Howard Dean, Movement Leader (UPDATED)

by: David Sirota

Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 08:47

I want to take a moment just to recognize what has been recognized before, but needs to be recognized right here and now one more time: Howard Dean is a genuine hero.

In coming out against the Lieberman-gutted health insurance "reform" bill, Dean is leveraging every shred of power he can muster to create the political space for the final bill - whether passed now, or later after going back to the drawing board - to be better and more progressive. He has made a compelling case that the bill "would do more harm than good," as he says in his Washington Post op-ed today - and in doing that he has made the power struggle between Joe Lieberman's Palpatinian forces of insurance/drug industry darkness and the progressive movement far more symmetrical.

Before Dean's move, the fight was asymmetrical, as Chris Hayes noted in my interview with him on my radio show yesterday. Before Dean's move, Lieberman had the upper hand in that he was the only one who didn't seem to care whether he alone killed the bill by joining with Republicans for a filibuster. Now, though, Dean has said to progressive members of Congress that they should be OK killing this bill if that's what taking a stand for a better bill means. And you see some of them potentially starting to follow.

This is why the White House and the Beltway media is now publicly freaking out at Dean in a way they never freaked out on corporate Dems (Lieberman, Baucus, Nelson, etc.) who were previously obstructing the bill: Because Dean is threatening to change the dynamic that the Beltway was always counting on - a dynamic that relied on progressives ultimately capitulating to the Joe Liebermans, the Rahm Emanuels, the insurance industry and the drug lobbyists. That dynamic only exists if progressive members of Congress - and the larger progressive movement and general public - believes passing the bill is more important than killing it to make it better. If they and we don't believe that, as Howard Dean doesn't and as new polls show we don't, then suddenly progressive members of Congress and the progressive movement can feel free to be as cutthroat as Lieberman himself.

We can feel free to risk sending a bad bill down to defeat in the cause of making it better - because we know that the bill in its current, non-improved form is bad. And from that stand, we may get more progressive concessions before this thing is finally done. Just as the old dynamic was based on buying Lieberman's vote with insurance/drug industry concessions, this new Dean dynamic could  means progressives forcing the leadership and the White House to, say, add back a public option back into this final bill as price for progressive votes.

Of course, there's debate about whether or not we think Dean is right on the substance - about whether the bill is good or bad. I happen to think Dean is right - I happen to believe that passing this awful bill is not worth it even if this awful bill has a few good things in it. Why?  

David Sirota :: Howard Dean, Movement Leader (UPDATED)
Because we have the same president and the same Congress for at least another year and they will be forced to go back to the drawing board.

There is certainly a substantive rush to pass reform, what with thousands dying every year for lack of insurance. But there is not the political rush that seems to be the assumption in DC right now. That's a manufactured bullshit assumption - the same one we heard when the very same set of bought-and-paid-for politicians used a financial crisis to rush through a Wall Street bailout with the very same "must pass it immediately" rationale. Now they're trying to use a health care crisis to rush through an insurance industry bailout.

But here's the thing: It's not like Barack Obama won't be president and Democrats won't control Congress tomorrow. They can go back to the drawing board right now and have the same political topography before them when they come back to the House and Senate floors. And last I checked, when this bill was in more progressive form (ie. with a public option and Medicare buy-in) I didn't hear any of these voices in DC say the bill needed to be on a "must pass immediately" track - only when the bill was gutted are these voices now screaming for it to be immediately passed...hmm...

All of that said, wherever you come down on the substance of the Lieberman-gutted bill, it's clear Dean has created a new progressive dynamic here. He has made it more likely that something better will come out of the Congress either now or in the near future than the monstrosity Lieberman has created. How? By doing his part to create the political space and leverage for us to demand more.

Dean's move, not surprisingly, is being lambasted by the sycophantic Washington press. As just one example, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza - one of the most perfectly calibrated barometers of Beltway conventional wisdom - lashes out at Dean as a "health care reform spoiler" (Cillizza, of course, never said this about Lieberman, Landrieu, Nelson, or any of the other conservadems who were threatening to filibuster the bill over the last few months). And tellingly, Cillizza insists Dean's principled stand is "entirely in his own self interest" - an attempt to completely dismiss the substance of Dean's criticism. Of course, if Dean criticizing the administration was  "entirely in his own self interest," he would not have been cheering on the bill before it was gutted. And so Cillizza's refrain is yet more proof that in Washington's "Church of the Savvy" movement participants taking principled stands are seen as selfish, petulant, stupid and unserious while politicians who exchange votes for industry campaign contributions (Lieberman, Baucus, etc.) and former politicians who are literally paid to lobby for Big Money (Tom Daschle, as an example) are depicted as thoughtful, selfless, "moderate" and "pragmatic" team players.

