An Appreciation

No matter what happens today, can I get a shout-out to my man Howard Dean?

Two years ago this week, the Democrats were completely — completely — beaten down. They had just been handed a thorough drubbing at the polls by George Bush in the midterms. War was looming in Iraq, and the conventional wisdom was that war would lift Bush to new heights of popularity (never mind whether it was a good idea or not). The Democrats, as a party of opposition, were bankrupt.

Then came Dean.

I discovered Howard Dean the way a lot of people did: by word of mouth. Smart people kept telling me I should check out this no-hoper, this Vermont governor who was polling down in Carol Moseley-Braun territory but who nonetheless was keeping at it. So I did, and what I saw inspired me. Here was someone who believed, not just that we could stop George Bush from doing the wrong things, but that we could force the system to do the right things. He wasn’t movie-star handsome, but in his earnestness and willingness to confront the hard problems, he was strangely magnetic. You wanted to build a world that was as good as the one in his vision.

He led a lot of us to try to do just that. And in the process he helped the Democratic Party find its soul again — even Democrats like John Kerry, who sound a lot different now than they did two years ago.

You all know the story of the Dean campaign, so I won’t go into it here. But what makes Howard Dean doubly remarkable is what happened after the media and the Democratic establishment knifed him in the back. He could have picked up his ball and gone home, taken the rest of the year off — hell, that’s probably what I would have done, in his place. But he didn’t. Instead, he dusted himself off and went right to work campaigning for the very people who’d worked so hard to derail his campaign! He did so because he knew that the higher objective — sending George Bush back to Crawford, Texas (as he loves to put it) — was more important than any one person, even Howard Dean. It was more important than any ego gratification he could get from watching Kerry take a fall. So he went to work for Kerry without any grousing or complaint — even after Kerry spent much of the primary season going after Howard Dean with every rhetorical weapon in his arsenal.

That’s an incredibly classy thing to do. It’s a real window into the kind of man Howard Dean is. And it’s why I volunteered for him and contributed to his campaign.

Today, John Kerry is the nominee of the Democratic Party. But the road that brought John Kerry to that place took a far different path than most people expected in November 2002. It led the Democrats to find their voice again; to be willing to stand up and challenge George Bush on all sorts of issues; to learn how to organize at the local level again; in short, to do all the things a party needs to do to win. And I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it owes much of that to Howard Dean.

Will it be enough to win? We’ll know tonight. But no matter what the outcome all Democrats owe Dr. Dean a debt of gratitude.