Five Minutes With: Howard Dean

February 16, 2007

Just days before switching jobs, former Vermont governor Howard Dean gave an exclusive face-to-face interview to

How did your presidential campaign build so rapidly into one of the most powerful campus networks ever—was it the appeal of the message, the skill of the organizers, or what?

It was both the message and the medium. Campus organizing and the Internet are made for each other, and the message was very powerful. So the combination of a medium that was targeted at young people, particularly those on college campuses, as it turns out, and a message. The message, incidentally, was not the anti-war message. It was the “stand up for what you believe” message that really got people.

Last election, young people voted for a more progressive direction than voters as a whole. But that’s been true in most elections. What needs to happen for this progressive generation to stay progressive as it gets older?

I think they will stay progressive. That happened with my generation. Many of the members of my generation are still progressive and they’re still active, but they’d given up after a while. After Nixon and Reagan, there was a big fall-off. This generation is energized by, frankly, an administration which is completely out of touch with the future, and I think they’ll stay energized.

Even many people interested in public affairs see people who run for public office as almost a different species. Your organization has been trying to change that, and encourage new people to run in elections. How do you do that?

Well you just ask ‘em to. After I dropped out of the presidential race I asked everybody to run for office. And this was only eight months before the election. And a lot of them did, and a lot of them won. We have a progressive mayor in the largest country in Utah – a million people in it. We have the first African-American woman judge in Montgomery, Alabama. And a fairly large number of candidates, many of color, all over the county, including in red states, and many of them had no previous electoral experience. So we just asked ordinary people to run. I think it’s a requirement of democracy to run for office or at least work in somebody’s campaign. Voting is not enough. That’s not going to restore our democracy.

Last year the New York Times did a piece contrasting the clean corporate-style offices of the Bush campaign with the grungy environment of the Dean headquarters in Burlington. It evoked that old college movie theme, like in Animal House, the slobs versus the snobs. What was your room like in college, clean or messy?

I actually remember it as fairly clean.

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