In November 2003 Howard Dean was ahead in the polls and set to dominate the early race in Iowa and the primaries in New Hampshire. It was the first time the internet had been used to amass support for a presidential candidate, and the outpouring of antiwar fervor for Dean’s campaign threw the Washington establishment in to a tailspin. It was set to be a campaign to remember, yet it amounted to little more than a forgotten headline. Below we run the following essay from Joshua Frank’s book Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005) to remember what we are so soon to forget: the Democrats, including “socialist” Bernie Sanders, are not about to shake loose the shackles of their corporate overlords. It’s a valuable lesson, one we ought to keep in mind as the following year of you-better-support-Bernie-or-else unfolds.
– JSC / JF
In his early campaign speeches, Howard Dean exclaimed, “You don’t know me, but you will.” How right he was. Indeed many, including elite circles of Washington Democrats who were already putting their resources behind the candidacy of John F. Kerry, had not heard much of the former Vermont governor. But Dean thought he was ready to take the insiders on full-throttle. The feisty Vermonter entered the race for President on June 23, 2003, and immediately laid out his strategy for challenging George W. Bush and his band of neoconservative cronies. “You’ve got the power to take back Washington!” he yelled. And people listened.
Even before Dean officially announced his intentions to run for president he seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the Democratic underground. He knew that hostility among his party’s grassroots had all but boiled over by March of 2003 when top “liberals” in D.C. caved in and endorsed the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. As opponents of the U.S.-led war on Iraq took their grievances to the streets across the country, hundreds of young Democrat enthusiasts handed out Dean campaign propaganda to their protesters-in-arms. For Dean’s base, this was a golden opportunity to spread the word that Howard was not only going to run for president, but that he also opposed the invasion of Iraq.
These progressives latched on quickly to Dean’s insurgent candidacy, and luckily for him, they all had cash and Internet access. Joe Trippi, Dean’s ingenious campaign manager, and the campaign’s outreach web masters, Matthew Gross and Zephyr Teachout, ran his web sensation. Trippi, who was an aeronautical engineering student in College, had a former career in computer software, as well as the experience of six presidential campaigns, brought technological expertise to his managerial post. And like the Internet bubble of the 1990s, Dean’s website literally took off in a matter of weeks. For the first time, a presidential campaign was using the far-reaching capabilities of the Internet to spread the word about its candidate. With the help of online forums and Web logs (blogs), the campaign enabled like-minded people to convene and communicate with one another about the Dean campaign and vent frustration about the egregious policies of the first four years of the Bush junta.
In an interview with Lawrence Lessig, Trippi said of the Dean blog, “[I think] there’s a sense of community that forms around the blog. That’s really what the net is about. It’s about building a community. There may be zillions of communities within the net, but you know, your own community builds around that blog.” Dean, meanwhile, could not have been happier about his campaign’s early success: “We fell into this by accident,” admitted Dean. “I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They built our organization for us before we had an organization.”
However, Dean’s campaign wasn’t propelled by his blog alone. Meetup.com, an Internet site that enables the organization of events for groups and other social networks, also played a pivotal role. With this organizing tool, the Dean for America campaign was able to bring together and organize supporters in cities throughout the U.S. In the spring of 2003, Dean attended his first Meetup event in New York City, where 300 loyal followers were in attendance. Amazed with the turnout, Dean knew that the vitality of his campaign involved bringing together like-minded people like the large NYC group.
By late March 2003, the Dean campaign was the most successful Meetup group ever, far outnumbering the forthcoming presidential aspirants with over 16,000 members. All this before Dean had even officially announced his own candidacy. By late 2003, that number soured, over 140,000 Dean supporters (“Deaniacs,” as they called themselves) had joined Meetup and attended Dean campaign events, typically held on a weekly basis at a local café or pub, where supporters met to discuss how to spread the populist word on the Vermonter.
Trippi and his gang were running a successful one-of-a-kind campaign. In a Wire.com interview in early January of 2004, Dean avowed, “A lot of the people on the net have given up on traditional politics precisely because it was about television and the ballot box, and they had no way to shout back,” he said. “What we’ve given people is a way to shout back, and we listen — they don’t even have to shout anymore.”
Unlike his rivals in the campaign to unseat Bush, Dean claimed to actually be in tune with his community of faithful supporters, who by June of 2003 had raised over $10.5 million dollars for his campaign. Bringing in over $15 million dollars in small online donations — which typically averaged a meager $25 dollars a pop — Dean broke the record for money raised by a single Democrat in one period by the presidential race’s third quarter. Dean’s crusade was in full flight. “This is a campaign that no one has ever seen before!” Trippi exclaimed.
It was the making of a new wave of democratic participation — call it “credit card activism” — where tech-savvy liberals latched onto Howard Dean’s unorthodox campaign while he challenged the Iraq war and took on the Democratic establishment by raising bundles of cash outside the Democrat’s normal corporate circles. When the online activist organization MoveOn.org held their mock primary in late June 2003, the Dean campaign received an added boost, receiving financing from their own broad membership base. Echoing the beliefs of these liberals, Dean felt that the DC insiders were taking their party “too far to the right.” And they were none too happy.
