Howard Dean: 'The future of the Democratic Party'
By Howard Dean
Remarks made by Governor Howard Dean on the Future of the Democratic Party. Given at The George Washington University on December 8, 2004
Thank you for that introduction. It's a pleasure to be here.
Let me tell you what my plan for this Party is:
We're going to win in Mississippi
...and South Carolina.
Four years ago, the President won 49 percent of the vote. The Republican Party treated it like it was a mandate, and we let them get away with it.
Fifty one percent is not a mandate either. And this time we're not going to let them get away with it.
Our challenge today is not to re-hash what has happened, but to look forward, to make the Democratic Party a 50-state party again, and, most importantly, to win.
To win the White House and a majority in Congress, yes. But also to do the real work that will make these victories possible -- to put Democratic ideas and Democratic candidates in every office -- whether it be Secretary of State, supervisor of elections, county commissioner or school board member.
Here in Washington, it seems that after every losing election, there's a consensus reached among decision-makers in the Democratic Party is that the way to win is to be more like Republicans.
I suppose you could call that philosophy: if you didn't beat 'em, join them.
I'm not one for making predictions -- but if we accept that philosophy this time around, another Democrat will be standing here in four years giving this same speech. we cannot win by being "Republican-lite." We've tried it; it doesn't work.
The question is not whether we move left or right. It's not about our direction. What we need to start focusing on... is the destination.
There are some practical elements to the destination.
The destination of the Democratic Party requires that it be financially viable, able to raise money not only from big donors but small contributors, not only through dinners and telephone solicitations and direct mail, but also through the Internet and person-to-person outreach.
The destination of the Democratic Party means making it a party that can communicate with its supporters and with all Americans. Politics is at its best when we create and inspire a sense of community. The tools that were pioneered in my campaign -- like blogs, and meetups, and streaming video -- are just a start. We must use all of the power and potential of technology as part of an aggressive outreach to meet and include voters, to work with the state parties, and to influence media coverage.
The most practical destination is winning elective office. And we must do that at every level of government. The way we will rebuild the Democratic Party is not from consultants down, but from the ground up.
We have some successes to build on. We raised more money than the RNC, and we did so by attracting thousands of new small donors. This is the first time in my memory that the DNC is not coming out of a national campaign in debt. We trained tens of thousands of new activists. We put together the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation our Party has ever had. We registered millions of new voters, including a record number of minority and young voters. And we saw those new voters overwhelmingly vote Democrat.
Now we need to build on our successes while transforming the Democratic Party into a grassroots organization that can win in 50 states.
I have seen all the doomsday predictions that the Democratic Party could shrink to become a regional Party. A Party of the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest.
We cannot be a Party that seeks the presidency by running an 18-state campaign. We cannot be a party that cedes a single state, a single District, a single precinct, nor should we cede a single voter.
As many of the candidates supported by my organization Democracy for America showed -- people in places that we've too long ignored are hungry for an alternative; they're hungry for new ideas and new candidates, and they're willing to elect Democrats.
Since we started Dean for America last March, we raised over $5 million, mostly from small donors. That money was given to 748 candidates in 46 states and at every level of government.
We helped a Democratic governor get elected in Montana and a Democratic mayor get elected in Salt Lake County, Utah.
We helped Lori Saldana in San Diego. Lori, a Latina grassroots environmental organizer was outspent in both the primary and the general, won a seat on the state assembly.
We also helped Anita Kelly become the first African-American woman elected to her circuit court in Montgomery Alabama.
Fifteen of the candidates who we helped win last month never ran for elective office before.
And in Texas, a little known candidate who had been written off completely ran the first competitive race against Tom Delay in over a decade.
There are no red states or blue states, just American states. And if we can compete at all levels and in the most conservative parts of the country, we can win ... at any level and anywhere.
People will vote for Democratic candidates in Texas, and Alabama, and Utah if we knock on their door, introduce ourselves, and tell them what we believe.
There is another destination beyond strong finances, outreach, and campaigns.
That destination is a better, stronger, smarter, safer, healthier America.
An America where we don't turn our back on our own people.
That's the America we can only build with conviction.
When some people say we should change direction, in essence they are arguing that our basic or guiding principles can be altered or modified.
On issue after issue, we are where the majority of the American people are.
What I want to know is at what point did it become a radical notion to stand up for what we believe?
Over fifty years ago, Harry Truman said, "We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don't need to try it."
Yet here we are still making the same mistakes.
