Howard Dean’s run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination rewrote how politicians could raise funds, showing that a candidate could generate serious money through grassroots campaigns and thousands of small donations instead of relying on dozens of large ones. Though Dean’s infamous karate-chop-celebration scream after losing the Iowa caucus ended up costing him the primary to the über-generic John Kerry, he continued to exert influence on national politics after being elected to chair the Democratic National Committee in 2005. There, the one-time Vermont governor formulated a bold plan called the “50-state strategy” to help Democrats win control of Congress in the 2006 general election. The plan, despite objections from Democratic insiders like Rahm Emmanuel, was a scorching success, netting Democrats a solid majority in the House and drawing even with Republicans in the Senate.
Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential run took a page out of Dean’s Internet fundraising book, and it’s noteworthy that without Dean leading the DNC, Democrats lost their majority in the House in 2010. Dean left politics in 2009 — speculations that Obama would select Dean for his Cabinet never came true — and has been working in the private sector ever since.
Dean came to Boulder last weekend to give the graduation speech for Naropa University. He had been to Boulder before and he likes the town’s politics, he said, noting that it was one of the few places in America where he felt conservative. The morning before the speech, he sat down with reporters in Naropa’s administration building and talked about the economy, health care, higher education and what the future holds for new graduates. Dean says he is hopeful that the economy is rebounding.
“The economy is absolutely improving,” Dean said. “The problem is, the average person in America is always the first to feel the pain and the last to get out of the pain. And that’s been exacerbated by this notion that all the tax programs need to be for the wealthy, and that we need to cut programs for the average American first, which is nuts.”
He praised Barack Obama’s compromise on tax cuts at the end of 2010, when he agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for Americans of all income levels in exchange for unemployment benefits.
Progressives despised it at the time, saying the president should have only extended the tax cuts for the lower and middle classes.
“I like it,” Dean said. “I think it makes no sense to give tax breaks to millionaires when you’re trying to cut social security or whatever, but I felt it was a good thing politically, because what the public wants is to get something done. … When a bill is passed that is a compromise, the president, politically, is almost always the winner.”
He also said that Obama would “likely” win the next election, and that the Paul Ryan budget could help deliver the election into Democratic hands.
“The Paul Ryan plan is just a disaster for [Republicans],” Dean said. “It basically gets rid of Medicare, turns Medicare into a private insurance company. Seventy percent of the country thinks it’s a bad idea, including a plurality of Republicans. So, as they did in 1994 when they took over, they’ve overreached their bounds. Americans want spending controls, but they want fairness, too, in society. There’s nothing fair about the right-wing platform.”