“I have come to believe that a large part of why the DLC attacks Howard Dean so vehemently has a lot more to do with the power of what they’re saying this campaign is about,” said Trippi during Dean’s summer peak. “They’re not real thrilled with it.”
To be sure, Dean was taking on the harlots of special interest — read: John Kerry, and DNC chair Terry McAuliffe — for their support of Bush’s war while ignoring his fellow peace candidate, Dennis Kucinich, time and time again. Slyly borrowing a line from the late Senator Paul Wellstone, Dean proclaimed that, unlike the other candidates, he truly represented “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Dean was certainly empowered by his massive cyber support, and despite the Beltway Democrat’s response, the media had no choice but to cover his ardent campaign.
When the national media finally began to track the Dean spectacle, they were unsure of how they should respond. Dean’s style seemed fuming and visceral, he wasn’t polished; he wore old suits, skinny ties, and penny loafers. He was not “presidential” by traditional TV standards. After a speech given by Dean, the Washington Post introduced the presidential hopeful with the following unbecoming portrait: “Howard Dean was angry. Ropy veins popped out of his neck, blood rushed to his cheeks, and his eyes, normally blue-gray, flashed black, all dilated…”
Republican attack dogs quickly pounced on such caricatures. And Dean soon became the beloved soft target for right-wing pundits like the fat, racist, pill-popping Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that Dean was not only a fanatic but also a crazy Maoist, out of touch with the real America. In fact, Rush claimed Dean wasn’t portrayed as liberal enough by the corporate media. “Have you noticed how some in the press are starting to say Howard Dean is not that liberal?” Limbaugh barked on his popular radio show. “Keep a sharp eye out for that because the left knows that being a far left, progressive liberal is a killer, so they’re going to try to paint the picture of Dean as a moderate.”
Of course, it was pure trash, as Howard Dean touted his centrist platform time and again while trouncing along the campaign trail. “I think it’s pathetic I’m considered a left-wing liberal,” Dean was quoted as saying in a 2003 Washington Post article. “It just shows how far to the right this country has lurched.”
Not all coverage was negative, however. In the summer of 2003, Dean graced the covers of Time and Rolling Stone. While the features run in these two magazines were by-and-large honest portrayals of the ex-governor, they failed to critically analyze his tenure in Vermont. Newsweek took a different approach, entitling their cover story on Dean, “All the Rage: Dean’s Shoot-From-the-Hip Style and Shifting Views Might Doom Him in November.” This, of course, was typical of the mainstream media’s ad hominem attacks on Howard.
On the flip side, many in the liberal establishment praised the governor. Various columnists like The Nation’s prosier pundit Eric Alterman, defended Dean in late 2003, writing:
Saddam Hussein may be out of his spider hole, but Washington’s real enemy is still at-large. His name: ‘Howard Dean’ — and nobody in America poses a bigger threat to the city’s sense of its own importance,” Alterman snarled. “New Republic writer Michelle Cottle returned from maternity leave to find Washington fit for a ‘Tarantino-style blood bath,’ with the Democratic front-runner cast as a ‘paleoliberal … a heartless conservative … too naïve to beat Bush … too politically cynical to trust … a Stalinist … [and] a neofascist [who] kills babies and drinks their blood … Dean has some problems, no doubt, but the pundits hardly seem to notice that George W. (“You can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror”) Bush cannot pretend to defend deceiving the nation into war anymore.
Other liberals, enticed by Dean’s alleged tenacity, praised him for offering an alternative — albeit as you’ll read later, an “alternative” based mostly on rhetoric and largely unsupported by substantive evidence. But respected author and syndicated columnist Molly Ivins, who recognized Dean was no liberal, wrote in support of his efforts nonetheless, “I went up to Vermont and talked to a bunch of liberals there. They all said Howard Dean is no liberal. Funny, that’s what Howard Dean says, too. And indeed, he isn’t, but in politics, everything’s relative.”
Veteran political author William Greider, who at one point played an advisory role in the Dean campaign, wrote of the governor’s demeanor in an article titled “Why I’m For Dean”: “The press corps has not had much experience with Democrats of this type, so reporters read Dean’s style as emotional, possibly a character flaw. He reminds me of olden days when Democrats were a more contentious bunch, always fighting noisily among themselves and often with creative results … The guy is a better politician than the insiders imagined, indeed better attuned to this season than they are.”
As these well-known commentators embraced the Dean saga, the corporate media continued to lambaste him for his personality quarks and on-stage slip-ups. Some conspiratorial Deaniacs contended that it was purely a reactionary fight because Dean was speaking out against media consolidation. Others claimed it was meant to paint Dean as unelectable. “The former Vermont governor remains the front-runner among Democratic voters”, Eric Boehlert wrote for Salon.com on January of 2004, “he’s gotten increasingly caustic treatment from the media, which has dwelled on three big themes — that Dean’s angry, gaffe-prone and probably not electable — while giving comparatively far less ink to the doctor’s policy and political prescriptions that have catapulted him ahead of the Democratic field.” All this unsavory media coverage months before the first primary vote was cast in Iowa.
