The Dean Phenomenon
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JIM LEHRER: Howard Dean, the Democrat who won’t go away. We begin with his endorsement today by former New Jersey senator and 2000 presidential candidate, Bill Bradley. They spoke to supporters this morning in Manchester, N.H.
FORMER SEN. BILL BRADLEY: In 2000, many Americans in Iowa, New Hampshire and across the country gave me their support, and I continue to consider their confidence a sacred trust.
This year, many of them have asked me who among this very capable group of candidates I would recommend. My answer is Howard Dean. (Applause)
When Governor Dean says that his campaign is more about his supporters than about him, he shows admirable modesty, but he sheds light also on why his campaign offers the best chance to beat George Bush.
It is the belief that good can triumph over bad, that principle can defeat expediency, that there’s honor in working for a better world, that it’s not naive to appeal to the better sides of our nature, and it’s all right to believe in the people, in your neighbor, in humankind. Pundits say, “can’t happen.”
But I say, with the help of the American people, under the leadership of Howard Dean, we have the power to take our country back from George Bush and his radical friends and to return our government to the side of moderation and to the rightful role as a partner for building peace in the world. (Applause)
HOWARD DEAN: Bill, I want to thank you for your extraordinary, thoughtful, as usual, speech; your extraordinarily wonderful help; your tremendous patriotism, standing for what you believe in at all times; and I deeply am grateful for this endorsement, not because it’s an endorsement of another big name — that is always a welcome thing — because it’s the endorsement of a thoughtful, careful person who sought to lead this country with honor and integrity and who stood up against the same forces that we’re standing up against in Washington.
JIM LEHRER: Before proceeding let me say I misspoke a moment ago in the news summary. I said Al Gore was the former president. He of course is a former vice president.
The Iowa caucuses are less than two weeks away; the New Hampshire primary is a week later — which means, time is rapidly running out for Democrats who want to jump on the Dean bandwagon, or derail it.
We examine the arguments for both approaches now with Elaine Kamarck, who worked in the Clinton administration. She’s now a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and Al From, founder and CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, the leading centrist Democratic organization.
Elaine Kamarck, Bill Bradley said today, “The Dean campaign is one of the best things to happen to American democracy in decades.” Do you agree with him?
ELAINE KAMARCK: I most certainly do. I think one of the reasons that a lot of people who are … have been in politics for a long time are impressed with the Dean campaign is they have married the brand new technology of the Internet with the old-fashioned technology of community organizing, and it’s really remarkable.
It is quite simply the best campaign I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. I think no matter what eventually happens to Howard Dean he has transformed not just Democratic Party politics but he has transformed American politics.
JIM LEHRER: Al From, the best campaign in your lifetime?
AL FROM: I don’t think so. I think it’s a good campaign. I think Howard Dean has obviously energized a lot of people, but the test is whether you win the White House, not whether you energize activists in if … in the pre-primary season.
The important thing is this campaign is just beginning. It’s not over. Within the last 90 minutes there’s been a new USA Today/Gallup Poll on the USA Today Web site which shows that the Dean lead over Wes Clark, among Democrats, has dropped in the last month.
JIM LEHRER: Nationally or in New Hampshire?
AL FROM: Nationally, from 21 points to four points. Look, we’re just beginning this debate in this campaign. It’s important to have a real debate over the direction of the party. Howard Dean has said a bunch of things in the last month that I think he’s going to have to explain.
I think he has a big challenge in front of him because politics is about organizing and about technology, but it’s also about what you stand for. And the challenge for Howard Dean is to lay out a compelling vision for the future of the country that is more compelling than President Bush will do if he is our nominee.
JIM LEHRER: Elaine Kamarck, do you agree Howard Dean has a stand-for problem right now?
ELAINE KAMARCK: Has a what?
JIM LEHRER: A stand for — some confusion about what he stands for and et cetera?
ELAINE KAMARCK: I think that he has not had a great past month. I would agree with Al on that. On the other hand, the reason I think he’s done so well is that unlike all of the other candidates with the possible exception of Clark, there has been a clarity to Howard Dean’s message that frankly has been missing in everyone else’s message.
The primary source of that clarity has been on the war. He has been clear from the beginning, people have known what he’s thought about it. That has not been true of most of the Democrats out of Washington, and there’s a lot of anger out there in the Democratic Party at the leadership that’s been coming from Washington, D.C., and I think that’s worked to Howard Dean’s benefit. It’s ironic that here we are on the eve of the caucuses and the two leading candidates, both of them, are outsiders from Washington, D.C.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of anger, there’s also apparently a lot of anger about Howard Dean within the Democratic Party, within the Democratic leadership. What’s your analysis of that? Why is everybody on him and on him so harshly? To you, Elaine Kamarck.
ELAINE KAMARCK: Well, I guess I would dispute that. I think there’s a lot of worry about Dean as there always is and frankly as there should be. I’ll remind my friend Al that 12 years ago at this point in time there was a lot of worry about Bill Clinton, too.
There’s always a lot of worry when somebody comes from a small state, from outside of Washington, and it looks like they’re going to be the nominee. Everyone gets very nervous.
However, when you look at a possible “Stop Dean” movement or anything like that, it just doesn’t seem to be there. There’s 800 super delegates to the convention. The majority of them are uncommitted.
JIM LEHRER: You’re one of them, right?
ELAINE KAMARCK: And Howard Dean has most of them.
JIM LEHRER: You’re one of those super delegates, are you not?
ELAINE KAMARCK: I am one of the super delegates, right.
