When former Vermont Governor Howard Dean ’71 spoke at the Whitney Humanities Center Tuesday night, the room was so full the fire marshal had to interrupt the speech to clear the aisles and exits. After the room had been slightly emptied, Dean told the audience that the fire marshal “is not as much fun as the Pundits,” who interrupted his last Yale Political Union debate in 2007.
With at least 100 prefrosh and their parents, the event was so well-attended that the windowsills and the aisles of the room were filled. The debate was originally booked for Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona, YPU President Leah Libresco ’11 said, but moved last week to the smaller WHC at the behest of administrators. Before the debate, Dean greeted and took pictures with prefrosh, joking that he was the “official recruiting chairman” for Yale, and plugging the seminar he will teach next year.
Later, when he took the stage, Dean argued that “China must inevitably democratize,” and he shared his recent experiences visiting China and his philosophy on democracy. Through increased wealth and improving education, Dean said, the Chinese government will be forced to increase transparency and submit to public opinion on policy issues.
“[China] is an incredible country,” he said. “They are determined to raise the standard of living for their people.”
Dean had previously been in Beijing engaged in what he called “the first exchange” between American and Chinese parties. He — along with members of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, both of which work to advance democracy worldwide — met with members of the Chinese Communist Party as well as individual Chinese citizens.
He said his visit taught him that China “has performed an economic miracle” by lifting over one billion people out of poverty, and is committed to doing the same for its 350 million citizens still living on $1 to $2 a day.
In order to accomplish this goal, Dean said, the Communist Party has begun to allow suits against corrupt companies and local governments to succeed. Previously, he said, the party would block such suits.
“The government knows that corruption and cronyism hurts growth,” Dean said.
It is this process, Dean argued, along with the liberating power of the Internet, that will eventually lead to the democratization of China
This reform will not be heavily affected by the recent Google pullout from mainland China, he said.
“Is there censorship? Yes,” he said. “Are there off-limits topics? Yes. But do young people find a way around it? Yes.”
The question-and-answer session after his speech focused on the process by which democratization might occur.
Alex Martone ’10, former president of the YPU, asked Dean how the Chinese could establish a multi-party system given the authoritarian control exerted by the CCP.
In response, Dean admitted that although “free press is certainly not existent in China,” and “another Tiananmen Square would be met the same [way],” nothing is impossible.
Although Dean focused on international issues during his speech, he landed several jabs at national political opponents.
He joked with the crowd that China could in fact “see Russia from their doorstep” — referencing a comment made by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — and that because China has so many people, even bridges to nowhere lead somewhere.
Libresco said the resolution for the debate was chosen by Dean, who wanted to focus on a topic of both national and international import.