telling them on the phone for weeks — that this wasn't going to be my chairmanship; it was going to be our chairmanship, and that I intended to listen to voices from outside the Beltway, the real voices of the Democratic Party.
I told them that we weren't going to cede a single voter or a single state. And I shared my belief that by standing up for our values, organizing, and transforming our party into a grassroots organization that can win in all fifty states, we would rebuild the Democratic Party, and victories at the polls would follow.
I took that message to the places where it needed to be heard. Immediately after I was elected chairman, I began what we called a "red, white, and blue" tour in several states that represented the breadth and diversity of America. In the space of seven days, I went to Kansas, New York, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Mississippi. In each state, I talked to party leaders and met with activists. The visit that had the biggest impact on me, though, was Mississippi.
Mississippi is a state where Democrats have long since stopped competing for presidential electoral votes. We had lost races for the governorship and congressional seats as well. It's exactly the type of state too many Washington consultants have written off as red and unreachable. But when I got there, I saw something different. The eight-hundred-person ballroom was oversold, and hundreds of people waited in the hallways. There were so many, and they were so far from being able to see or hear what was going on, that we ordered dozens of pizzas just to give them something.
All four former Democratic governors were there. There was a palpable sense of new energy and new excitement. I told them that my election hadn't marked the end of the process of choosing a new chairman, but the beginning of the reemergence of the Democratic Party.
Surrounded by that energy, passion, and hope, I felt hope, too. These people, and millions like them in places that our party has too long neglected, are the faces of our future. Building on our existing strength, and finding new strength in new ideas and new supporters, I felt again that we did have the power to take back this country. I allowed myself to feel something I hadn't felt in a while: optimism.
The bottle of champagne that flight attendant gave me on Election Day is long since gone, given to a member of my staff. Democracy for America, by the way, continues to support fiscally conservative and socially progressive candidates. We're keeping the organization in the family, too. It will now be chaired by my brother, Jim, and run on a daily basis by Tom Hughes, who was the grassroots organizer for Dean for America in New Hampshire.
The hard work for me, and for all of us, is just beginning.
I think often of that room in Mississippi — that energy, that hunger to win, and that willingness to get to work — and I'm optimistic that Democrats will have a lot to celebrate in the days ahead.
April 20, 2005
Copyright © 2004 by Howard Dean
1. From Anger to Hope
2. Losing Our Country
3. Losing Our Party
4. A Real Politics of Meaning
5. Is Real Leadership Possible?
6. Democracy: A User's Manual
7. We Have the Power
Posted September 17, 2010
No text was provided for this review.