Endorsing a Loser
In early November 2003, the three largest labor unions in the country — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union — pledged to back Howard Dean, providing a striking blow to his labor famous opponent Richard Gephardt’s lackluster campaign. Made up of 3 million strong, the unions’ bandwagon support seemed to solidify Dean as the man to beat.
Then, in a bold move in early December the former vice president Al Gore endorsed Dean for America. Gore, invigorated by his 2000 loss – er, win – was chastised for turning his back on the DLC and his former running mate, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. And in January 2004, just before the first Iowa caucus, veteran Democratic Senator from the Hawkeye state, Tom Harkin, rolled up his sleeves and gave Dean a spirited endorsement. “For me, the candidate that rose to the top as our best shot to beat George W. Bush and to give Americans the opportunity to take our country back,” Harkin cheered, “That person is Governor Howard Dean!”
Beltway Democrats Sink Dean For America
Doesn’t all of this make you wonder what all the hype was about? As you now know, Howard Dean was a candidate from the Democratic mainstream. But, despite his ideological alignment with the New Democrats, he did take them on, hoping to disrupt their power-hold on Democratic politics. Dean was empowered. Not because he had a passion for progressive ideals, but because his followers led him down an alternative path. They saw Dean as a chance to challenge the Democrats for their centrist propensities. For that, Dean must be thankful, for the Deaniacs made him a substantial risk.
Howard Dean’s campaign first took on water after Al Gore endorsed Dean for president on December 9, 2003. Hailed by many in the mainstream press as a huge boost to Dean’s bid, the endorsement came at the same exact moment Democratic insiders were meeting to discuss how to sink his advances. For they knew he was a potential threat to the Clinton Democrats.
Theories of why Gore endorsed Dean spread like fire through the media. As political commentator Adam Nagourney told Gwen Ifill on PBS’s Newshour on the day of the endorsement: “One [theory] is that what is going on here is a proxy war between the Clintons and the Gores over the future of the Democratic Party. I think there is an element of truth to that. I don’t think we want to exaggerate that.”
He was right. The war had begun. Verbal bombs dropped—with one target in sight: the future of the Democratic Party. Dean was out for DNC blood, and Gore gladly went along for the ride. “Howard Dean was assassinated in broad daylight. Unlike Kennedy’s ‘grassy knoll,’ Dean’s killers are not hiding—it was the Democratic Party itself, and more specifically the Democratic Leadership Council, that successfully went after, and sabotaged his candidacy … The DLC reacted with fury to [Dean] … going all out to torpedo his momentum,” Naeem Mohaiemen correctly opined on Alternet.org following Dean’s presidential death. “Although Democratic nominees soon piled on the ‘bash-Dean’ bandwagon, earlier attacks were carried out by DLC operatives. There was even the smell of scandal when two top Democratic candidates were found sharing information about Dean in an attempt to slow him down.”
“But the great myth of the current [Howard Dean] cycle,” DLC leaders Al From and Bruce Reed wrote in a May 15, 2003 memo, “is the misguided notion that the hopes and dreams of activists represent the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.
“What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration: the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home.”
No doubt it was scandalous. But there was more to the drama than Dick Gephardt and John Kerry passing notes under the table and the DLC crying foul. In fact, Democratic insiders with deep ties to the DLC began funding campaign ads against Dean, hoping to bring his campaign to a screeching halt.
David Jones, an avid fundraiser and organizer for the Democratic National Committee and a staunch DLC patron who garnered money for centrist New Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, founded an anti-Dean group that ran vile ads attacking him early on in the Iowa contest. Deceptively called “Americans for Jobs, Health Care & Progressive Values, 2004 Election Cycle,” Jones’ group conducted a poll, which found that most Americans championed Dean’s Iraq war stance. But few knew of his support of NAFTA, Medicare cuts in the mid 1990s, or his endorsements from the NRA.
“The first spot, on Dean’s NRA endorsements, ran Dec. 5-12 in Iowa,” The Chicago Sun Tribune reported on February 19, 2004. “The second ad ran Dec. 12-19 in Iowa and hit Dean on his NRA backing and NAFTA and Medicare stands. By this time, Jones did not have much money left.”
Jones’ group raised in excess of $600,000 from numerous Democratic insiders, including former New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli whose political career ended abruptly when he fell victim to ethics violations. Torricelli donated $50,000 to Jones’ group.
As The Washington Post reported on February 16, 2004, “The [Jones’ donor] list makes clearer than ever that the rules need to be changed to provide timely disclosure—to ensure that voters know who is behind this kind of attack advertising in time to factor that into their decision-making, should they so choose. We learn now that unions that had endorsed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) contributed $200,000 of the group’s $663,000 in donations. Two top Gephardt backers also contributed: Leo Hindery Jr. of YES Network ($100,000), who served as a national finance co-chair, and Swanee Hunt ($25,000), who was a national campaign co-chair.