I have to say, Dean's multi-year transformation is amazing. I remember when I worked for Bernie Sanders how Vermont had a DLC-ish governor named Howard Dean. To look at him now is to stand in awe, because today's Howard Dean is not that Howard Dean. And I believe his transformation is entirely genuine because he had absolutely nothing to gain from it in the way we cynically define "gain" in today's politics. There are many things to "gain" from shutting up and going corporate - there is little to "gain" from championing a progressive cause from a place of authentic conviction. Little to personally "gain" - but much to gain for the country.

Here is a person who has decided not to pull the usual post-retirement dance of worshiping the Establishment and joining The Club. Here is a person whose motives cannot be attacked and who has built an independent base of power the old fashioned way - not through Big Money or through insider connections, but through grassroots organizing, unvarnished policy credibility, and a willingness to stand for principles before party. Here is a person going on television to tell sitting Democratic U.S. senators the cold hard truth to their face: namely that they've sold out. Here is a guy taking on the same obsequious Professional Democratic Elites in DC that are saying we must pass any bill, no matter how destructive, just to give Democrats a political win (the same Professional Democratic Elite that told us to support the Iraq War and the bailout, by the way).

Here is, in short, a rare movement leader in the age of cynicism showing what a movement can do - or at minimum, have a realistic shot to do - when it musters a little bit of courage.

UPDATE: MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and SEIU's Andy Stern pick up and carry Dean's flag. This is the Dean Movement Dynamic at work.

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Dean could have/should have been president (4.00 / 9)
The "yelp" was nothing. The yelp was an excuse, any excuse would do, for the media to destroy a presidential candidate who knew where the power really lies in this country, with its citizens, and was willing to use that power for the betterment of the entire society.

He's the good cop who will not take a bribe to walk a different beat for just one night so that organized criminals might break into the shops and steal from the people he is sworn to protect.

The way his own party members piled on him for that "yelp" (4.00 / 6)
was disgusting. I expect such crass behavior from the opposition, but from within it was all I needed to keep me out of any M$P.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
A little irony there.. (0.00 / 0)
I always believed it was Kerry's last minute and unexpected use and surge of door knocking Veterans in Iowa that originally caught the MSM's news-as-bloodsport- attention. Their comparison of them to the young ski-hatted Deaniacs was pretty dramatic.  The scream sealed his fate.
(Later the swift-boaters had their revenge on Kerry )

Party insiders don't like changing the status quo. Never thought I'd see Obama collapse into one so quickly. After being insulted and shunned by Obama and the party, I was proud to have seen him stay strong and fight for Obama and the party, but sad to see him do it from the shadows.

Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
MSM and Party intentionally took him down (4.00 / 5)
I was and remain a Dean supporter.  I have fought against this following thought, in part because I ended up drinking the Obamade with (almost) everybody else in the Democratic Party; but, there is a reason why Obama was allowed to win, and a reason why the Party and MSM took down Dean.

Dean presented a genuine threat to the status quo, and could not be allowed to win.  As for Obama, well...

I still think Obama is a principled person who genuinely believes he is doing the right thing in the right way--it's just that his way involves settling for the options that don't offend the Conservadem powerbrokers in Congress (and their corporate masters).  This is why, on issue after issue, the Obama Presidency will produce incremental change (at best) that is wholly inadequate to the monumental crises we face now:  stimulus--insufficient; health care "reform"--wholly inadequate; climate crisis legislation--grossly inadequate according to climate change scientists; ending the war in Iraq--monstrously slow and incremental; and that's just a preliminary list.  There are plenty of other areas in which this Administration is causing harm (civil liberties comes to mind).

Also, I suspect that President Dean would have had great difficulty in accomplishing the kind of change he would have sought--at least initially.  Perhaps this would have spurred the election of a progressive Congress.  Unfortunately, we'll never know.

[ Parent ]
Do you know why they did that? (4.00 / 8)
Because Howard Dean is sincere and genuine and his message resonated with people.

Howard Dean is the person who actually drew me into politics. Before Howard Dean I was just your typical "low information voter" who just pulled a lever every November.

