Some people seem to think so. Let’s explore. A little known governor from a small state. Who knows him best?
Garrison Nelson, a Vermont political analyst, thinks Dean can move toward the middle - because that's his instinct. Nelson said: "I've known him 20 years. Howard became a liberal six months ago. Up here, he never got any kind of visceral response from liberals. I couldn't count more than 10 people who would've walked through fire for the guy.
"He was always a man of the middle, what we used to call a 'Rockefeller Republican.' His father and grandfather were stockbrokers. He comes from old money. So has he really changed? Or is the Democratic party desperate to be in love with somebody? I think they're desperate to be in love."
Hmmm. Interesting. Of course we all want love, don't we? Is that so wrong?
Another Vermonter: Many who worked with Dean are astonished at his current image and comparisons to liberal icons such as George McGovern. "The Howard Dean you are seeing on the national scene is not the Dean that we saw around here for the last decade," says John McClaughry, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a conservative Vermont think tank. "He's moved sharply left."
Well maybe it’s just hard for a liberal to show his true colors in Vermont. Perhaps stepping down as Governor has freed his inner liberal. What do you say about that, Governor?
“Oh, in Vermont..., you know, politics is much farther to the left. A Vermont centrist is an American liberal right now.”
Let’s put that quote in context. He was trying to explain why the Sierra Club had not endorsed him.
Dean had finished speaking about environmental policy at the contaminated site of a former tannery in Nashua when he struck up a conversation with Peter Flood of Merrimack, a Sierra Club member who lamented that Dean had not won the group’s endorsement while he was governor of Vermont.
That’s interesting. Seem like either you make the environment a priority over special business interests or you don’t.
Business leaders were especially impressed with the way Dean went to bat for them if they got snarled in the state's stringent environmental regulations. When Canada's Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. wanted to build a new manufacturing plant on 700 acres of Vermont farmland in the mid-'90s, for instance, Dean greased the wheels. Husky obtained the necessary permits in near-record time. "He was very hands-on," says an appreciative Dirk Schlimm, the Husky executive in charge of the project.
And when environmentalists tried to limit expansion of snowmaking at ski resorts, "Dean had to show his true colors, and he did -- by insisting on a solution that allowed expanding snowmaking," says Stenger. IBM (IBM ) by far the state's largest private employer, says it got kid-gloves treatment. "We would meet privately with him three to four times a year to discuss our issues," says John O'Kane, manager for government relations at IBM's Essex Junction plant, "and his secretary of commerce would call me once a week just to see how things were going."…
"Went to bat for them." So that's where the bat comes from. Well, the business folks loved him. Why couldn’t those damn Sierra Club people fall in line.
So is Dean just another posturing politician? Back to you, Garrison, since you know him best.
…Dean had a knack for positioning himself and never lost an election. Those who know him best believe Dean is moving to the left to boost his chances of winning the nomination. "But if he gets the nomination, he'll run back to the center and be more mainstream," predicts Stenger. Says Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont: "Howard is not a liberal. He's a pro-business, Rockefeller Republican."
Wow. But wait, let’s hear from Howard himself:
"I was a triangulator before Clinton was a triangulator. In my soul, I'm a moderate."
Yeah, and you were probably talking about race in front of white audiences before the Big Dog, too. Got any evidence?
Plenty of evidence backs up that comment by the former Vermont governor to the New York Times Magazine a few months ago. The self-comparison with Clinton is apt. "During his five two-year terms as governor," the magazine noted, "Dean was proud to be known as a pragmatic New Democrat, in the Clinton mold, boasting that neither the far right nor the far left had much use for him."
Of course, what a mainstream publication is apt to call "the far left" often includes large progressive constituencies. In the battle for the '04 Democratic presidential nomination, Dean clearly finds grassroots progressives to be quite useful for his purposes. But is he truly useful for ours?
… "This is, after all, the governor who has at times tried to cut benefits for the aged, blind and disabled, whose No. 1 priority is a balanced budget."
Economic justice has been a much lower priority. During the early 1990s, Dean spearheaded a new "workfare" state law requiring labor from welfare recipients. The Vermont program later won praise as more humane "welfare reform" than what occurred in most other states. But in the summer of 1996, Dean put his weight behind the final push for President Clinton's national "welfare reform" law -- a draconian measure, slashing at an already shabby safety-net while forcing impoverished mothers to work low-wage jobs.
While some other Democrats angrily opposed Clinton's welfare reform, it won avid support from Dean. "Liberals like Marian Wright Edelman are wrong," he insisted. "The bill is strong on work, time limits assistance and provides adequate protection for children." Dean co-signed a letter to Clinton calling the measure "a real step forward."
Gov. Dean did not mind polarizing with poor people, but he got along better with the corporate sector. "Conservative Vermont business leaders praise Dean's record and his unceasing efforts to balance the budget, even though Vermont is the only state where a balanced budget is not constitutionally required," Business Week reported in its August 11 (2003) edition. "Moreover, they argue that the two most liberal policies adopted during Dean's tenure -- the 'civil unions' law and a radical revamping of public school financing -- were instigated by Vermont's ultraliberal Supreme Court rather than Dean.".
Can we get another opinion?
If Dean ever belonged to the ''Democratic wing of the Democratic Party'' before this year, he must have kept his membership secret. During his five two-year terms as governor, Dean was proud to be known as a pragmatic New Democrat, in the Clinton mold, boasting that neither the far right nor the far left had much use for him. He signed into law a measure that legalized civil unions for gay couples, a decision that was essentially mandated by the state's Supreme Court. But he also faced opposition from the left-leaning Progressive Party in two re-election campaigns. And he forcefully upheld the rights of Vermonters to carry concealed guns wherever they went, which helped him earn an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
Well, Howard, we know how much you resent being compared to Gingrich, but why do you call everyone who disagrees with you “Republican” or “Bush-lite”?
''I'm trying to figure out how to do this and not be arrogant,'' he confides. ''Sometimes I get impatient with people who don't agree with me.''
Sometimes? Hey, maybe Howie is from the Democratic wing of the Republican Party. Or the Republican wing of the Democratic Party? Oh, the hell with labels. Well, anyway, it's too bad Wellstone isn't around to object to the misappropriation.
Seriously, Howie, lighten up with the put-downs and innuendos. Stop calling all your DEMOCRATIC opponents "Republicans" and "Bush-lite." Fight hard, but fair and let the voters decide whom they think the best Democratic candidate is. That's democracy, right?