Howard Dean, recently elected Democratic National Committee chair, spoke yesterday to a packed Anabel Taylor auditorium about how he would remake the Democratic Party into a "party of change and reform." He described a new "two-way campaign" that would give "ordinary people the power to influence their government and their politicians directly by allowing their politicians to find the way to listen [to them]," such as the utilization of weblogs, a method taken from Dean's campaign for Democratic presidential nominee.
"Do not work for candidates who don't care what you think," Dean repeated twice to resounding applause. "If you want to sustain democracy, you have to run for office," Dean added. He said that just voting is not enough, and urged students to consider working in a campaign or contributing money.
Dean began by speaking on what he thought was the most important issue today: the proposed privatization of Social Security. He said that President George W. Bush was trying to appeal to 20- and 30-year-olds through privatization, but claimed that in fact that generation would end up having to pay the $2 trillion bill for it.
"I think that privatizing Social Security has much more to do with the enormous amount of money that corporate Wall Street poured into the President of the United States's campaign than [helping] senior citizens," Dean said. "[Social Security] was a response toward [overcoming] abject poverty...it is not meant as a retirement program...it was meant as a social safety net for people who had reached the end of their working careers and did not deserve, after a long lifetime of dignified work, to live in poverty. ... It's not supposed to be a pension."
Dean pointed out that, while he would not endorse this, if Social Security were left alone for 30 years, its benefits would be reduced to 80 percent of what it is now. He acknowledged that while there were indeed problems with the program, turning to Wall Street was not the answer.
After emphasizing the effect of the deficit on today's student generation, Dean moved onto the importance of balancing the budget.
"The truth is, not one Republican president has balanced the budget in almost 40 years. You cannot trust Republicans with your money," Dean said. "The only person who's balanced the budget is Bill Clinton."
In an interview with the Sun, Dean said, "Only Democrats balance budgets...I think if we can get rid of the Republicans, we can have a better future. ...I think America will start losing its place of leadership in the world because there's no long-term thinking going on in Washington...under these people."
Dean made the point that much of our debt is owed to nations such as China, Japan and Saudi Arabia, and that it may ultimately become a security issue.
"It's the Democrats that are the conservative, fiscally responsible party -- certainly not the borrow-and-spend, borrow-and-spend, borrow-and-spend Republicans," Dean said in the lecture. He added that the city of Washington, D.C. was told by the White House to take $11.7 million out of their homeland security funds to cover the cost of hosting the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration, concluding that Republicans are much weaker on defense than Democrats.
Dean also linked the defense issue with the issue of labor unions in the U.S.. He argued that most of the U.S.'s trade treaties have only benefited multinational corporations and have actually lowered the standards of living for working people.
"If you want a strong defense, then help people not just in America but around the rest of the world, improve their standard of living," Dean said. "We should insist that if people are going to trade with America, that we have some similarity in labor standards in the U.S. and elsewhere and that we protect not only our own environment but insist that our competitors protect their environment."
Just 10 days into his chairmanship at the DNC, Dean has already begun rethinking the approach the Democratic Party takes in getting candidates elected and analyzing the reasons the Republican Party was able to win the White House as well as Congress last November. "You ever wonder why Republican campaigns are all run the same? Guns, God and gays. That's all they do. Why is that? It's because they never have anything constructive to say about jobs, healthcare and a real defense policy," Dean said. "They bring up those issues because they want people to vote against their economic interests... We need to stop letting them tell America what we stand for, and we need to tell America what we stand for ourselves."
Ultimately, he said, Democrats had to be the ones to set the agenda, instead of playing defense.
"The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the Democrats think that women should be able to make up their own mind about what kind of health care they have," Dean said on abortion rights. He argued that many women who perceived themselves to be pro-life were actually pro-choice: they believed abortion to be immoral but would not be willing to dictate what other women should do in those situations.
Dean also said that "Bush's cronies" managed to pass anti-gay marriage legislation in 11 states during the last election in order to "scapegoat a minority for the purpose of getting elected and that's not courage. That's not leadership, and those people don't belong running the United States of America."
"The great shame of this administration is that they believe it's more important that Republicans to be in office than they believe in empowerment of ordinary Americans to change their government. It is not worth winning every time if you're willing to use any means to do it, because you destroy the very thing you've set out to protect," Dean said. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who campaigned for Dean in Iowa during the primary, was at the lecture to welcome him to Ithaca.
"We've allowed...the Republican Party to create the impression that they have certain values that Democrats do not have, which is completely false. The Democrats have those values of ethics, of integrity, of caring for people, of having a fair and open society...all of those values are ingrained deeply in the Democratic Party," Hinchey said. "And we've allowed ourselves to take them for granted...we've just taken for granted that everybody knows that. The Republicans have been very good at subverting that knowledge and so we have to make it clear once again who we are and I think Governor Dean is very qualified and capable of doing that."
Though Hinchey was disappointed that Dean did not win the primary, he was pleased Dean is now chairman of the Democratic Party.
"Part of his job is to organize and to establish and maintain a good, strong Democratic Party across the country...I think he'll be extremely good at this job, in terms of organizing and in terms of developing issues and talking to people about the important issues," Hinchey said. Tim Lim '06, president of the Cornell Democrats and coordinator of the event, said, "Dean is right in that to revitalize the party, we need to talk about the issues and to the people who have the same issues and values. That's the first stage to reforming the party."
Dean also spoke briefly on healthcare, declaring that it needs to be made available to every American. Other issues he touched upon included environmental protection programs, renewable energy sources, the relationship between Bush and the President Vicente Fox of Mexico and making a solid effort to campaign in strong Republican states. Dean answered questions about the electoral college, and the role of religion in political issues, among others.
As the event neared its end, Dean revealed a glimpse of some of the appeal college students saw in him during the early months of the Democratic primaries.
"People your age get most of their news from the internet or from the Jon Stewart Daily Show. I actually think that the truth is probably [that] Jon Stewart's the greatest newsperson in America right now," Dean said. "Anyone see the CNN report, Crossfire? ... Shouting at people does not pass for civil discourse and it's bad for the country. What Stewart does and the reason I think he has such incredible credibility with people your age who have a very low B.S. tolerance, which I think is also a welcome improvement...is he just lays it out and he doesn't care and he's not particularly partisan. He just likes to puncture people's hot air balloons in politics and there's a lot of it."
On why Dean was brought to speak at Cornell, Lim said, "He influenced a lot of young people, and brought a lot of people back into the party."
"We think students here and the people here really should hear what he has to say because it's so important and so good," said Mitch Fagen '07, vice president of the Cornell Democrats. "I think he reminded us of what so many people saw when he ran for President. I think he will provide a strong voice for the Democratic Party."