Wednesday, July 28, 2004
 
Dean Rallies His Troops To Continue Fighting
By Frank O'Brien
BOSTON - July 27.

Campaign for America's Future, a Washington CD based progressive political action group, organized a rally Tuesday afternoon featuring Gov. Howard Dean.

The rally was held at a hotel in Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston. The line extended entirely around the building as people waited patiently to pass through several security checkpoints.

Once inside, the crowd was happy, expectant, waiting for the return of their campaign hero Governor Dean. The Dean audience was a mix of graying radicals, committed young students and serious-minded people concerned about the direction of their country—a marked contrast to the credentialed delegates, a "new Democrat" crowd where ambitious lawyers and hopeful bankers outnumber old civil rights veterans, union regulars and populist farmers.

Bang. Governor Dean, like a shot out of big cannon, takes the stage and proceeds to tear the room down. In a remarkable performance of effective rhetoric, speaking directly from a core of conviction, humor and hard-earned experience, Dean at once re-ignated the essential themes that propelled his campaign and urged his followers to unite behind John Kerry and defeat President Bush.

Alternating between forceful assertion and low-key, almost conversational dialogue, Dean weaved a story of national loss and redemption that kept the audience spellbound. His words were punctuated by vigorous karate chops and other kinetic gestures in a kind of personal judo style. The overall impression is of a man with very solid ethical beliefs who is not afraid to give them full voice, a kind of unscripted intelligent communication that connected immediately with his supporters.

The rapport between Dean and the audience was remarkable—affection, respect and familiarity that bespoke months of intense, shared experience on the campaign. There was complete agreement on the imperative of defeating President Bush, and Dean was unstinting in his endorsement of Kerry.

In sharp-edged language Dean echoed what former President Clinton had said Monday night about the Republican's strategic need to divide the electorate: When campaigns stop being about "Guns, God and Gays", Dean said, and start being about "Jobs, Healthcare and education", then the Democratic, progressive vision will be meaningful for many more Americans.

Turning to the 3 months between now and the election, Dean went beyond urging his followers simply to vote for Kerry. He forcefully urged them to organize into effective community groups, to use the internet for creating wide networks of common purpose, to focus on executing the basic, bread-and-butter work of electing a candidate.

Dean had touched a resonant place in the audience. The crowd seemed deeply engaged and committed to that task he had established.

Later Tuesday, Governor Dean's speech to the convention was a far milder, more nuanced version of the tour-de-force delivered during the day. Nonetheless, in Governor Dean and his supporters, the Kerry campaign has a powerful advantage.

Governor Dean's line of attack both strongly mobilizes an important segment of the Democratic voting base and effectively neutralizes the appeal of Ralph Nader among progressive, independent-minded voters.

In his speech, Dean observed that the most underrepresented demographic group in America is working class and low- to middle-class white men in the South and midwest. The long-term fallout of civil rights, Vietnam, the George Wallace campaign, the Nixon southern strategy and the consolidation of these trends under Reagan has been to effectively disenfranchise these voters. Simply configured, the Democratic party has California, Chicago, the Northeast, a majority of women, many college towns and all African Americans. The Republicans have everything else.

As these Democratic constituencies shape the party in their image, and Republicans tailor their programs to benefit a very small economic and social elite, that leaves an entire segment of middle-class, middle-American white men with no effective political representation.

Whether the model of political engagement that Dr. Dean advocates can accomplish in the South and Midwest on a lasting basis what Clinton was able to accomplish by a unique blending of background and political skill remains an open question.

But for now, he and his followers are motivated to send Bush back to Texas and Chaney permanently to "an undisclosed location."


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