Sunday, October 17, 2004

A Consversation with Howard Dean

Quoting "Rev. Gerry Straatemeier:

Good morning, my friends,

Last evening I had an amazing treat. I had dinner with Howard Dean. I don’t mean I attended his dinner. I mean that I was privileged to sit with him for an hour at dinner in conversation, at his right side. An informal guy, he did not sit at the reserved table, and so I was able to have this extraordinary experience. Please bear with me, this is a bit of stream of consciousness writing, but I really want to share.

First, I have to say that it was not like you would imagine, sitting with someone who has had such a major effect on us all. He laughed and joked, enjoyed the meal, went back for seconds, talked about issues raised by people at the table, his wife, Vermont, and the decisions before him as leader of DFA and its 600,000 very activist members. I want you to know he is really a nice guy, and sensitive.

At the rally, he had said that the Bushies wanted to talk about guns, God, and gays. He wants to talk about jobs, health care, and the economy. He said (no surprise but well worded ) that the Bush gang were a bunch of cold idealogues who care more about ideology than about people. Any people.

He asked everyone to vote TODAY and emphasized that here in Arizona, the party that gets its votes in first, wins. He came at the invitation of Raul Grijalva, who, while not facing a tough race himself, is working tirelessly, as we all know, to get out the vote in support of everyone else. He urged everyone to go to Raul1s website and put in the $10 and $25 donations needed to help make that happen. So, I think that1s a good idea. He also asked us each to work tirelessly for the next 18 days to talk to people, walk, knock on doors, make phone calls etc. He says the numbers are closing and we actually have a chance to win Arizona (Slate this morning has Arizona as Bush Close rather than Bush Solid)- IF we can get all those newly registered voters to the polls, early, in fact as quickly as possible. He anticipates some late dirty tricks, and having especially our new votes ‘in the bank’ is vital. (also see this: GOP Theft of Our Election Is Under Way)

BTW, our Democratic candidates for corporation commission, Nina Trasoff and Mark Manoil, spoke about the environmental costs to Arizonans in building plants to sell energy to California - and the fact that our Republican Only corporation commission is not supporting our development of renewable energy (here in the sunshine capital of the West) and the fact that we must vote for ONLY them if we want them to win. VOTE FOR ONLY TWO. In a runoff election, any vote for any Republican is a vote against them. VOTE FOR ONLY TWO (Trasoff and Manoil) for corporation commission!

At dinner, Gov. Dean told us that we would be in Iraq for a very long time because of the mess Bush has created over there, that Kerry can extricate us but not any time soon. (being out-of-touch idealogue, Bush wants to use Iraq as a long term base for middle eastern control, which rightfully upsets those who live there; Kerry is not interested in PAX Americana - but the situation is very bad. Like a ninny, I forgot to ask about Israel. Believe me, I am kicking myself this morning. He did tell me, in an aside, that Bush is right about John Kerry being a liberal, that although like everyone in Washington he has had to take all sides of every position, Kerry1s voting record is genuinely liberal. (If not anti-war. gs) Coming from Howard Dean, this endorsement was reassuring to me. He said that, as an example, Kerry’s vote against the $87 billion was principled, based on the fact that Bush was unwilling to pay for it by rolling back tax cuts for the rich.

He spoke about DFA and the role it has taken on to find and support progressives running for office. He spoke about a recent decision he made not to support a Democrat who asked to be a ‘Dean Dozen’ candidate. He was in a tough but winnable race with a really demented Republican in Oklahoma, but because the Democrat supported the ban on gay marriage and did not support women’s reproductive rights, Dean did not support him. He said it was thankfully not our job (as DFA) to be sure Democrats were elected just because they were Democrats and he felt it would have been a betrayal of the trust we 600,000 have put in his stewardship of our energy and dollars to elect another Democrat who didn’t act like a Democrat.

It is our job in DFA to be sure people were elected, of any party, who reflect our values, and to persuade people with progressive values to run for every office from PC to school board to president. (BTW, Go Claudia Ellquist - please vote for a very competent, activist Green candidate for County Attorney, who stands against the death penalty)

Dean said that many true conservative Republicans and most of American business are very uncomfortable with the current state of affairs because of the deficit, because they are finally beginning to understand the ideological, non-economic roots of Bush foreign policy, because of the fall in consumer spending, and because government has no business in people’s personal lives. He said that, sadly, Ralph Nader seems to have genuinely lost himself and is not the person he was even four years ago.

He spoke about our work after Nov. 2. He said both at the rally and at the dinner table that Kerry winning is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progressive values to predominate in the party. He discussed with us the decisions we face as progressives in the event that Kerry wins, and in the event that Kerry loses. He also said that it was it was an amazing thing when the progressive wing of the Democratic party can be represented by a centrist such as he, and a symptom of a party that has truly lost its way. He has asked his supporters in the past to become active in our party, to become PCs, to run for office, and begin to make our voice heard within the party. He had said at that time that we cannot expect our views to carry if we aren’t even at the table when decisions are made.

If John Kerry wins, our role is clear. We continue to find and support progressive candidates and issues and to be active in the ways listed above. John Kerry assumes the leadership of the DNC, whose major role is to keep him and other elected Democrats (of every stripe) in office. We hold Kerry’s feet to the fire to uphold our values in the many ways we can and more we will dream up. Dean is very supportive of the Progressive Democratic Caucus which many of us have joined, smiled broadly when I brought it up, and in fact spoke at the PDA convention in Boston.

If John Kerry loses, he says, then there will be a battle within the party for control of DNC, between those who want to take the party even further to the right, hoping to win back the ‘moderates’, and those who want to return to and expand upon progressive principles, knowing that we will only win when Democrats stand for something again. He predicts the fight will be very bloody and ugly. He wants to know if he and we (DFA) should enter it directly, or stand aside as an independent voice. He proposed that we act
as a focus group and tell him what we think. We are Arizonans, an unruly lot, and so we advised him to stay independent, although some were less sure, because who controls the DNC is certainly important for all of our future. Some at the table discussed forming yet another party, but that didn’t get far.

I think the question he raises is one that many of us have struggled with personally - what is the fastest, and/or most effective route to lasting change for peace with justice in America and around the world? To work within the Democratic party structure, moving up through the ranks to try to change its policy dynamics, and if so, in what manner to do so? To create a semi-independent, very identifiable, progressive wing of the Democratic party? To build up a third party and live through the years of neo-con Republican control until that party collapses of its own deadly errors, leaving a multi-party system of moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, Libertarians and Progressives, whatever name we would all be called, who would of necessity form coalitions by issue? To work for peace and justice at a global level, using the model we used in S. Africa, until it no longer matters so much what a rogue America does and stands for? All of the above? Something else?

My friends, I know that the planet and all of humanity is evolving towards another level of compassion and justice, with us or without us. The question is, beyond blessings of love to our planet, what role in action do we play to midwife this new happening for the optimal wellbeing of all concerned during the birthing process, and with what speed can we being this vision to term? I would be very interested in your comments.

For a world that works for everyone,
In peace,

Rev. Gerry Straatemeier (gs@paxis.org)

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