I wrote nearly twelve months ago in this space about the importance of building progressive strength in 2004 and beyond. A year later, progressives have hope in the decade ahead, thanks in part to Howard Dean.
Dean’s new book, You Have the Power, is an eloquent attack on Bush’s failed record. At its core, however, is Dean’s belief that progressives must look beyond November 2nd to achieve a progressive majority.
For starters, tactics matter, argues Dean. “By…establishing a permanent election-to-election presence on the American political scene through think-tanks, foundations, and grassroots organizations,” Dean writes, the radical right has achieved political power. Extremists can be beat at their own game, though.
“We need to…have a permanent campaign, which is what the Republicans have done for the last twenty years,” Dean recently argued in a Mother Jones‘ interview, a belief echoed powerfully in his book. After Election Day, progressives can take one month off “and then everybody’s got to get back to work.”
While Dean has endorsed John Kerry–and is traveling around the country drumming up support for his former rival–he recognizes that victory in this election means the defeat of the right, not the triumph of a progressive movement. Dean understands that no matter what happens next month, it is vital to continue to coordinate, organize and build the infrastructure to drive progressive ideals into the political debate and electoral arena.
In addition to publishing this excellent primer, Dean’s new political action group, “Democracy for America” (DFA), is on its way to becoming a central station for progressive action across the country, finding and supporting the next generation of progressive leaders from school boards to Capitol Hill and, most importantly, inspiring members of what the late Senator Paul Wellstone liked to call “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
DFA’s candidates–called “Dean’s Dozens“–receive donations and volunteer assistance through DFA’s efforts online and on the ground. And Dean’s endorsement should not be underestimated; as one Georgia Democrat running for Congress put it, it “jump-started my campaign.”
DFA has endorsed and raised money for a school board member in Huntsville, Alabama and mayor of Salt lake City, Utah. It is supporting relatively anonymous candidates like Democrat Richard Morrison who is running against corrupt House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in Sugarland, Texas and more well-known ones like Tom Daschle, who is in a tough re-election fight in South Dakota. And DFA–working with other progressive groups–is also helping candidates running for county commission, city council and state legislatures nationwide.
In less than eight months, DFA has supported nearly 1,000 progressive candidates for office, raised more than $1 million in its first fundraising quarter alone and donated $756,605 to its chosen electoral fights.
We’re going to “help build the Democratic Party” by helping to “keep [progressives] moving up and up” in Democratic Party ranks, says Laura Gross, DFA’s Communications Director.
To that end, DFA has aligned itself with progressive groups such as Progressive Majority and 21st Century Democrats. What’s important about this new moment says Gloria Totten, Progressive Majority’s director, is that “we progressives are no longer willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections.” Winning matters.
Dean’s success in 2003, and progressives’ future victories, may well rest in part on a new politics of authenticity. Dean was a straight-talking presidential candidate, who took on Bush in an aggressive and bracing way and challenged a cowed Democratic Party to get a spine transplant.
As Kevin Phillips points out in his astute Washington Post review of Dean’s book, the Vermont governor was and remains correct in his conclusion that “when you trade your values for the hope of winning, you end up losing and having no values–so you keep losing.”
Dean continues to speak out for values and issues that have received too little attention in this campaign, including the importance of restoring a balance between corporate power and citizens’ rights, closing the “wealth gap,” and fighting media consolidation so more diverse and democratic voices can be heard on airwaves across America.
Holding Republicans’ feet to the fire has always been one of Dean’s strengths. When rumors started to circulate that Bush had a secret post-election plan to reinstate a military draft, Dean published a column on DFA’s website demanding answers from the White House about how it will meet its current commitments without resorting to a draft. He also posted a petition which will be delivered to the White House before the election. (Click here to join the more than 90,000 others who have already added their names to the petition.)
“The man stands his ground in a fight,” William Greider said about Dean in The Nation last December. “When someone jabs him, he jabs back.”
Dean hasn’t wallowed in defeat. With a renewed focus on building a progressive majority in America, Dean is providing new hope. By taking the fight to the radical right and DLC Democrats, Dean’s message is coming through loud and clear: progressives won’t go away anytime soon.