While Mr. Gephardt’s backers [including Jones during the late 1990s] constituted the bulk of the donors, they weren’t alone: Slim-Fast Foods founder S. Daniel Abraham, a major Democratic donor who contributed to his home state senator, Bob Graham (Fla.), and to Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), gave $100,000. J. McDonald Williams, a former chairman of the Trammell Crow construction company and a donor to the Bush-Cheney campaign this year, though to Democrats in previous cycles, gave $50,000 … Mr. Torricelli, you will remember, had the cash to spare because he was forced to quit his reelection race after being ‘severely admonished’ by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting expensive gifts from a campaign donor he was doing official favors for. Now a champion at collecting special-interest money is gathering checks for Mr. Kerry, who’s busy railing against those interests.”
As it turns out, the Post article doesn’t even tell the full story. In reality, the ties between Jones’ organization, the Kerry campaign, and DNC chair Terry McAuliffe were much stronger than suggested.
As Marc Brazeau pointed out on the online political site Joe Hill Dispatch, a closer examination reveals “that the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & From was paid $18,000 for legal work by the group and the e-mail contact for Americans for Jobs” ended in skadden.com.
Why the fuss? It just so happens that skadden.com was the email tag for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & From—a firm that has donated $176,575 to John Kerry’s presidential campaign as of mid-June 2004. To put things in perspective, this is more money than any other big Kerry backers, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan, and Microsoft have donated since the inception of Kerry’s campaign.
“And while the Post points out that Leo Hindery had ties to Gephardt, it should be noted that he testified before Kerry’s communications committee as well.
So you have a $50,000 contribution from Kerry fundraiser Robert Torricelli, legal expertise provided by Kerry’s largest contributor, and a major donor from an industry that Kerry was responsible for regulating,” Brazeau explained. “Those are the dots. Connect them how you like.”
Given this, it’s abundantly clear that the grassroots efforts of Howard Dean, Inc. were being taken on by insider money. Recognizing the challenge, Al Gore boarded the ship he hoped would not succumb to the rocky waters of Washington politics. But this scandal was just the tip of the iceberg, inevitably dashing Dean’s prospects of winning his party’s nomination as Democratic scorn prevailed.
DNC fundraising guru Terry McAuliffe was also ostensibly involved—perhaps directly—in Jones’ anti-Dean propaganda. Leo Hindery, the former CEO of Global Crossing, donated $1,140,000 to the Democratic Party during the 2002 congressional race. Slim Fast diet mogul S. Daniel Abraham, meanwhile, forked over $1,450,000 to the Democratic Party that same year.
McAuliffe tapped into these fat cats’ resources, scoring a bundle of cash— some $18 million—for himself when he ditched his Global Crossing stock in 1999. But McAuliffe’s tie to the anti-Deaniacs didn’t end there. Along with McAuliffe, Bernard Schwartz, who donated $15,000 to Jones’ group, was a plaintiff in a 1998 lawsuit over the alleged breaching of export regulations between the US and China.
In fact, Schwartz, the chairman and CEO of Loral Space & Communications, has a long history of complicity in Democratic scandals. In 1994, he gave the DNC $100,000 and visited China with President Clinton’s Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Their trip yielded an annual $250 million package for cellular telephone service in the country. Two years later in 1996 Schwartz wrote Clinton urging him to allow Loral to use Chinese rockets to launch their multi-million dollar satellite. The Chinese and Loral officials had been in negotiations since 1994, under the auspices of a contract Loral had with their contractor Intelsat. Swartz was upset as his Republican backing competitors, Lockheed Martin and Hughes Aircraft, had been operating in China for some time.
Despite overt objections by the Defense Department and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Clinton personally transferred jurisdiction of satellite-export licensing from the State Department to Commerce Secretary and ex-chairman of the DNC, Ron Brown. At the same time, Schwartz increased his contributions to the Democratic Party, making him the largest single contributor in the 1996 election cycle. Later that same year Clinton signed a waiver that allowed Schwartz’s Loral Space Company to export a satellite they had manufactured to China.
“[Schwartz] was honored on his 71st birthday with a private White House dinner. It’s because of this access, Clinton’s critics suggest, that the president rubber-stamped Loral’s launches in China—even after Loral apparently ignored security procedures in 1996 by faxing Beijing a draft report about a Chinese rocket crash that destroyed a Loral satellite,” Ken Silverstein wrote in Mother Jones in November 1998. “But campaign cash and personal ties are only the obvious way that Loral—and the defense industry—buys favors in Washington. An in-depth look shows that thousands of former Pentagon workers routinely go to work for arms makers and defense industry consultants upon their retirement, and confidential memos obtained by Mother Jones from such a company show how easily these cozy relationships influence legislation,” Silverstein contended.
And in 2002, Loral paid $14 million to the State Department after Schwartz was charged with aiding the Chinese’s missile technology research by faxing the draft report. Their payment was a sort of legal plea bargain intended to close the book on the 1996 matter. In July 2003, shortly after this payment, Loral went bankrupt. But thanks to a nudge from Republicans and their main advisory Lockheed Martin, the company is now making its way back to the top. And while thousands of employees have since been laid off in Loral’s Silicon Valley home because of the ordeal, Schwartz is—not surprisingly—still riding high.
