Former Vermont governor Howard Dean warned fellow Democrats yesterday to resist moving to the right to combat the Republican majorities in Washington, saying the party can be competitive in all regions of the country if members organize at the grass roots and stick to progressive principles.
The former Democratic presidential candidate outlined his views on how the party should respond to losses in the November election on the eve of a Democratic gathering in Florida at which he and other prospective candidates for party chairman will address state party leaders.
"There is only one thing the Republican power brokers want more than for us to lurch to the left, and that's for us to lurch to the right," Dean said in a speech at George Washington University. "Because what they fear most is that we may really begin fighting for what we believe: fiscal responsibility, socially progressive values for which Democrats have always stood and fought."
Dean has been exploring a run for Democratic National Committee chairman, to succeed Terence R. McAuliffe, but that bid could conflict with another run for the presidency in 2008. Asked after his speech whether running for party chairman would preclude running for president, he replied, "Yes, in '08, yes."
Dean sounded themes reminiscent of his failed bid for the Democratic nomination -- and drew an enthusiastic response from his largely student audience -- as he offered his prescription for the party's ailments. He charged that Republicans have abandoned a commitment to fiscal, economic and social responsibility and, in foreign policy, what he called "America's moral responsibility."
Arguing that Democrats must "learn to punch our way off the ropes," he said that majorities of Americans agree with Democratic positions on most major issues and that party leaders should not shrink from a vigorous debate and trying to set the agenda for political debate. "We need to be able to say strongly and firmly and proudly what we believe because we are what we believe," he said.
Dean said Democrats tried and failed to become "Republican lite" -- although he did not say when that occurred -- and now need to redouble efforts to offer progressive alternatives to President Bush and the Republicans, in all regions of the country.
State party leaders will hear from Dean and other prospective candidates for the chairmanship in Orlando this weekend. Possible candidates include Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), former Michigan governor James J. Blanchard, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, businessman Leo J. Hindery Jr., Democratic strategist and Silicon Valley veteran Donnie Fowler, and Simon B. Rosenberg, founder of the centrist New Democrat Network. No favorite has emerged.