Howard Dean, M.D.
Can This Gutsy Doctor
Save an Ailing Nation?

Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.

Let me preface this article by saying that after the disgusting travesty that was the 2000 election, I vowed never to hope again. I watched what tattered bits remained of my faith in the political process vanish in the days and weeks that followed. I watched an undeserving, unqualified, yet ostensibly affable, scion of one of the most powerful political families in the nation “win” the presidency, bringing back with him the relics of the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I administrations.

That I had to root for Al Gore as my only viable option to a man supposedly possessed of a Harvard M.B.A who can’t pronounce the word “nuclear” correctly made me ill. Al Gore will forever be the poster child for the failure of the Democratic Party, despite winning the popular vote and most likely the Florida recount as well. They ran a rotten campaign against Karl Rove’s Frankenstein. Playing nice didn’t work. The Democrats had an opponent who was paper thin, but they threw no stones while the other side played up the “good old boy” image of their candidate, while spinning furiously lest the evidence of his alcoholism, former drug use, dereliction of military duty, and overall lack of qualifications might stick.

The “Solid South” is now solidly Republican. I’ll say it right now: Without the vehemently denied racist sentiments of a huge portion of the white population and the Republican Party’s anti-minority track record, the GOP would be weak beyond belief. There exists a reservoir of semi-educated, hard working, otherwise decent, white Americans who deplore African Americans, and voting Republican is their illogical response. These people don’t wear hoods or commit acts of violence, but in their hearts they are racists. Do opinion polls show this? There’s no way. Racism in this country is underground and systemic, existing like a dormant virus, the HIV of American society. What does this little rant have to do with Howard Dean? I was shocked that someone had the nerve to touch upon this, granted more obliquely and subtly than I just did. The following quote shows the bluntness and the unmitigated set of brass balls that Howard Dean has:

I’m going to go down south, and I’m going to say to white folks who have been voting Republican, “All right, the Confederate Flag may be an issue for you, but what about your children’s health care? There’s sixty thousand kids in South Carolina that don’t have health insurance — and most of them are white. If you keep voting for the Republicans, they’re never going to get health insurance for your kids, they’re never going to help your schools, you’re never going to get a better job, you’re never going to get a raise. Come back to the Democratic Party — the party of Franklin Roosevelt where everybody was included!”
— Gov. Howard Dean, M.D. (San Francisco, CA)

I must admit that I had no hope at all for 2004, until I listened to Howard Dean in an interview about six months ago in which Dean touched on this issue and many others near and dear to me. While I don’t think he’s the second coming of Christ, I do believe, despite my jaded view of politics and politicians and innate suspicion, that the guy has balls. I wish to explain why I’ve chosen Howard Dean as my horse in the race for the Democratic nomination while not ignoring points on which I disagree with him. I may not agree with every position he has, but his conviction and candor make him the most palatable candidate in a field rife with unsavory characters. The parallel with John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary races is irresistible, hell they even look alike. Let’s just hope that the good guy wins this one. I, for one, felt sorry for McCain: Losing to a guy who was philandering while AWOL from the Air National Guard while John was being tortured in Viet Nam has to make his gut churn to this day.

Howard Dean at first glance is a rather unlikely contender for national office. He was the governor of a very small, very rural, very white Northern state and he’s not really a career politician. Add to that the fact he’s a physician with the highest rating from the National Rifle Association, and he admittedly sounds like an odd bird indeed.

His origins are patrician, the son of an investment banker born into wealth. This is a common affliction amongst many politicians, and we can’t necessarily hold that against him. After graduating from Yale, the same school that spawned G.W., he took up the family trade and went to Wall Street. The course of his life changed radically after he became disillusioned with the world of high finance, deciding to become a physician instead. For me, this act redeems him. By becoming a doctor and moving to Vermont, he demonstrated a lack of the power lust and greed that we so often see in politicians. To me, this fact is quite telling as to the true nature of the man. He pretty much stumbled into politics from there, and the fact that his entrance into that sullied realm didn’t appear to be specifically planned makes him all the more appealing.

His record as the governor of Vermont is quite impressive. We see this in the fact he won five two-year terms as governor while balancing the state budget and paying off a $70 million deficit. In every interview, he touts these things mightily, but the thing he’s busting at the seams to talk about is health care. Under his administration in Vermont his lofty goal of “health coverage to virtually every child in Vermont age 18 and under” was achieved. In contrast with the prevaricator-in-chief’s home state of Texas, Vermont also has the lowest rate of children living without health insurance. Health care in this nation is a huge issue that the GOP doesn’t even pay lip service to unless it has to do with the elderly. They know that poor people don’t vote. We are in a crisis: 14% of the nation’s population, 41 million human beings, have no health coverage. Dr. Dean has some interesting ideas on how to deal with this problem. His Web site lays out these ideas, and makes a case for improvement. If we can fork over billions to attack Iraq, we can surely make sure that kids in this nation have health care.