JIM LEHRER: Explain to the folks what a super delegate is.
ELAINE KAMARCK: Well, there’s 801 people exactly who by virtue of their position in the party — I’m a national committee woman to the Democratic Party — or by virtue of their elected office are automatic delegates to the convention.
We get to go to the convention no matter who wins the primaries in our state. If there were to be an effective “Stop Dean” movement or stop anyone movement, it would have to come from these 800 people. So far there’s no indication of a “Stop Dean” movement among these people.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Al From?
AL FROM: First of all if there’s a “Stop Dean” movement it won’t come from the super delegates but from the people who actually vote.
You have to remember nobody has cast a vote yet. The landscape is strewn with early front-runners who have stumbled along the way. As Elaine said, Dean hasn’t had a great last month.
Now what he’s done is he’s done a very good job of tapping the antiwar sentiment in the Democratic Party, a substantial amount in our party, maybe a plurality but it’s not broad enough to win a general election.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t think….
AL FROM: He’s got… well, no, I’m not saying that.
JIM LEHRER: You’re not saying he couldn’t beat George W. Bush.
AL FROM: I’m not saying he couldn’t beat George W. Bush but the Howard Dean we’ve seen so far would have a very difficult time with George Bush. He has to expand his appeal. He has to offer a compelling positive agenda.
Here’s the question I have about Howard Dean. What does he have against Bill Clinton? When he did his speech, his social policy speech, he didn’t have to have a paragraph in there that said essentially the Clinton administration was damage control. I mean what does he want … he talks about taking the party back. What does he want to do?
Take it back from people who brought 22.5 million new jobs, who reduced poverty, who moved 8 million people from welfare to work? I mean Elaine Kamarck was a big part of that. A lot of her ideas were critical.
JIM LEHRER: You just don’t really like this guy I take it.
AL FROM: It’s not a personal deal. It really isn’t. But it is about the direction of this party. Some of us spent … have spent a very long time trying to modernize this party so the party that was in the wilderness for a very long time could become competitive again in presidential elections so we could do all the good things for our friends and the people who make up the core of the Democratic Party. I think in the 1990s we did a very good job of that.
JIM LEHRER: And Howard Dean…
AL FROM: And I think we ought to build on that. Howard Dean has got to have a compelling vision for the future of the country because he can’t run against a president who has 60 or 65 percent approval rating and win unless he can persuade people who like Bush that he’ll be a better president.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that Elaine Kamarck? Do you agree with Al From’s analysis of what Howard Dean’s problem is?
ELAINE KARMACK: Well, yes and no. I totally agree with al. He has to have a positive vision. On the other hand one of the things that’s impressed me about Dean throughout this campaign is that not only in his record as governor but in the things he’s been saying on the stump, he is very much a fiscal conservative.
He understands almost better than anybody what damage George Bush is doing to this country by running up these deficits and mortgaging our future. I think that that was one of the core foundations of the Clinton prosperity, the fact that Clinton understood that.
I think that this Democratic Party — and it’s one of the things that Al and I privately and on the air have talked about a long time — I give this party a lot more credit than Al does for having come a lot further during the Clinton years.
I would hope that one of the things that if next nominee of the party could do would be to take the Clinton years and build on them and move forward with new technology, with new ways of organizing and with a new spurt of enthusiasm and democracy.
JIM LEHRER: As a practical … a practical political question, Al From, is what we’ve all been witnessing these several weeks … not everybody but because everybody hasn’t been paying attention to it. Just the political professionals.
But these Democrats in these debates tearing each other up day after day, night after night, wherever they are, is that going to cause so many bruises and so many tears that the party will not rally behind Howard Dean or whoever the nominee is?
AL FROM: I don’t think so. I mean, I believe in tough primary fights. And the reason I do is in our system of government, this is the only time that you can define a party.
Essentially our party will be defined by our nominee. So we ought to have a big fight over who that is.
JIM LEHRER: Would you support Howard Dean if he’s the nominee?
AL FROM: I intend to support the Democratic nominee. But there’s another important thing about that and that is that as we go through this nominating process, you know, we’ve compressed it. So it’s important to get these — the debate out early.
The other point that is very important to remember is a lot of people say, oh, well, if you have big fights among Democrats, then it will help George Bush, but the truth is George Bush … does he need to be told what Howard Dean said about Osama bin Laden or what he said about Saddam Hussein? He doesn’t need to be told that.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Elaine Kamarck the same question. Is this primary thing up until now at least been so brutal it’s going to be hard for these guys to get together when it’s all said and done?
ELAINE KAMARCK: No, I don’t think so. I think that … I agree with Al on this. I think tough primaries are good for a party. It gets it all out in the open, lays it all out. I think it’s going to make Howard Dean or whoever emerges as the eventual nominee a better candidate for having been through this.
There’s no mystery about any of these people. George Bush’s opposition researchers are going to find out everything that everyone else will find out. I think there’s a process of strengthening the nominee that comes through this.
Howard Dean has had to have a really quick learning curve in the last month. He made some pretty bad mistakes. He can’t keep making mistakes like that if he is to be the nominee of the party.
I also think that on substantive issues, none of these candidates are terribly far away from each other. I went to see Wes Clark campaign in New Hampshire on Saturday morning. I went to see John Kerry in Iowa on Monday afternoon.
When it really comes down to it, the difference, the actual substantive differences between them are really relatively small, so I do think it will be easy for the party to come together.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We’ll see. Thank you both very much.
ELAINE KAMARCK: Thank you.
AL FROM: Thank you.