Howard Dean was not angry.
As the star attraction of the Campaign for America's Future three-day "Take Back America" conference in Washington, he was, however, pretty fired up. And so yesterday afternoon was his audience of, as he called them, "2,000 of the most committed progressive activists" in the country.
When Dean applauded the resignation of CIA Director George J. Tenet hours earlier, saying "it's about time someone in the administration resigned," the audience cheered. When he talked about the need for active citizenship ("Democracy is not a spectator sport"), the audience cheered louder. And when he promised that liberal activists would not only win the White House but also the culture wars ("Never again are we going to permit the extreme right wing of the Republican Party to dictate what we do"), the audience jumped to its feet and roared, drowning out the last rousing moments of Dean's speech.
Dean was the main event, and honoree of the Tom Paine Common Sense Award for leadership, at a conference full of political stars of the left -- from philanthropist George Soros, who was introduced by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), to civil rights leader Julian Bond to former labor secretary Robert B. Reich -- and attended by the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- people who would have probably chosen the former Vermont governor as the Democratic presidential nominee had his campaign not crashed and burned in Iowa.
Dean's speech, with the exception of a few references to the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), for whom he pledged to fight, was an updated version of his stump speech. But the crowd was not wistful. Rather, it seemed grateful that the end of Dean's campaign had not silenced him.
The conference, with workshops on everything from delivering winning messages in campaigns to the role of social issues in the election, was designed to energize its participants to return to their home bases and fight the good liberal fight.
Even Clinton was brazenly partisan: "Do you remember I once mentioned the vast right-wing conspiracy?" she said. "Some doubted me."
Soros, who is spending millions of his dollars to fund various anti-Bush groups, compared Bush's foreign policy to George Orwell's political satire "Animal Farm."
"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," Soros said.
Still, for returning a backbone to the Democratic Party and leading a fight that has created dozens of new or newly energized liberal groups, many credited Dean, the earliest, most outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, as well as Bush's policies on the environment, education, the economy and on the judiciary.
As Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.), "who called himself a proud progressive and proud liberal," said in introducing Dean, "We could not be more proud of this individual."