Dean changed that - his campaign made me feel like I as a person was empowered to help change the country.

I really wish we had more folks like him.

[ Parent ]
And because he and his DFHs (0.00 / 0)
didn't say mother may I, pretty please.  I still think we should be looking at Dean/Sanders 2012....screw these people.

[ Parent ]
He's made the best arguments of anyone. (4.00 / 3)
"Why the rush", he asked, "to pass a very bad bill since this bill won't go into effect for years?"

Do it in stages, he wisely advises.
A better bill can be gotten later that puts the Medicare buy in back in and going into effect before this bill ever starts.

He said the Dems could quickly put together and pass, for now, a simpler package of some the good stuff everyone agreed to. Much of the Harkin stuff, for example.

That's what a wise and dynamic leader does - he gets what he wants on behalf of his people, in the most strategic manner possible.
Screw this stumble blindly through a mine field and hope something survives crap.  

Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
"Dean's multi-year transformation is amazing" Yes, but not surprising! (4.00 / 2)
As you also wrote, he has nothing to gain, or lose, from making a stand now. So, he can afford the luxury to simply base his statements on his progressive convictions and reasoning. And we need more steadfast Democrats like him making a stand now!

Soemwhat OT, but could someone with a DKos account... (0.00 / 0)
...pls stomp for taking part in that NBC poll about Senator Burris making a stand "for a bill that achieves the goals of a public option: competition, cost savings and accountability"?
The question is, what readers think about this, and the answer should be, of course, "thrilled"! After alerting out folks in a QH, we already had this up to 70%, but now it looks like some right wingers are pushing up the "furious" votes (it's at 40% now, and we are barely ahead with 50%). We need more manpower to counter this, so pls alert the Kossacks! Thx.

The poll is here:

Thx, tremayne! This deserves more than one cookie (4.00 / 3)

[ Parent ]
Yo, man! It works! (4.00 / 1)
Damn, when it comes to sheer manpower, nothing beats the orange satan. Impressive!

[ Parent ]
Hmm, my browser still shows 50%, but that may be a cache problem. (0.00 / 0)
Or else someone wrote a script to keep it at 50/40? It's possible, but doesn't make much sense...

[ Parent ]
update (4.00 / 1)
now it's 59 - 33.

[ Parent ]
I had to do a lot of clicking around (4.00 / 2)
to find that "poll". (Finally found the location of it in the comment section of tremayne's Kos piece). That "poll" looks like an advertisement, so my eyes didn't focus on it. Also, it's not phrased like a traditional poll - it asks your "feelings" about the article, or something. Anyway, I voted "thrilled".

For all that effort, I want a damn cookie, too.

[ Parent ]
exactly (4.00 / 14)
Excellent post. And you know what? The chickens are coming home to roost. The Obama admin. could have brought Dean into the fold as Health Sec. or other position and now they wouldn't have him as a vocal outside critic with nothing to lose. That was just a terrible political choice - they made it and now they can reap the consequences.

And this is exactly right:

But here's the thing: It's not like Barack Obama won't be president and Democrats won't control Congress tomorrow. They can go back to the drawing board right now and have the same political topography before them when they come back to the House and Senate floors. And last I checked, when this bill was in more progressive form (ie. with a public option and Medicare buy-in) I didn't hear any of these voices in DC say the bill needed to be on a "must pass immediately" track - only when the bill was gutted are these voices now screaming for it to be immediately passed...hmm...

Kill The Bill. Obama will still be President. The members of Congress will all be the same. And you know what? As soon as it becomes clear the progressive wing is willing to kill the bill, suddenly the O admin. will freak out and start supporting a chane to the filibuster rule or reconcilitation or whatever they need to do.

Obama has more to lose than anyone if the bill dies. We need to use that to our advantage and stop playing the victim.

If... (0.00 / 0)
If progressive members of Congress kill the bill do they have any hope of playing that up? Would anyone listen or would they give the "win" to the republicans? I still hear and see comments of people saying things like "If Obama and the progressives had their way..." or "If we did things the way Obama and the ultra-left wanted to..." as if Obama is as far left as you can go.  
Would killing the bill do anything to change the tide of right-wing populism and get people to see that maybe the progressives are fighting for them?  If that can happen, I agree with killing the bill from the left. If killing the bill from the left only benefits the right than it's a harder question

Will killing the bill help the right? (0.00 / 0)
or can the narrative become how the corporate/centrist/religious wing blocked needed reforms because of their narrow agenda based on preserving the profit streams for insurance companies and putting the rights of the unborn ahead of the rights of everyone else?

