09 February 2009

Thank You Howard

Governor Howard Dean, M.D., is a great American Hero.

By being a Vermonter -- outspoken, but not overspoken; sensible, thoughtful, but passionate -- by taking an anti-war stance early on, became the focus of a deep strain of peaceful, compassionate Americans who strategically needed to get the idea of peace past the corpo-media by injecting it, at last, into the national horse-race.

But we needed more than just an anti-war president. Hell, Nixon was anti-war. (OK, not really.) We needed a focus for a grander strategy. And here is where you really shone, Howard. (Forgive the informalism, I'm feeling like thinking of you as a man in this moment, and not as your titles, which you certainly deserve respect for.) You told us to retake the school boards, and the local offices, yes, as a stairway to the presidency and peace, but you also told us to take back the Democratic Party. Yeah, yeah, maybe you read Lakoff, and maybe you heard Wellstone, but you brought it all together -- Framing, grassroots control of the party -- addressing, finally, Corporatism. (I think it was the direct attack on corporatism, when you leveled it at the media giants, correctly, but not with the best timing, which brought you down from the national horse-race, but not from your vision, which you continued to fight for, brilliantly.)

I asked Denis Kucinich, when he was here in Oakland, what we could do to stop the PATRIOT ACT, and he simply replied, with, what was certainly not meant as one, but what seemed to be transmitted as a shrug, "organize." I asked him more questions, and hung out while he tried to answer a small circle of us, all asking "yes, but what do we DO?" Nothing got answered. His politics are all in the right place, but he couldn't answer the fundamental questions that many of us had. It seemed no one could.

When I went to see Governor Dean speak, it was in a small office in the Upper Valley in New Hampshire, where I was helping out, and he came through to rally the troops. I gave him my CD with my song "I Want My Country Back" inspired by his speeches. I stood and chatted a moment with him -- he also plays guitar -- I found that I didn't have ANY questions for him. His speech that day had, again, answered all my questions -- Organize, yes, but here's how, and here's why. He said we might not win this year, but maybe in 10 years, we'd own the party again, and that we, and independents, and sensible republicans would own our country again.

He lost the 2004 election. I went to see him a fourth time, and play onstage for him my song, at a DFA party/conference (after the primary) called DeanFest. DFA is Democracy for America, which Dean renamed from Dean for America, after his presidential campaign closed. Democracy for America was a grassroots/netroots campaign run by a tiny staff and lots of online and in-the-streets activists. These same people overwhelmed the local Democratic Party chapters and pushed to have Dean installed as Democratic Party Chairman.

Dean focused his tenure on the so-called 50 State Strategy, which was a means of funding and supporting party offices in all 50 states, not as the previous party leadership had ignored many rural states, leading to the Republicans' and conservative christians' grassroots efforts to gain a hold in the so-called Red States. Dean's brilliance was to tackle this head on. We were there, working in Nevada, for John Kerry the war-waffler, ferchristsake. I went to Reno to walk the hot streets in Summer, and then the cool, dessicated dusty backstreets on election day in November, to get out the vote. Reno. Armpit of the West. Red State. We almost won. That was huge. But I saw dozens of people I knew from the Bay Area. I saw my NEIGHBORS from Berkeley -- in Reno getting out the vote, monitoring the polls.

DFA produced a short-list, of sorts, called Dean's Dozen. These were true grassroots politicians, coming fast up the political bean stalk. DFA added it's support to these energetic souls seeking higher offices. (DFA also held and still holds training sessions for those getting into politics and organizing.) Someone saw Barack Obama, and headed him to the Dean's Dozen. Maybe our valiant new President is so brilliant that he didn't need Howard's push. From where I sit now, and what I saw back in the 2004 campaign, it was George Lakoff who documented how the Republican thinktanks worked people's emotional judgment, and who pushed the research to give us all a clear concept of what Framing is about in a political world. Then Paul Wellstone said "I'm here from the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Then it was Howard Dean who took a big, sometimes stumbly, grab at reframing the debates in this country. He was wildly successful. Barack Obama probably understood Framing innately, but it sure seems like he read Lakoff, and listened to Wellstone and Dean. And the grassroots/netroots that Dean helped build DID take over the party, and did reach so many people, now with an understanding of how we get power over greed and money. (Hey, there's a LOT more of us numerically than corporations -- I guess that means we have money.) And that grassroots effort helped put Obama over the top. Not the pro-war Hillary.

I'm not a Christian, but from a literary perspective, if President Obama is viewed as Jesus of Nazareth, maybe a messiah, maybe just a man, then Governor Dean would be John the Baptist.

Prepare ye the way.