The Dean Movement

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(Host) Commentator David Moats takes another look at the Dean campaign.

(Moats) There they were, three or four dozen volunteers in a school cafeteria, gathered to learn how to campaign for Howard Dean. This is what you call a movement. Howard Dean has set it in motion, and it may carry him to the presidential nomination or even, though it’s hard to imagine, to the presidency.

Dean continues to get into trouble because of the unscripted and indelicate things he says. His latest gaffe was a comment that the Democrats needed to find a way to reach Southern good ol’ boys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.

Even to sound like you approve of the Confederate flag is to sound like you approve of racism, so Dean’s comment was ill-advised. But we all know what he meant: that there are millions of Americans who are getting the shaft from President Bush but are supporting him anyway.

Dean’s Democratic opponents leaped on him for his remark about the Confederate flag, and the press was full of considered rebukes. But the Howard Dean movement rolls onward, collecting millions and millions of dollars in small donations from all across the country.

I had a chance to visit Dean’s national headquarters in an office building in South Burlington. The entire third floor was a warren of cubicles, offices, computers, conference rooms, staffed by dozens of people, mostly young and on a

The place had an air about it. There was a feeling among the people there that they had the chance to make history. There was a kind of youthful exuberance and good humor.

When Dean came downstairs for a press conference, a couple of dozen young staffers followed him down to watch him in action, and there was an affectionate bond between them and their man.

Of course, everyone is wondering whether Dean can extend his popularity beyond what has been called the Starbucks ghetto, the computer geeks and
other goateed young enthusiasts, whether he can
reach the factory worker in Michigan or the NASCAR fan in South Carolina.

Whether he will nor not is still unknown. But he ought to be able to.

That’s because he is comfortable with himself and, as he showed when he was governor, he is comfortable with all kinds of people.

He has launched a populist campaign that seeks to turn one of George Bush’s strengths into a weakness. It’s no secret that Bush plans to spend money at record levels – as much as $200 million.
Dean is raising lots of money, too, but he is telling people he won’t owe anything to anyone because the millions he is raising are coming, not from fat cats, but from the people. A campaign between Dean and Bush could become an unprecedented war for dollars, both of them foregoing federal matching funds and raising unlimited cash from wherever they can find it.

So far Dean’s verbal gaffes have been no more than bumps on the road. The other Democrats seem helpless to stop Dean’s movement, managed as well as such a movement can be from the nerve center in South Burlington. It is astonishing to watch it all unfold.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats in the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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