This is a blog long overdue. I meant to write it last week, after Howard Dean announced his withdrawal from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In years past, I have considered myself to be a “professional-amateur political hack,” if such an oxymoron can exist. I’ve been involved in politics for many years. I’ve worked on congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial campaigns. I was the president of Young Democrats in college, and was elected Student Body President my senior year (to my knowledge the only liberal ever elected at right-wing ORU).
What I’m trying to say, is that unlike a lot of Dean supporters who were inspired to get involved in electoral politics for the first time, I’ve been through all of this before. What Dean was to many of you, Bill Clinton was to me in 1992, when I first became eligible to vote. He was young, eloquent, passionate about his beliefs, and came accross as a visionary. Had he lost, I would probably still think of him that way (actually, I do anyhow–but that’s another blog). Even though he won, I still remember the crushing despair I felt in 1994 (Newt Gingrich’s so-called “Republican Revolution”) when every single candidate I had poured my blood, sweat, and tears into was defeated. I know how you feel.
I liked him too. Like, you I thought (and think) he was the best choice to beat Bush. And I think I know why we liked him too. It wasn’t really the policies, or the internet, or his record, although they were all good. It was because he had CHARISMA–that spark of romantic idealism that inspires people; stirrs them up. Clinton had it. Kennedy had it. Shoot–even though I disagree with everything he ever said, Ronald Reagan had it. And Teddy Roosevelt, if you’re looking for another Repub. John Kerry? I’m not sure. At least, I haven’t seen it yet. Bush? Never in a million years.
So now Dean is gone, and many of you are disillusioned. You’re considering Ralph Nader, or worse yet, just dropping out of presidential politics altogether, like the McGovernites of ’72.
But remember, even though you were new to this whole whirlwind of idealism and hope–Dean wasn’t. Howard Dean was the Governor of Vermont. To rise to a post of that stature means he had to work his way up through the ranks, dealing with self-promoting, self-comprimising politicians. And defeat–if not of his candidacies, at least of some of his ideas. But he kept going. He didn’t drop out of politics, and you shouldn’t either.
Please, please follow his example. And here’s where it’s really going to hurt: Follow his example in November too, when Howard Dean, as he has promised, will vote for the Democratic nominee for President–whoever that turns out to be. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that the reason he has pledged to do this is because he’s learned the same thing I’ve learned over the years of my involvement in politics: Leaders–even great ones–come and go, but it is the party that lives on. Yes, the Democratic party is often slower to act as a whole than some of its parts, I realize this. But I believe that it has carried the country in the right direction, if slower than some might have wanted.
Dean and the first-timers he inspired are like young love–passionately burning…and brief. Believe me, as a high school teacher, I see it every day. But those of us who have been with the Democratic party for a long time have a deep and abiding committment, not unlike a marriage. You have to work at it. Sometimes it’s not what you dreamed about, but sometimes it will still surprise you, and always it will be worth it in the end.
I don’t know if John Kerry will be the next nominee, or if he’ll be the next president. Even though he’s not my favorite, if he’s elected I don’t think he’ll be “bush-lite.” Remember, John Kennedy came from an affluent background, and was actually pretty moderate and non-committal in his campaign speeches against Nixon. The two of them didn’t disagree on a single major issue. In foreign policy, he was conservative. He only barely won the election. But when he took up the office of president, he filled the shoes many thought he couldn’t. I believe that at least in part, it was because he belonged to the right party, and ascribed to a platform that was sometimes even more progressive than he. That platform is still out there, and once the dust settles from election promises and positioning, a Democratic president will always be a Democratic president, and that will always be better than a Republican one. Besides, in the next four years, the Supreme Court will be up for grabs, and that will affect the country for years and years to come.
I know this has been long, and if you’re still reading, there must be a reason. Dean is gone, but your vote isn’t. Keep your idealism and your spark, and they will find another day, another candidate. But while you’re at it, keep your vote with the Democratic party, too.