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Thank you! (4.00 / 2)
Its nice to see someone on this blog actually stand up for Dean.  In the last few days others writers on OpenLeft have told us that we had to be careful because Obama would punish progressives if we stood up to him.  Another time we were given all kinds of charts and graphics to explain why we shouldn't oppose Obama.  Its almost as if a couple of this blog's writers are on the payroll of the DLC.

It's a lot easier to disagree with people (4.00 / 4)
when you misrepresent what they say.  Choose among the arguments made by the various front pagers - but accusations based on motive mean you either aren't thinking these questions through or that you are unwilling to defend you're thinking.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Easy now -- (4.00 / 1)
"DLC" is fighting words around here.

Not the kind of accusation you should be throwing around carelessly and not one of the FPers is DLC.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
This is much bigger than Obama or Dean (4.00 / 3)
This about sticking to what a person believes is right - sticking to ones principals.  We have far too long been caught up with individuals as opposed to fighting for what we believe in.  

If we believe in affordable and universal health care then damn it that's what we should fight for - if Pres. Obama wants to stand in the way of progress then that's his problem, if Dr. Dean wants to continue advocating for it great but the bottom line has to be about sticking to a set of principals.

Forget national parties - its all about principals and issues.  That's where the battles will be won or lost.  The national party is gone - it has been bought.  The only thing that will change that is a whole hell of lot more money than corporate interests can generate and that won't happen anytime soon.  We need to focus are efforts on issues instead of candidates and individuals and yes, forget about the Democratic National Committee.  

RebelCapitalist - Financial Information for the Rest of Us.

I strongly agree (4.00 / 3)
I strongly agree its about sticking to one's principles.  There will never be progressive progress until we !) say clearly what we want and 2) stick to it.  The dynamic of always caving has been going on a long time...its a way progressives enable the oligarchs.  

The game in DC is absolutely stacked.  There is no way to win it by working within the system (by focusing on individuals instead of issues).  Its time for people to be implacable about issues.  Make everyone stand up and be counted.  From there it may be possible to build a movement, when one knows who can be counted on.

[ Parent ]
I'm watching Tweety's interview w/Dean (4.00 / 4)
He is such a gasbag, moaning about destroying the Senate. I remember Boxer saying at this year's California Democratic Party convention "half of the Reagan Revolution was accomplished through reconciliation."

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Politicians are destroying the Senate.... (4.00 / 1)
This bill needs to die, and Obama needs to go.  

[ Parent ]
Dean has been my hero... (4.00 / 2)
...since I first saw him on This Week in early 2003.  He wasn't always the most progressive, but he did have vision.  Now he is clearly one of the most effective leaders of the progressive movement.

I'm hopeful that Bernie Sanders also stands up to this bill, and convinces some of this colleagues to do the same.  He's my other hero, maybe more so than Dean because he has to go to work with so many schmucks every day!  Thank god for Vermont politicians!  :)

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -- Martin Luther King, Jr

It was Versailles (4.00 / 3)
It wasn't the yelp that killed Howard Dean's chances.  He was politically out of the race as soon as the Iowa results came in.  What killed him was dirty tricks by the establishment.  A wide selection of the establishment at that.

Remember the geezer.  The old guy in Iowa who asked Dean if Bush was "his neighbor" and said that criticizing Bush was against the Bible.  Republican plant.

Tim Russert gave one of the most hostile interviews (of Dean) I've ever seen.  The MSM lionized him for it.  The next week Russert had Dick Cheney on and sucked up unbelievably to him.  Cheney.  Some objective journalism.  Since then, I have not watched a single one of the Sunday shows.  All lies, all the time.  I've rooted against Russert's Buffalo Bills.  Mr. Blue Collar, my a**.  When Russert died, I had no fake words to say what a noble man he was.  Didn't care if he lived or died but was glad he was off the air.

Kerry ran that ad attacking Dean through some astoturf group headed by Bob Torricelli.  Devastated him.  We didn't know till Kerry was the nominee (in fact if not by ballot) that Kerry was behind it.  Of course, Bush did the same thing to Kerry via the swiftboat ad.  Nobody plays dirtier than the blueblood Bushes.