I mentioned earlier that Dean has a set of brass balls, and his positions on two major issues let that massive set of huevos dangle for all to see. In these two aspects he shows a level of honesty and bravery unprecedented in a candidate for national office. He takes some unpopular stances but explains them. He’s giving the American people credit for having brains to see through the fog of FOX NEWS and the vague, questionable, and plain untrue statements made by the current administration.

It took major guts to come out against Gulf War II in the midst of a media frenzy and presidential lying hoedown. He was the only major candidate that stated his unequivocal opposition to the war. The rest of the pack was busy trying to appear patriotic by supporting an illegal war against a country that posed no threat to its neighbors, let alone the United States. Dr. Dean didn’t mince words and didn’t spin. Now, in hindsight, he’s looking like a sage.

Whether or not the US action in Iraq was a good idea, there is also the matter of the mountain of lies and misrepresentations that were spun to get the nation on board. It is this point that Dean drives home on his Web site’s “16 Questions for President Bush”. While they are too numerous to list here, in no uncertain terms they call Bush and his cronies for telling lies that led directly to the deaths of thousands of human beings. These questions range from pre-war prevarications to post-war posturing, and in closing Dean adds:

If you can’t or won’t answer these 16 questions, Mr. President, I call on the Republicans in Congress to stop blocking efforts to create an independent, bipartisan committee to investigate what is a matter of the highest importance: whether your decision to go to war was sound and just.
The American public deserves answers to all of these questions. I urge you to lead with the honor and integrity that you promised as a candidate.

That’s positively tame compared to many of the quotes you’ll find in various sources. I prefer to hear the words directly from his mouth, because one can better appreciate the indignation with which the words are delivered. Print can’t do his ire justice, and it is this righteous loathing against this administration that I share with Dr. Dean.

In addition to his opposition to the war, Dean also takes a position that might at face value appear to be political suicide: He supports repealing all of the Bush tax cuts. Viewed from the knee-jerk sound bite political perspective that seems to dominate the formation of opinion in this country, that smacks of madness. At face value it does seem crazy, but upon explanation and some math it becomes quite obvious that the tax cuts did very little for the average American to begin with. Again I hark back to the lower- to upper-middle-class voters who have swung Republican, and I attribute that to the mistaken belief that Republican economic policy, namely tax cuts, actually benefits them. In truth, the average person gets back a relative pittance, while the top two percent of taxpayers reap the rewards. A small tax cut for the majority is coupled with a massive wave of job loss, stock market collapse, and bankrupt state governments. This quote sums it up pretty well:

“In Manchester [New Hampshire], a few weeks back, this guy comes up to me and he says, ‘Governor, I got my $300 tax cut, and my 401(k) dropped 60 grand.’ People know the Bush tax cuts were hooey…”

Dean’s not ignoring the National Debt, which stood at $6,774,449,246,925.27 on 08/20/2003. In fact, he’s one of the few candidates that discuss it as a reality. He’s basically stated bluntly that we’re in debt to our eyeballs as a nation, and as such we have some tough choices to make. Interest payments on the debt (YTD $288,803,184,023.65) are the single biggest expenditure in the federal budget behind health and human services. The response by the Bush administration of drastically cutting taxes for those who need it the least is appalling. Dr. Dean said it quite eloquently: “He advocates economic polices which beggar the middle class and raise property taxes so that income taxes may be cut for those who ran Enron.”

In terms of balls I think I’ve proved the point, and I’d like to sum up this little ramble by letting you know who’s saying bad things about Dean. The people and groups that say negative things about a candidate can often be as illuminating as what the candidates say about themselves. I’ll leave you with some gems from the dreaded Republican National Committee about Dr. Dean. Dean is, according to the headline on RNC’s Web site: “An Ultra-Liberal On Social Issues Who Is Out Of The Mainstream And Wrong For America.” They basically take to breaking out the “L” word and beating him with it. They cite that he’s for allowing civil unions for gays and lesbians, and that he’s “pro-abortion” — essentially it’s a long list of bulleted points saying “WRONG ON [insert issue here]”. I liked him even more after checking out the hatchet job on this Web site. It’s for the party faithful anyway, so it’s not likely to affect the decision of the swing voter at all. I just find it rather amusing to read and listen to the right’s rants against anyone they disagree with. They still can’t resist bringing up former presidential blowjobs, but cry foul when anyone dares air a negative viewpoint of GW.