Let me tell you something: there's only one thing Republican power brokers want more than for us to lurch to the left -- and that's for us to lurch to the right.
What they fear most is that we may really begin fighting for what we believe -- the fiscally responsible, socially progressive values for which Democrats have always stood and fought.
I'll give this to Republicans. They know the America they want. They want a government so small that, in the words of one prominent Republican, it can be drowned in a bathtub.
They want a government that runs big deficits, but is small enough to fit into your bedroom.
They want a government that is of, by, and for their special interest friends.
They want a government that preaches compassion but practices division.
They want wealth rewarded over work.
And they are willing to use any means to get there.
In going from record surpluses to record deficits, the Republican Party has relinquished the mantle of fiscal responsibility.
And now they're talking about borrowing another $2 trillion to take benefits away from our Senior Citizens.
In going from record job creation to record job loss, they have abandoned the mantle of economic responsibility.
In cutting health care, education, and community policing programs... and in failing to invest in America's inner cities, or distressed rural communities... they certainly have no desire to even claim the mantle of social responsibility.
In their refusal to embrace real electoral reform or conduct the business in government in the light of day, they are hardly the model of civic responsibility.
In their willingness to change the rules so that their indicted leaders can stay in power, they have even given up any claim on personal responsibility.
And in starting an international conflict based on misleading information, I believe they have abdicated America's moral responsibility, as well.
There is a Party of fiscal responsibility... economic responsibility.... social responsibility... civic responsibility... personal responsibility... and moral responsibility.
It's the Democratic Party.
We need to be able to say strongly, firmly, and proudly what we believe.
Because we are what we believe.
And we believe every person in America should have access to affordable health care. It is wrong that we remain the only industrialized nation in the world that does not assure health care for all of its citizens.
We believe the path to a better future goes directly through our public schools. I have nothing against private schools, parochial schools and home schooling. Parents with the means and inclination should choose whatever they believe is best for their children. But those choices must never come at the expense of what has been -- and must always be -- the great equalizer in our society -- public education.
We believe that if you put in a lifetime of work, you have earned a retirement of dignity -- not one that is put at risk by your government or unethical business practices.
The first time our nation balanced its budget, it was Andrew Jackson, father of the Democratic Party, who did it. The last time our nation balanced its budget, it was Bill Clinton who did it. I did it every year as Governor. Democrats believe in fiscal responsibility and we're the only ones who have delivered it.
We believe that every single American has a voice and that it should be heard in the halls of power everyday. And it most certainly must be heard on Election Day. Democracies around the world look to us as a model. How can we be worthy of their aspirations when we have done enough to guarantee accurate elections for our own citizens.
We believe in a strong and secure America... And we believe we will be stronger by having a moral foreign policy.
We need to embrace real political reform -- because only real reform will pry government from the grasp of the special interests who have made a mockery of reform and progress for far too long.
The pundits have said that this election was decided on the issue of moral values. I don't believe that. It is a moral value to provide health care. It is a moral value to educate our young people. The sense of community that comes from full participation in our Democracy is a moral value. Honesty is a moral value.
If this election had been decided on moral values, Democrats would have won.
It is time for the Democratic Party to start framing the debate.
We have to learn to punch our way off the ropes.
We have to set the agenda.
We should not hesitate to call for reform -- reform in elections, reform in health care and education, reforms that promote ethical business practices. And, yes, we need to talk about some internal reform in the Democratic Party as well, and I'll be discussing that more specifically in the days ahead.
Reform is the hallmark of a strong Democratic Party.
Those who stand in the way of reform cannot be the focus of our attention for only four months out of every four years.
Reform is a daily battle.
And we must pursue those reforms with conviction -- every day, at all levels, in 50 states.
A little while back, at a fundraiser, a woman came up to me. She identified herself as an evangelical Christian from Texas. I asked her what you are all wondering -- why was she supporting me. She said there were two reasons. The first was that she had a child who had poly-cystic kidney disease, and what that illness made it impossible for their family to get health care.
The second thing she said was, "The other reason we're with you is because evangelical Christians are people of deep conviction, and you're a person of deep conviction. I may not agree with you on everything, but what we want more than anything else from our government is that when something happens to our family or something happens to our country -- it's that the people in office have deep conviction."
We are what we believe. And the American people know it.
And I believe that over the next two... four... ten years...
Election by election...
State by state...
Precinct by precinct...
Door by door...
Vote by vote...
We're going to lift our Party up...
And we're going to take this country back for the people who built it.