Given that this is how big money works for “Washington Democrats,” it is little wonder that Schwartz wanted to punish Dean for challenging the D.C. norm, even if the presidential hopeful had only stumbled into the role of “maverick progressive” by accident. The truth is, Schwartz didn’t want this new base of Democratic activists to take over the party he did business with.
Evidently, Dean’s movement scared the money-hungry Democrats right out of their thousand-dollar suits. McAuliffe, Reed, Kerry, Gephardt, and the Clintons were terrified of what he could do to the party they worked so hard to build during the 1990s. It didn’t matter that Dean was ideologically aligned with these centrist Dems—his grassroots cash was a genuine threat to party business.
As DLC leaders McAuliffe and From commented in another memo on Kerry’s and John Edwards’ successful campaigns in Iowa, “Two months ago, when former Gov. Howard Dean’s campaign appeared to be running away with the Iowa caucuses, Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards spoke to the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, and made the same prophetic point: Democrats need to offer answers, not just anger.”
“Now the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party has spoken: Iowa was a landslide victory for hope over [Howard Dean] anger. The word ‘stunning’ hardly does service to the performance of Kerry and Edwards in Iowa. Up against all of Howard Dean’s endorsements and organization, Kerry and Edwards each won more delegate shares (the arcane measurement used to judge success in Iowa) than Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt combined. Kerry’s victory and Edwards’ strong second weren’t just stirring comebacks for those two campaigns. They represent an inspiring comeback for the Democratic Party.
“Iowa was also a triumph for a Democrat who wasn’t on the ballot: the original Comeback Kid, Bill Clinton,” they boasted. “The Dean campaign has done everything it can to run away from Clintonism, even calling the historic progress under Clinton nothing more than ‘damage control.’ By contrast, Kerry and Edwards followed the Clinton playbook … While Dean defined himself as everything Bush is not, Kerry and Edwards set their own course for the country. They supported the war against Saddam Hussein and … they also pledged muscular internationalism to unite the world against terror, a return to fiscal discipline and Clintonomics, bold plans to expand opportunity for the forgotten middle class.
Indeed, the Iowa results represent a vindication for the Blair Democrats who supported the war in Iraq. Even Democrats with serious doubts about Iraq want America to succeed there, and want a nominee who can pass the test as Commander-in-Chief.”
Al Gore and later Bill Bradley grasped their chances of taking on the Clinton-controlled DLC for which they once belonged, hoping to turn power over to the new iconic liberalism represented by the pro-Dean movement. To reassert the centrality of the party line, David Jones was brought on, albeit at a comfortable distance from the Kerry and Gephardt camps, to crush Dean’s rebellious candidacy.
“Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values ran at least three ads in December against then-Democratic presidential front-runner Dean in early-voting states,” the Associated Press reported on February 10, 2004.
“The group spent $15,000 on an ad aired in South Carolina and New Hampshire that showed a picture of bin Laden and said Dean lacked the experience needed to take on terrorists.”
Some in the Dean campaign saw what was happening. The AP quoted his spokesman, Jay Carson, as characterizing Jones’ anti-Dean commercials as “some of the nastiest smear ads” in the history of the Democratic Party.
“The Washington establishment put this group together just to try to stop Gov. Dean,” claimed Carson. Jones pompously bragged, “We did more with $600,000 than Howard Dean did with $41 million.”
Jones, no doubt, was right.
Trippin’ on Trippi
Dean’s campaign manager Joe Trippi, who many credit for taking the Dean show to the top, also made vital mistakes that contributed to the his epic deflation.
Trippi has consistently cast blame aside, rarely if ever acknowledging his own errors in Dean’s defeat. According to an article written by Paul Maslin, a Dean campaign employee, for The Atlantic in May 2004, wrote that Trippi claiming to be avant-garde, imposed atypical techniques when developing campaign ads for Dean. “I think we’re going to do the focus groups after we run the ads,” Maslin quotes Trippi as saying early in the campaign. As Maslim argued, “This turned the usual procedure on its head; for obvious reasons, ads are generally tested with focus groups before they air.”
“In late August, after Dean had completed a triumphant national tour, Trippi decided to push more chips onto the table and persuaded us to spend a million dollars on advertising in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. Jeani Murray, our Iowa state director, had a simple, blunt reaction: ‘And nothing for Iowa?’” Although Maslin later called Trippi “brilliant” for taking the Dean “campaign to unprecedented heights,” he deemed Trippi a “poor manager.”
The reason, he maintained, was that Trippi lacked the ability necessary to manage funds. Trippi scoffed at this, saying he instead wasn’t given enough control of the funds. “With 20/20 hindsight, the biggest mistake I made was not to demand ironclad authority over the budget and check-writing,” Trippi was quoted as saying in a February 29, 2004 Washington Post report. Not all agreed.
