During a recent meeting with a group of activists in San Francisco, new DNC Chair Howard Dean proved once again he is the right man for the job:
Two months earlier, many of the same Democratic stalwarts had dinner with the outgoing DNC chair, Terry McAuliffe. Despite John Kerry’s loss in the presidential race, McAuliffe’s message was remarkably upbeat: For the first time in 30 years, the DNC had raised more money than did the RNC. They had built an impressive Washington headquarters, housing shiny new technology.
McAuliffe’s ebullient demeanor soured during the question and answer session. Many of the activists had worked outside California getting out the vote. They were distressed by what they had encountered: Republican dirty tricks; voting irregularities; dysfunctional systems; antagonism between DNC staff and local Democrats. As one difficult question followed another, McAuliffe seemed to bristle. Finally, he exclaimed, “I didn’t come here to listen to whining!”
There were remnants of this anger in the audience that met with Howard Dean. Unlike McAuliffe, Dean chose to listen to every question, no matter how difficult, and then to propose solutions.
What a concept.
While the main focus of Dean’s remarks, and of the questions from the audience, was on building a better system for the party, he also touched on the core Democratic message. He began by observing that many Americans don’t understand what the Democrats stand for. His solution is not for the party to change its positions, but rather to modify the way that it delivers them.
Just a few days ago, Mr. Shakes and I were talking about this, and he was complaining about the lack of a cohesive message. My response was that there is a cohesive message: human rights. We defend Social Security because we believe it is a human right not to suffer through one’s old age, after dedicating one’s life to employment for the country’s benefit, in abject poverty; we seek to protect abortion rights because we believe it a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body; we advocate gay rights because we believe in equal rights for all citizens; we believe in war as a last resort because we value human life and dignity; we condemn torture tactics for the same reasons; we argue for transparent elections to ensure the right to vote and have that vote counted. Whatever the issue is, Democrats’ advocacy stems from a belief in equality and the advancement of human rights. Our policies are not forged by social Darwinism, but by empathy and justice. Those are our moral values, and they’re not that difficult to convey.
-- Shakespeare's Sister