Comment » Opinion

Howard Dean


by Pia K. Hansen

Born in 1948 in New York City to affluent parents, Howard Dean's life is one of overseas study and old school country clubs. Dean's father, a stockbroker, and his mother, an art appraiser, had three other sons; one is a market researcher, one a bond trader, one is deceased. Their other son, as we all know, is running for President of the United States.

Dean was educated in a private boarding school in Rhode Island and at 17 went to England as an exchange student. One ironic fact dug out of the archives about young Howard Dean is that at the age of 15 he attended the 1964 Republican National Convention. But the conservative party's influence didn't stick. Dean claims that some of his liberal leanings began emerging during his young days at the exclusive "whites only" East Hampton Maidstone Club, where he talks about feeling the humiliation of discrimination and the discomfort of segregation. Dean never served in the military. He was deferred from service because he did not pass his physical.

Dean graduated from Yale in 1971 and went on to study medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine where he met and married his wife of 23 years, Judith Steinberg, also a physician. They moved to Burlington, Vt., to raise a family and have two children; their son is now in high school and their daughter attends college. Dean was raised Congregationalist; Steinberg is Jewish. His children say they identify with Jewish culture but are not practicing the religion.

Dean claims his start in politics involved fighting to install a bike path in his Vermont town, but he had long been on the fringes of political activism. Dean worked as a volunteer for the 1980 Jimmy Carter re-election campaign and was active in politics while he was a practicing physician from 1981-91; he became a full-time politician after being elected governor of Vermont in '91. Dean had already served in the Vermont House of Representatives, as an assistant minority leader, and as lieutenant governor before being elected governor. He was re-elected five times. His popularity could have something to do with the fact that Dean balanced the state's budget for 11 years and created a surplus. He saw that 99 percent of Vermont's children and 96 percent of its adults had health care.

In His Own Words -- "President Kennedy challenged us to 'pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.' And so we must issue that challenge again. So too must we restore the deepest belief of our people that each generation has responsibility to pass to our children a nation and a world that is better and stronger than the one that was passed to us. As we experience the crisis of community at home, we are witnessing the effort to repudiate 225 years of American consensus on what our nation's place should be in the world. Since the time of Thomas Paine and John Adams, our founders implored that we were not to be the new Rome. We are not to conquer and suppress other nations to submit to our will. We were to inspire them. The idea of America using its power solely for its own ends is not consistent with the idealistic moral force the world has known for over two centuries."

Thinking Big: Health care -- Along with his anti-war stance, Dean's biggest platform piece is his health care plan, which promises basic health insurance to everyone 25 and younger, with private insurability as an option. He says anyone whose annual income is less than $33,000 would also have basic coverage and that those making more than that would have the option of buying the same insurance package for no more than $330 a month.

Bush-bashing --- "We in politics have not given our people a reason to participate. We have slavishly spewed sound bites, copying each other while saying little. Our leaders have developed a vocabulary [that] has become meaningless to the American people. There is no greater example of this than a self-described conservative Republican president who creates the greatest deficits in the history of America."

Position/Strategy -- Howard Dean is fast becoming an example of what the mass media, with its horse-race coverage, can do to a political candidate. While Dean supporters are morphing into Kerry followers, they may do well to remember that in 1992, Bill Clinton didn't win a caucus until Georgia (March 2). Likewise, he didn't pull ahead as frontrunner until June. But there is a sense of urgency this time, and many believe the best fit for Democratic aspirations is whoever is most likely to give Bush a run for his $131 million (the amount in his campaign war chest).

At first, it looked like Dean was the man to do just that. A call-it-like-it-is politician with few ties to D.C., Dean launched a grassroots campaign that surprised the nation. As much commentary was placed on the power of the Internet as an organizing tool as on Dean himself. Liberals came out to line up behind the "Dean Machine."

"I'm reaching out to those who have quit voting because they can't tell the difference between the Democrats and Republicans," Dean said during his recent stop in Spokane.

The Dean campaign has raised over $41 million -- the most of any Democrat -- and currently has about $10 million left in the coffers.

But in state caucuses last weekend, Dean couldn't beat Kerry in Washington, Michigan or Maine -- something he desperately needed to do. He is yet to win a state, although he is second in delegates. Dean has chosen not to compete in several key states, and he's currently putting all his efforts into Wisconsin's Feb. 17 primary. Dean plans to stay in the race at least through the March 2 primaries in New York and California.

Publication date: 02/12/04

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