“Last June, seven months before voters in Iowa would begin selecting the Democratic nominee for president … [Trippi] gave the go-ahead for a $300,000 wave of TV spots touting the former Vermont governor’s candidacy. It was just a warm-up,” Paul Farhi wrote in the February 10, 2004 edition of the Washington Post. “In mid-August, Dean took his ads to President Bush’s home state, Texas, with a $100,000 buy. Two weeks later, the campaign spent $1 million on commercials in six states, including Wisconsin and Washington, even though the primaries in those states were half a year away … When Dean’s momentum began to stall before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, Trippi poured on the ads with an intensity that shocked rival campaigns. With time on Iowa’s most popular TV stations sold out, Dean’s campaign resorted to buying spots on Iowa’s WB affiliates, whose audience is barely above voting age,” Farhi contended.
Trippi, however, foreboded Dean’s looming death, months before his campaign actually expired; perhaps he knew his TV ads had little voting value. He wrote in the introduction of his book (the title may inadvertently point to his silly ad addiction) in January of 2003, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:
“The Iowa caucuses are a little more than a month away and we are bleeding. Our momentum is gone. Our message is getting lost. We’re spending all our time and energy deflecting attacks from other campaigns. Our guy has become an unmitigated disaster on the road. The unscripted candor that served him when he was the longest shot is now being played like a sort of political Tourettes. The press continually mangles the context of what he says, amping up his words in their own cynical version of ‘Twist and Shout.’ We’ve got no adults with him on the road—no seasoned political people—and so, naturally, he’s gaffing his way across Iowa. The young Dean staffers—all energy and idealism—have no idea what’s about to happen. For most of them, this is their first presidential campaign, and they don’t realize that the only thing longer than the hours are the odds of winning. Some of them—the really crazy ones—have caught the bug and might work a second presidential. There could even be the odd addict or death-wisher among them who might someday forget how hard this was and work a third.”
Even with six presidential campaigns under his belt, Trippi couldn’t handle the pressure, so he strayed, shifting the blame for his own failures to Dean’s young supporters. But now that the tallies are in, Trippi can no longer deflect attention from his culpability in the ruin. Trippi blew almost $40 million of Dean’s war chest on TV ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. He produced a top-forty hit that held the number one spot for one too many weeks. And his impulse to spend campaign cash as fast as it came in reflected his gluttonous motivations.
Trippi’s media firm “Trippi, McMahon & Squires” (TMS), which he ran with long-time Dean PR guru Steve McMahon, developed the Dean TV spots and pocketed a hefty amount of the production fees.
In the same Post article Paul Farhi revealed Trippi’s conflict of interest: “According to Federal Election Commission records filed by Dean, TMS received $7.1 million in 2003, most of it money devoted to ad buys. In January, according to news accounts, the firm handled an additional $6.25 million in advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire. Although the records do not disclose how much the firm received in commissions and fees, a source close to the company said it worked for a 7 percent commission, at the low end of a range that can go as high as 15 percent. As of last week, the Dean campaign owed TMS about $400,000.”
Within the Dean campaign there were many tales of infighting and power struggles by staffers and Dean loyalists. Many stories included Dean’s low-key advisor Kate O’Connor, who rarely left the governor’s side. Unlike Trippi, O’Connor did not make many appearances in the media, but was behind the curtain conducting much of the Dean campaign. Some staffers said O’Connor, who was a long-time associate of Dean, played the role of mother hen, constantly watching over her candidate.
Other staffers close to the camp stated that there were constantly battles between Trippi and O’Connor over how to steer the campaign. She consistently went against the Washington tide, they said, hoping Dean would stay true to his Vermont roots. And Trippi blamed her for getting in the way of his managing of the campaign.
The Washington Post reported on February 29, 2004: “O’Connor, according to a staffer who saw the e-mail, wrote a friend that she wanted to get rid of Trippi and that she felt like quitting herself except that she needed to protect Dean. This followed a clash in which Trippi and other top political advisers helped craft a major Boston speech in which Dean was to denounce special interests — only to have him toss out most of the speech after O’Connor expressed her opposition.”
Trippi, despite such inner-battles, did stay on board, but as the Post elaborated, “[The Dean campaign was] a dysfunctional political family, filled with tales of blocking access to the candidate, neutralizing internal rivals, trying to penalize reporters deemed unfriendly. And some of its members just plain despised each other.” However, much of the blame of what went wrong within the Dean camp still falls at the feet of Trippi himself, for the buck always stopped with him.
Media Killed the Political Star
Instead of organizing on the street and going door-to-door in Iowa like he should have done, Trippi and team attempted to play ball with the big boys. The weapon of choice for Trippi and his opposition was none other than the mass media. Trippi couldn’t handle the TV ads. But David Jones could. Unfortunately, as Team Dean quickly discovered, focusing the majority of the campaign’s energy on Internet activity had clear limitations. Given that the Internet had not previously been used to raise cash and garner political support, Dean’s popularity was difficult to gauge. In fact, because the Internet was such an innovative source for mobilizing support, Dean’s message did not reach many traditional voters in Iowa. Trippi, noticing the gap late in the game, decided to speak to these folks through their television sets. But they weren’t tuning in.
Once Trippi derailed Dean’s ability to propagate his campaign platform, defeat was a near-certainty. Jones’ PR machine was already in high gear, putting together their anti-Dean barrage. But the first negative ad that aired in Iowa was an advertisement developed by Trippi’s firm, which depicted Dean berating Gephardt for his stance on the Iraq war.
