And so it began. A day after Hillary Clinton’s humiliating loss to Donald Trump, one of her top surrogates, former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, threw his hat in the ring to regain leadership of the Democratic National Committee. Dean, who was chairman of the DNC from 2005-2009, presiding over the party during President Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008, wants back in running on a message not dissimilar to that of Senator Bernie Sanders’s failed presidential bid.
Dean says that the Democratic Party needs to reengage in a “50 State Strategy” a model he designed in his 2004 Presidential bid and more recently employed by Sanders in his run. Dean won zero contests in his primary though Sanders employment of the strategy won him twenty-three.
Dean says the party must refocus on the working class and young people, that they party has forgotten about labor, forcing them to seek ill-advised allegiances with Donald Trump. Sanders’s entire platform was premised upon young and working people, defending the middle class and fighting the runaway inequality that has disenfranchised so many throughout this country. Sanders ran away with the youth vote, winning far more than Trump and Clinton combined.
On the surface, you’d think Dean and Sanders would be two peas in a pod: two guys from the same town in Vermont, calling on the Democrats to do the same things. In fact, their zip code is all they share.
Since stepping down from the DNC in 2009 Dean has kept himself busy in the private sector, most recently as a senior advisor at Dentons Law Firm where he acts a lobbyist along side Newt Gingrich.
During the Presidential campaign, Dean was one of Hillary Clinton’s top surrogates, taking every opportunity to dishonestly slime Sanders and obediently paint Clinton as the leader this country needs. After Sanders won Vermont by 72%, Dean gave his Superdelegate vote to Clinton. His argument, that an entrenched establishment Democrat, with personally close ties to Wall St. and corporate America, who supported the trade deals that gutted the middle class, who embodied the status quo of Washington politics, who spent the entire summer after the convention away from the campaign trail in favor of glitzy fundraisers in the Hamptons and Beverly Hills, is the fundamentally opposite argument he is now making for his own ambitions. This was proven to be astonishingly wrong.
Dean opposed Sanders on several position Sanders argues would help the middle class and poor, most notably single-payer health care. During Dean’s 2004 campaign, Dean himself campaigned on single-payer, the system where healthcare is distributed by the government and not private insurance companies. This shift in worldview can be easily traced to the fact that, at Dentons, he lobbies on behalf of pharmaceutical and health care interests.
Dean references Obama’s big win as evidence of his effectiveness as party chair. While Dean can justifiably use that on a resume, relying on Obama’s successes to guarantee one’s own is a dangerous tactic, most notably exemplified by Clinton’s still-warm failure to mimic the “Obama coalition”. Clinton ran on a platform of continuity, often described in the media as “Obama’s third term”. Much of Obama’s success can be attributed to his savvy as a speaker and politician, something Clinton severely lacked. Obama won an advertising award in 2008 as Marketer of the Year, beating out the likes of Apple and other private corporations with glossy high dollar campaigns. In hindsight, Obama’s message was largely a rouse. While he ran on Hope & Change, Citigroup was picking his cabinet.
Here is where Dean finds an opening: he, and those who have encouraged him to run, view him as perfectly suited to placate the public while simultaneously pleasing the party’s elite. Dean can hobnob with beltway lobbyists while gigging around the country as a progressive. In the eyes of the establishment, Clinton didn’t lose because she wasn’t a populist, she lost because she couldn’t play one. Dean, they bet, can.
The establishment needs a leader that can effectively hoodwink the proletariat while maintaining their interests. Keith Ellison, the actual progressive populist and Congressman from Minnesota who entered the race for DNC chair the same day as Dean, is as dangerous a force to the DC establishment as Bernie Sanders was. Sanders has understandably endorsed Ellison. Had Obama been a true progressive, he would not have secured the support of the Chicago, and then DC, elite either. Obama’s greatest skill was stirring an enormous amount of grassroots support for policies he had no intention on touching without the blessing of the wealthiest special interests.
Plainly speaking, Howard Dean is a con man. After a devastating defeat up and down the ticket, the Democrats need change, true change. Not only should no Clinton surrogate be anywhere near party leadership, the most dangerous choice for Democrats is to finger a dishonest karaoke singer performing the hit of the day. You can’t just flip the tape after singing “America is Already Great” and getting cabbage chucked at your head. An award winning ad campaign will not cut it, rhetoric will not cut it, anything less than a genuine recalibration of party principles will not cut it. Howard, stay the hell away.