For the last few days, I have been debating whether I need to redecorate my room. The walls of my snug single are covered with Howard Dean paraphernalia — the poster, the bumper sticker, the campaign literature, the buttons, and even my intern badge from my adventures in New Hampshire. The room seems to exude Howard Dean even more than Yale blue.
So when I watched Dean announce that he would no longer actively seek the presidency last Wednesday afternoon, I felt a lack of purpose. Granted, his leaving the race was no surprise — it had been over a month since Iowa and three weeks after New Hampshire, and the writing on the wall was clear. Yet there was something about the finality of his speech that seemed to reopen the wound that had been attempting to heal itself since the early primary defeats.
For the past year, I had been a total Deaniac, to use the media’s phrase to describe those of us who became enchanted with the dark-horse Democrat from Vermont. I went to meet-ups, I worked with the Yalies for Dean Coalition on campus, and I made the trek up to New Hampshire. But somewhere along the way, the Dean campaign became more than just a part of my life. The button on the book bag, the winter hat with the official logo, the various campaign materials in my room all added to this new identity that I enthusiastically embraced. Dean was the first topic of conversation and the first question to debate.
My story is far from unique. I share it with others on this campus who have become my dear friends over the last year and with thousands upon thousands of others around the country. The campaign made the progress it did because it trusted volunteers to become its spokesmen, creating a grassroots campaign that empowered a new generation of community activists. But now all of these activists and I inevitably share not only the same recent past, but also the same unclear future. We return to the question of where do we go from here? In other words, should I redecorate my dorm room?
For me, the short-term decision was easy to make. I had received my absentee ballot for New York the same day as the Wisconsin primary, and I had already decided that I would vote for Dean. I filled out my ballot after he had announced the virtual end to his campaign, proud that I had an opportunity to vote for a candidate in whom I truly believed with all of my political heart.
Now I may be a Deaniac, but I don’t mean to scare my fellow Democrats. I despise Bush and am as furious with Nader as your most fervent Kerry or Edwards campaign staffer. More important, I am a member of the Democratic Party and will be glad to be working for whomever our nominee is once the primaries are over.
This long term solution might be difficult at first for me and my fellow compatriots who campaigned so hard for Dean to accept, but I feel confident in saying that I will not be the only Deaniac bearing a new campaign button on my book bag. While Dean may not be the nominee, he completely changed the landscape of the 2004 election. In a post-Sept. 11 environment, he was the first to stand up and criticize George Bush — for his move to go to war in Iraq, for his tax cuts for the rich, and for his gutting of funding for social programs.
It was his courage, his views, and yes — even his anger — that got young people to listen to him and to work for someone they had never met. It was what brought them to the polls in record numbers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other early primary states. Whether this new group of young voters cast their ballots for Dean or one of the other candidates, they came because Dean had showed the Democratic Party that young people are an important constituency that cannot be ignored.
Not only did he energize this new base of volunteers and donors who had been previously disenchanted or apathetic, he energized the other candidates themselves. He reminded all of us what it meant to be strong Democrats who stand up for positive ideals, showing that we could defend our positions without watching every poll, afraid of how the American people might react. Dean showed the other candidates that when you speak your mind and present a clear argument, people listen and people act, giving the party a new vision that will serve both it and the American people well not just in 2004 but for many years to come.
And in terms of my room, the Dean poster is staying up. But there’s a spot saved underneath it for the Democratic National Committee’s next official poster.