“October 2002. Dick Gephardt agrees to coauthor the Iraq war resolution, giving George Bush the authority to go to war,” the background voice in the TV ad murmured. “A week later, with Gephardt’s support, it passes Congress. Then last month, Dick Gephardt votes to spend $87 billion more on Iraq. Howard Dean has a different view.” Howard Dean then chimes in, “I opposed the war in Iraq, and I’m against spending another $87 billion there. I’m Howard Dean, and I approve this message because our party and our country need new leadership.”
Gephardt countered Dean with his own flagrant advertising assault. “Howard Dean is attacking Dick Gephardt for a position Dean took himself,” the announcer says before the ad cuts to a question asked of Dean during the September 15, 2003 primary debate:
“Is that an up or down, yes or no, on the $87 billion per se?”
Dean: “On the $87 billion for Iraq?”
Dean: “We have no choice, but it has to be financed by getting rid of all the president’s tax cuts.”
Gephardt then pops on the screen, announcing, “I’m Dick Gephardt, and I approve this message because leadership is about making tough decisions and sticking with them.”
The rest of the Iowa pack, particularly Kerry and Edwards, avoided the brutal attacks against one another, focusing their energy instead on the Bush administration and allowing the Jones crew and Gephardt make Dean the target of Democratic attacks. This degree of infighting so early in the race was unprecedented in the Democratic Party. And since these ads aired in Iowa, no Democrat cast other candidates in a negative light in any TV spot. Why would they? Dean and Gephardt came in a distant third and forth, as the smooth-talking DLC-backed Kerry-Edwards duo moved to number one and two respectively, proving the effectiveness of negative advertising.
Around the same time a libertarian group called Club for Growth ran a TV ad where two actors pretending to be an older Iowa couple said that Dean “should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading . . . body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont. Where it belongs.”
Following his more-than-embarrassing third place finish in Iowa, Dean, hoping to rally his base, gave his now infamous screaming speech that became the media pinnacle for his downfall.
Eric Salzman, reporting for CBS News on January 26, wrote, “The media is having a great time with Howard Dean’s ‘concession’ speech in Iowa … Like a horrific car accident on the side of the road, the clip of Dean listing the states with early primaries, and ending with a gleeful ‘yalp,’ is hard not to watch, even if there is nothing to gain from seeing it … What you might not know, because it doesn’t play 30 times a day on the cable news channels, is what was happening in the rest of the room. You don’t see the visual and you don’t hear the audio. The television crews recording the event plug into an audio source picking up Dean’s microphone, not the sound of the room. The cameras focus in to a tight shot of the candidate, not the rest of the room. What you are not hearing is a room with thousands of people screaming and cheering. What you are not seeing are hundreds upon hundreds of American flags waving.
What you are not hearing are members of the audience shouting out state names urging Dean to list more. What you are not seeing is the way Dean’s supporters were lifted out of their slump by the speech.”
But never mind what really happened. The media was having a hay day with Dean’s tantrum. The unelectability of the governor, cast as a maniacal demon, was played out every half-hour on the cable news networks. And fellow Democrats loved the negative takes on the scream. “You’ve heard of mad cow disease? This was mad candidate disease,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported Garry South, a senior adviser to Senator Joe Lieberman, as saying. “I sat there in total disbelief. It was beyond anything I’d ever seen,” South said. “If I were Trippi and (Dean pollster Paul) Maslin, I would have been having a heart attack.” It was truly the first thick nail in Dean’ s campaign coffin.
Although the DLC was astonished at Dean’s ranting yelp, they were nonetheless pleased. Everything Jones and his ilk wanted was coming true. Dean was self-destructing. And he was nudged to that brink by his own party’s elite establishment.
New Hampshire came next. Dean was already on the downward slide after Iowa, but his gang had hoped they could climb back into the saddle, and ride off with a victory in the New England state.
Everybody in the Dean campaign knew New Hampshire was critical for Dean. Most didn’t know that in fact Trippi was planning on leaving the campaign regardless if Dean won or lost. He had nothing more to offer. If Dean didn’t come in second or a close third, he would be finished for good. But many in the Dean camp still felt confident. The governor remained steady in the polls, although his numbers declined substantially after the Iowa ordeal. His troops had been in the state for months, attempting to organize, and get out the Dean message. Certainly his frightening speech didn’t help. And by now, Dean’s wife Judith had been dragged before the TV cameras, on display for the media doctors to dissect. This spectacle was clearly in poor taste, and her uncomfortable demeanor did not bode well for Dean, who was working hard to get past his Iowa outrage and show the country he was just a normal fella, who just happened to hate GW Bush. So he pulled on a wool sweater and stomped to work in snowy New Hampshire.
None of these maneuvers mattered, however. Dean lost by double digits, an embarrassing finish indeed.
Marcus Teesey, a Dean volunteer in New Hampshire wrote of his experiences and his views on Dean’s collapse in the state.