This article would be incomplete without an attack on Dean from both the far left and the far right. It just goes to further support my point that Dean is more pragmatic and electable than might first appear, lest we forget there are people so wobbly as to turn a blind eye to the best chance they have. In a recent Op/Ed piece, nationally syndicated columnist Ted Rall, firebrand of the left, author, and general malcontent, refers to Dean as a “leftie-come-lately”. He states that Dean isn’t nearly as liberal as he pretends to be, noting that he didn’t sign the gay civil union bill in a celebratory public ceremony in Vermont. He neglects to mention that Dean did sign it, nearly costing him re-election. The fact that he didn’t sign it in a public ceremony is understandable: The state’s populous was bitterly divided over the issue, thus having a pep rally for it would have amounted to rubbing voters’ noses in what many thought was a pile of sinful excrement. He also assails Dean for being too cozy with dreaded Big Business, quoting IBM’s John O’Kane: “’We would meet privately with him [Howard Dean] three to four times a year to discuss our issues, and his secretary of commerce would call me once a week just to see how things were going.’” The notion that talking to one of the major employers in your state on a regular basis is somehow objectionable — especially an employer that brings high paying, environmentally friendly jobs to a relatively poor state — is ridiculous.

At the other end of the political spectrum, actually where left and right nearly meet on many issues but fail to admit it, is a recent article by publisher, Justin Raimondo. Let me preface this by saying that of many pundits I read regularly, Mr. Raimondo is extremely consistent in his views and offers a perspective worth examining in formulating one’s own perspective. However, I disagree strongly with his recent piece titled, “The Dean Deception: The Lying S.O.B”, which takes Dean to task on recent statements made on what he would do in Iraq if elected as well as what he would do about the crisis in Liberia. Mr. Raimondo wrote an earlier article, “DEAN VS. LOSERMAN: ‘Extremism’ in defense of peace is no vice,” in which he cautiously supported Dean’s principled stand on the Iraq War. Why the change of heart? In a word, pragmatism is the reason Dean’s name is now mud. When questioned on the situation in Iraq and what course he would follow should he attain the presidency, he states,

“’Now that we’re there, we’re stuck,’ he said. Bush took an ‘enormous risk’ that through war the United States could replace Saddam Hussein and the ‘small danger’ he presented to the United States with something better and safer. The gamble was ‘foolish’ and ‘wrong.’ But whoever will be elected in 2004 has to live with it. ‘We have no choice. It’s a matter of national security. If we leave and we don’t get a democracy in Iraq, the result is very significant danger to the United States.’”

Raimondo decries this statement as being a copout, but I deem it a very practical statement by a practical man. Should we merely leave Iraq now, all hell would break loose. Are we to ignore Yugoslavia? It shows what happens when a sovereign, no matter how unjust, is taken away from a country with disparate ethno-religious groups that are armed to the teeth and possessed of ancient hatreds. Like it or not, we are stuck, and I applaud Dean for making this principled stand on the matter. Dean goes on to make more statements, some I agree with, but some I do not.

The parallel with John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary races is irresistible — hell, they even look alike.

Both Mr. Rall and Mr. Raimondo share one thing, an unmitigated loathing for the current administration and its policies that kill other human beings. Both are on record ripping the Bush Cabal to shreds in vitriolic and provocative language, but both represent idealistic views that, I state unequivocally, will NEVER be held by the majority of people in this nation. I strongly believe that the idea of pragmatism and what is possible should dictate the course of action. The two aforementioned pundits’ jobs are to stir up discontent, and they do this fantastically at every turn. The problem is that they both are biting a hand that could conceivably feed them better than the current one ever will. This is an example of an “all or nothing” mentality common among those holding extreme views.

The left is the left’s own worst enemy, lest we forget Nader’s role as the spoiler in the 2000 election. Idealism when it’s not tempered with common sense and an eye towards the best compromise is lunacy. In my opinion, everyone who thinks Bush and his cronies have to go should put the micro-bickering aside and focus on his removal from office. There are core issues that unite the vast majority of voters: the environment, abortion, social programs, and medical care for the poor. Let us focus on the common ground and not the differences. Like it or not, we have two parties, Democratic and Republican, and we all must choose one’s candidate or become irrelevant in our choice of national representation. The reality of American politics is that the center is the key, and the edges of the bell curve are never going to be happy.

Dean’s big draw is that he’s really a centrist who falls on either side of litmus test issues comfortably and unapologetically. This to me is the mark of an independent-minded person with real scruples. I think his apparent honesty, coupled with his often conservative bent on some issues, should serve to draw many “Reagan Republicans” back to their roots. I may be wrong, but the guy’s either for real, or he’s the best bullshitter in the political history of America. I hope the former is the case.

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© 2003, Joe Martinez
Images: John Pettitt /

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