Howard Dean, medical doctor, former Vermont governor, one-time Democratic presidential candidate and once chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), expressed interest last week in again running for president.
Dean, a feisty intellectual who does not suffer fools well, could be the first bump in the presumed coronation of Hillary Clinton as 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. The governor is having a reunion of “Deaniacs” in Vermont Sunday, June 23.
Political pundits and long-time Clinton supporters should not forget everyone expected then-US Senator Clinton of New York to win the Democratic nomination in 2008. Instead, she lost to a little known US Senator from Illinois. Currently, there is growing clamor that it’s time for a woman to be president. Actually, it is long overdue. Smart, strong capable women running for president and the years they ran include, but are not limited to, US Senator Margaret Chase Smith (1964) and US Representatives Shirley Chisholm (1972), Patsy Takemoto Mink (1972), Bella Savitzky Abzug (1972), Barbara Jordan (1976) and Patricia Schroeder (1988 and 1992). They had moxie, intelligence and the personal integrity necessary to serve in the White House.
These and other women are unforgettable trailblazers. In 2016, America deserves more in a candidate than simply the growing cliché, “it’s her turn.” Let’s be sure if Hillary is elected, it’s because she is the best candidate who happened to be a woman, not because she is first and foremost a woman.
As governor, Dean opposed the Iraq war, supported civil unions and universal health care that does not become a costly, bureaucratic nightmare. He earned a reputation as a business-friendly, tax-averse chief executive with a deft ability to balance fiscal pragmatism with prudent public policy. It set him apart from Democratic and Republican governors. He successfully found a middle way of governing. In a recent CBS News interview, Dean said he would run if candidate(s) don’t speak about the issues with vision and passion.
According to Dean, “What I am driven by is pushing the country in a direction that it desperately needs to be pushed; pushing other politicians who aren’t quite as frank as I am who need to be more candid with the American people about what needs to happen.” He added, “I am not trying to hedge. It’s a hard job running. It’s really tough.” Dean says he’s inclined not to run, but doesn’t seem to mind being the conscience of his party by getting candidate(s) to talk about issues as well as solutions.
As a matter of disclosure, I interviewed Dean three times while Vermont governor. Early on, I suggested he’d make a better candidate then Vice President Al Gore to take on Gov. George Bush (R-Texas). Four years later, I made a similar observation. He made a credible run for the top spot against US Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for the presidential nomination, though came up short. Dean’s infamous “scream” in an attempt to rally his troops after losing the Iowa caucus seemed to be suspiciously seized-upon and shrewdly spun in the media depicting the Vermont governor, who opposed the Iraq war, as too spirited to serve as commander-in-chief.
The night Dean lost Iowa, he tried to maintain the enthusiasm of supporters, but in doing so provided critics an opportunity to define him. Kerry won the nomination and ran a poor campaign losing to Bush. There might be a presidential curse among Massachusetts nominees, especially when including Michael Dukakis and Mitt Romney. After falling short for the nomination, the Vermont governor became chair of the DNC. He rebuilt a national party and with it helped to revitalize its organizational prowess.
Part of this success stems from medical training and as a practicing doctor. He quickly and accurately diagnoses a problem and takes actions. He doesn’t languish with process knowing full well someone can die. These are skills he brought with him as an effective governor and respected national party chair. If Dean decides to jump into the 2016 race, he will have a mountain to climb as money piles up in Clinton’s campaign war chest. The Vermont governor, however, still has name recognition and a loyal network of Deaniacs throughout the country.
In addition, even if he doesn’t run, but remains an active commentator, he encourages candidate(s) to work for the nomination and not presume political entitlement. There are many issues needing debate and most important solutions to fix problems. Dean’s participation at some level will make the Democratic nominating process less a coronation and more about discussing challenges and better preparing the eventual nominee for the tough, general election contest.