“The Dean machine was a brigade-sized organization that rapidly and suddenly—and in my opinion unexpectedly—acquired the enthusiastic support of ten divisions’ worth of new people through Meetup. Not all, but a definite majority, of these people had no political experience … People whose campaign experience was limited to stuffing envelopes and holding signs got important staff jobs in New Hampshire. The enthusiasm was there and so was the intelligence, but the core competence wasn’t and isn’t universal … If Dean had had a year to build his New Hampshire campaign with the resources available at the time of the primary, things would have been much smoother. Communications errors wouldn’t have occurred. Chains of command would have been clearer. Many thousands of man-hours were wasted in New Hampshire due to these things, which went some way towards nullifying the numerical advantage Dean’s organization held over Kerry’s. The rest of the way was because Kerry’s field grunts were, as a group, far more experienced than Dean’s.”
Dean went on to lose all of the primaries before dropping out after his defeat in Wisconsin. Trippi resigned after New Hampshire, inspiring Dean to bring on Washington insider and Bill Clinton’s close friend Roy Neel as his replacement. It was sign of what was to come of Dean the Democrat — who would fall back into the party line, leaving his followers to traverse the Kerry trail instead. He did pick up delegates by winning his home state of Vermont well after he quit, but by then it was far too late to matter.
Dean hadn’t made it to half of the states he had screamed out while on the mic following Iowa. To put it mildly, many Deaniacs were disenfranchised, as they struggled to understand what had gone awry.
Was it poor organizing? The media? Trippi? Dean’s persona? They needed to point fingers at those they blamed for his demise.
Some correctly accused Beltway Democrats, who from the inception of Dean’s campaign, wanted to derail his hopes. The D.C. scoundrels were not expecting such massive anti-war support for the lackluster Vermonter. Surely DNC chief McAuliffe was never in touch with the resentment that was brewing on the ground leading up to Bush’s war on the Iraqi people. Trying to funnel that anger back to Washington was no easy task for these anti-warriors, but many saw Dean as the only way to effectively challenge the party that had overwhelmingly gone along with Bush’s preposterous attack and subsequent occupation. These perceptive activists gathered through the virtual world and planned their own assault on Bush. Surely they had the energy, but they were not prepared for the attacks their candidate would receive from party bigwigs.
This is what leads us to the larger story: The difficulties of taking on the corporate entrenched Democrats who believe the best way to win elections is to continue moving rightwards. Although Dean was a centrist and conservative in almost every regard, he still operated on the political margins while running for president. He didn’t raise his funds in the normal corporate circles. He challenged the system, and was supported by tens of thousands of like-minded Americans. Many of Dean’s patrons believed him to be progressive, a sort of Ralph Nader of the Democratic Party. But Dean as you have seen was no Nader, or even Dennis Kucinich for that matter. He was, and continues to be, a New Democrat ideologically. Perhaps Dean was correct when he said he didn’t know what to expect. He had no idea Washington Democrats would not welcome him with open arms. He thought he was one of them. However, they hated him, but despised his followers even more.
In fact, that is why it is so appalling that Dean began campaigning for Kerry after his defeat. Roy Neel had been successful. He, like other conventional Democrats, didn’t want Dean’s activists to stray from the party, even though the Democrats would never embrace their beliefs. They have and always will take progressives and even liberal-minded voters for granted. That’s been the part the Democrats—long the graveyard of radical social change—have played for the past 40 years.
On Friday June 9, 2004, Dean stepped into the ring with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The old consumer advocate hardly flinched as Dean repeated half a dozen times that we must do everything in our power (that is, legal power) to rid the country of the Bush plague. We are in a state of “emergency,” he boldly announced. And if getting rid of Bush means supporting a pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-Zionist, pro-welfare reform, pro-free-trade candidate like Kerry, so be it. The country and the world will be better off.
Obviously reincarnated after his own presidential death, Dean went so far as to claim that Kerry had “progressive credentials.”
That is clearly something you would have never heard quiver off the lips of Dean the candidate, who himself lacked credentials of the progressive stripe. But Dean was now the defender of the party that did their best to slaughter him during the primaries. He had become the poster boy for a lousy Democratic ticket.
Looking back on Dean’s record, it was no surprise that he defended Kerry’s candidacy. “Many Democrats also admire Ralph Nader’s achievements as I do,” Dean said shortly after Nader announced his candidacy. “But if they truly want George Bush out of the White House, they won’t vote for Ralph Nader in November.” Unfortunately Dean forgot to mention that Kerry and the Democrats never planned on bringing real transformation even if Kerry had won.
The Dean saga is a clear example of just how far right our inebriated politics in the United States has staggered. Many have theories as to how this gross Democratic mindset unfolded, but the fact is it here to stay, and working within the party—though noble in some regards—cannot produce genuine shifts in ideological values, especially at the national level. Regrettably, even when there are signs that progressive challenges will alter the status quo of Washington politics, they all die a not-so-pleasant death.
We must learn all we can from Dean’s story. It is a certainty that the Democrats will never endorse a platform of even the late Richard Nixon who brought us the Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Day, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which were brought about by strong social movements. For them, such positions are too far left.
Dean is a testimony to this disheartening fact. And he wasn’t even a progressive. Imagine if he were.
JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. He is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, both published by AK Press. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter@brickburner.