Will somebody, anybody make sense of the Church of Bipartisanship that is worshipped in Iowa, at least among Democrats?  It doesn't exist in Washington (or at least it is limited to David Broder, the Maine ladies and Ben Nelson and Max Baucus who briefed Republicans and left his own Democrats in the dark about his health care bill.  Historically, things get done by one party or another not by bipartisan co-operation. Is Pete Peterson that powerful to manipulate the whole game by selling Iowa Democrats the big lie incognito?

Reform in general could be greatly advanced by changing the nominating process.  All primaries, no caucuses.  Iowa and New Hampshire on the same day.  Iowa, btw, gave us three Presidents: Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  Nice people.  They take it very seriously (perhaps too seriously) but something is flawed there. (Remember, Bush in Iowa and only in Iowa was a conservative centrist vs. Forbes as there was no McCain).

right (4.00 / 4)
"He was politically out of the race as soon as the Iowa results came in."

Or maybe even three days before that when Dean was getting destroyed by local media every night, while it was running puff pieces on Kerry and Edwards.  (In fact, Edwards received 100% positive coverage over that span, catapulting him from fourth to second place in the caucus.)

[ Parent ]
"even if this awful bill has a few good things in it" Less than u think! (4.00 / 4)
Former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter on Keith Olbermann's show tonight:

   With pre-existing conditions that would be outlawed. But the way that the insurance companies will get around that will be, they would be enabled to charge people who have certain "health factors," as it's called in this bill, up to 50% more, if you've got high blood pressure, or high cholesterol really. So that is just one way to get around doing that.

There goes another argument for the crippled healthcare bill! All those punbdits and wonks who still defend that crap should be ashamed. It's simply a great healthcare swindle!

Thanks for saying that (4.00 / 4)
Dean has always been there out in front saying the same things I was saying at home... why are we invading Iraq? etc etc, and once again he leads the way.

And once again the powers-that-be try to attack the person rather than the message. Once again the powers-that-be try to shove through more corporate handouts. Once again the powers-that-be gear up for more war. Once again the democrats in power fail to do anything. It feels like we are where we've been the past few years. Crazy to think that we actually have democrats in control, as it sure doesn't feel like anything has changed. What an opportunity wasted.

Go Dean Go, once again you are the only one I see leading the way and fighting for what's right.

Is this the same Howard Dean who flat out LIED about health care reform? (0.00 / 1)
He's "a shill for the biotech industry," according to this post.  He lied when he said there was little difference between co-ops and a public option.  Dean also lied when he said that the public option is the same thing as single payer.  This is the guy we should look to for leadership on health care reform?  I don't think so.

"For the average American, (4.00 / 1)
they should best think of [the public option] as Medicare," Dean said.

What a liar! You know who else is a liar? My mother. She once said, 'sick as a dog.'

You're just an anti-similete.  

[ Parent ]
Ok, what are you smoking? (0.00 / 0)
And why didn't you bring enough for the rest of us?

[ Parent ]
Because I'm greedy as a (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
What could have been (4.00 / 3)
We really don't have time to do what if's.  Howard Dean probably would have been a great president, but we are here now, and Gov. Dean is showing us once again, not so unlike Jimmy Carter, that great men do not have to be president to be strong leaders.  Gov. Dean is a man of the moment.  He has risen against the most power people in the world and spoken the truth.  The real question now is will those of us who say we support him, indeed, support him.  Most importantly, will we stand up to this administration that has abandoned us to a few scattered handfuls of legislative rice in favor of their economic benefactors.  

Barack Obama and his people have abandoned the people as surely as George W. Bush.   We should not forget that it was Robert Gibbs and John Kerry who savaged Gov. Dean in the 2004 campaign.  Nor should we forget that these corporate Democrats just defeated a bill to reimport pharmaceuticals at a lower price for the people.  Check the names who voted against that amendment.  The people Obama chose, after the election, are not the friends of the people.  No more so than the administration of Bush 43.  It is time for those of us who see this to stop cowering before the sychophants and, like Gov. Dean, stop being afraid to stand up to this administration.  Unless we can change him, this president is a single termer.

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman

Great post, David! (0.00 / 0)
Go Dean!!

Sorry Dave... (0.00 / 0)
I like both of you, but both you and Dean are being Naive if you think killing this sends it back to the drawing board.  Not in an election year.  It gets killed, its dead.   Earliest we see it pop back up is 2011, but My guess is we don't see it pop up until 2013 earliest.    


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