Democratic politician Howard Dean spoke about his career in politics and the promise of young people, at a Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life-sponsored event on Wednesday in the Rabb Room. Political Science Department Chair Deborah Schildkraut moderated the event, entitled “Donuts with (Howard) Dean!,” in front of a full audience.
Dean began by discussing how he got his start in politics. Trained as a physician, Dean was Vermont’s second-longest serving governor, holding the position from 1991 to 2003. In 2004, he was a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party nomination and served as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 2005 to 2009.
Reflecting on his career in politics, Dean said that his most important moment as governor was signing a bill to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples in Vermont, making the Green Mountain State a leader in LGBTQ rights. After the Vermont Supreme Court found denying same-sex couples the right to marry unconstitutional, Dean said several of his aides suggested he avoid the issue because it might hurt him in the upcoming gubernatorial election.
“I remembered what Martin Luther King said to Lyndon Jonson, ‘How would it be if I told that you couldn’t have rights for another 6 months because it inconvenienced my re-election? So I said bullshit to that,” he explained.
He said that, while gay marriage was not the number one item on his political agenda, he said he recognized it as a civil rights issue and knew his support was the morally right decision.
“At the end of the day you have to be willing to give up your political career to do the right thing,” Dean said.
He went on to praise this generation, noting young people today share values with his generation, the baby boomers, but are more effective at mobilization.
“You’re the most empowered people who have ever existed in human history,” Dean said.
However, Dean said that while today’s young people are strong at mobilization and cooperation, they lack sufficient organization and commitment. Dean said young people often don’t consider the value of institutions.
“This generation is averse to institutions partly because they’ve never needed them and because of the power of the net they don’t have to work with each other. Trump’s election is your Edmund Pettus Bridge and your Kent State,” he told the Daily, referring to police attacks on civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protesters, respectively. “You get to design the institution.”
While Dean has made his career within the Democratic party establishment, he emphasized to the audience that the institutions young people craft need not be in line with the DNC.
“You’re our most loyal voters but you’re not Democrats because the Democrat party is an institution — it’s very unattractive, all kinds of stuff goes on. I don’t care if you’re Democrats; I want to continue our shared values,” Dean said. “I want you to start your own institution but it has to be a real institution.”
In response to a question about the schisms within the Democratic Party, Dean highlighted that policy issues should receive more attention than party politics.
“The important thing is to start winning local elections. I’m tired of people talking about 2016. Enough whining, complaining. There’s plenty of blame to go around,” he said. “We’ve got to stop talking about the party in terms of personalities and look at facts and what we’re going to achieve.”
In an interview with the Daily prior to the event, Dean rejected the point of view that students at predominantly liberal college campuses like Tufts are intolerant of alternate opinions.
“Political correctness is a synonym for common courtesy,” Dean said. “I don’t think a university has any obligation to shell out tons of money for security because someone wants to preach hate. Let them preach hate downtown.”
Dean also criticized the mainstream media for being more concerned with breaking stories than getting them right.
“In order to get people to click they have to say outrageous things,” he said. “The motto in the media for a long time is the story’s too good to fact check, or let’s get it first.”