Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is one of the contenders for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination. Although he is less known than such competitors as John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and even Al Sharpton, Dean has excited the liberal base of the Democratic party with his record of fiscal responsibility, universal health care agenda, environmental record and emphasis on social justice. It also helps that he supports a more moderate, multilateral approach to foreign affairs and Iraq.

A former practicing physician, Dean was serving as lieutenant governor of Vermont when the incumbent governor died in 1991. Propelled into the governorship by circumstance, Dean held that post through 2002, when he announced he would not seek re-election.

His record includes allowing same-sex civil unions in Vermont, protection of public and private lands, public health care for all children in Vermont, and a balanced budget from 1991 onwards (Dean notes he’s balanced it through two Bush recessions and the economic boom of the Clinton years). Interestingly, he boasts that he has never signed a single piece of gun control legislation, which is an unusual position for a Democrat.

As a presidential candidate, Dean has demonstrated a surprising grasp of foreign affairs, despite news reports to the contrary. He sharply criticized the Bush administration for their unilateral efforts in Iraq, instead saying that Saddam Hussein should have been disarmed via the auspices of the United Nations. He believes that more attention should be placed on al Qaeda and North Korea, which Dean says pose a greater threat to the security of the United States than Iraq.

Beyond his criticisms of George W. Bush, Howard Dean focuses much of his attention on the weakened Demcoratic party establishment, or "The Washington Democrats" as he calls them. While part of the New Democrat movement ("The Republican Wing of the Democratic Party," as Dean calls them) of the 1990's spearheaded by Bill Clinton, Dean has moved away from the centrist Democratic Leadership Counsel and the Third Way, threatening to take the party back to its progressive roots. This understandably fills the Democratic party leaders with fear, though has helped to excite the Democratic grass roots. As Dean moves towards the 2004 primary season, it becomes apparent that his fight isn't just for the nomination, but also for the direction the party will take in the post-Clinton era.

As of February, 2004 John Kerry is the frontrunner for the nomination, and Dean is falling in the polls. Although he promises to stay in the race until the end, it seems unlikely Dean will get the nomination. It appears he is a victim of the same party establishment he's railed against since the beginning -- and candidate whose message was washed out by a confluence of media and party interests.

The case for Howard Dean

When I first heard about who was running in the next Presidential election -- Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Sharpton, etc. -- I was a bit ... alarmed. I immediately had memories of Walter Mondale’s attempt to take on Ronald Regan, or Michael Dukakis’ fight against Bush I. Overly weak Democrats without a chance against the incumbent (or sort-of-incumbent) titan, men incapable of appealing to the American masses.

Here’s a little secret -- I almost didn’t vote in the last election. I have never liked Al Gore, never respected how he was willing to compromise himself time and again so he could pander for votes. The career-politician sons of career-politicians are little better than the landed aristocracy of old, and although Al Gore is preferable to George W. Bush, they’re both fundamentally American gentry. I had planned to defect and vote Republican if John McCain was the nominee -- that’s how much I hate Al Gore. While I don’t agree with all of his policies, McCain was the best man for the job in 2000. More Teddy Roosevelt than Ronald Regan, McCain had the potential to be a great president. He offered a heroic contrast to Bush and the other Republican candidates -- and I think he would have been the right guy in office during 9/11. I’m sorry if I’m betraying my lifelong Democratic allegiance by saying this, but I waffled on voting for Al Gore for days. Ultimately, it was my even greater dislike for Bush II that led me to cast my vote. Not that it mattered in the end.

Looking at the embryonic Democratic candidates, I saw nothing that excited me. Do I go with the aristocratic and elitist John Kerry, upstart and “centrist” John Edwards, Republican-in-Democrat’s clothing Joe Lieberman, or the so-inoffensive-he’s-offensive Dick Gephardt? I’m not even going to mention Al Sharpton, a man who has never served in elected office and is completely unqualified to be President. Then I read a back page article in the Washington Post about a new candidate and my hopes completely changed.

Since that article, I can safely say that I am 100% behind Governor Howard Dean of Vermont. This is a guy who says what he thinks -- who criticizes the Bush administration without considering the repercussions in a general election. Who believes in universal health care for all Americans, for an America that engages in multilateral diplomacy rather than unilateral brute force. What’s more, he’s for a balanced budget and government spending that does not exceed the nation’s tax revenue -- something he’s done successfully in Vermont since the first Bush recession.

Unlike the other guys who -- quite frankly -- look like weasels, Dean looks Presidential. He’s smart, articulate and direct. He opposed to the American invasion of Iraq without the support of the UN. The only other candidate who’ll give you an honest answer about the war is Joe Lieberman, who I just hope someday wakes up and realizes he’s in the wrong party and gets the hell out. If anyone in the 2004 lineup deserves to inherit John McCain’s mantle as the “straight shooter” candidate it’s Dean -- even though he can sometimes put his foot in his mouth (as in an early 2003 "Meet the Press" appearance).

In a speech to the DNC on February 21, 2003, Dean says:

What I want to know . . . is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the President's unilateral attack on Iraq?

What I want to know . . . is why are Democratic leaders supporting tax cuts? The question is not how big the tax cut should be -- the question should be: Can we afford a tax cut at all with the largest deficit in the history of the country?

”What I want to know . . . is why we're fighting in Congress about the Patient's Bill of Rights when the Democratic Party ought to be standing up for health care for every man, woman and child in this country?

What I want to know . . . is why our folks are voting for the President's No Child Left Behind bill that leaves every child behind, every teacher behind, every school board behind and every property tax payer behind?

I am Howard Dean. And I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

All I can say is -- thank god this guy’s running. And finally the real race has begun.