Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean declared the college-age generation will be able to break the gridlock of partisanship in Washington at an event hosted by the College Democrats in the Marvin Center Wednesday night.
Dean discussed a range of topics – including the 2008 presidential election and the upcoming midterm elections – but struck the most hopeful tone when discussing the student generation. Dean, the former governor of Vermont, spoke for around 20 minutes, moving from the 2008 presidential election to the need for Democrats to get “tough” in the conversation, before taking questions from the audience of about 150 students.
Speaking in the Marvin Center’s Grand Ballroom, Dean noted the partisan tendencies of his generation and said that Washington politics, particularly in the U.S. Senate, is especially confrontational.
“The message from your generation to my generation is when are you going to stop fighting about these things that you’ve been fighting about for 35 years and get something done about the things we agree on, that we all agree are important,” he said.
In discussing the health care reform debate, Dean said at the event and in an interview with The Hatchet Tuesday that those in Washington are too focused on politics to put the country first again.
Dean said younger generations will help change those tendencies and set America on a different course – one of discussion and listening.
“I’m pleased about the prospect of passing the health care bill. I think that will help Democrats come November,” he said in Tuesday’s interview. “I think that through the health care debate, the Republicans have established themselves as obstructionist. I think we lost sight of real reform in the search for votes. We only needed 51, I’m not sure why we were looking for 59.”
Dean noted one of the hallmarks of younger generations is social inclusiveness, which stems from the diversity found within their generation.
“Your generation is going to be a little libertarian and it is also going to be more fiscally conservative, but it’s also going to be incredibly socially inclusive because those are your friends,” he said.
He said he often talks about GW – which he initially called Georgetown before quickly correcting his mistake – because of this spirit of discussion and willingness to tackle issues that can be agreed upon.
“It’s the only place in the country I’ve ever discovered where the College Republicans and College Democrats share the same space. I think it’s great. What difference does it make if you’re a conservative or liberal or whatever you are, why not sit down and work out the stuff you can agree on,” he said.
Dean also said Republicans wrongly exclude gays and minorities but noted the GOP is good at reaching a unified message and sticking to the message, something he said the Democrats have issues accomplishing.
“We’re not tough enough. I never want to be as mean as the Republicans are, but I’d love to be as tough as the Republicans are,” he said.
Dean discussed the presidency at length and compared Obama to John F. Kennedy, calling Kennedy his generation’s president and Obama the president for the new generation.
“A really good political leader is like a parabolic mirror. They take the extraordinary energy and ideas from audiences, grassroots and generations and focus them back at you in a very articulate way, like a parabolic mirror does to a light source,” Dean said of Obama’s success in 2008.
As for the future, Dean said in the interview Tuesday that the grassroots excitement that helped elect the nation’s first “multicultural president” might be difficult to replicate in the 2010 midterm elections, largely due to the lack of tangible change people were hoping to see when the Democrats took back the White House.
“It will be harder for them to get the grassroots excited. It’s helped because the Republicans haven’t established themselves as a better alternative, but we need to show people why they should vote for us, not just why they should vote against Republicans,” he said in the phone interview.
At the end of his discussion, Dean urged students to live up to their responsibility to stay involved in politics in some way throughout their lives. Dean said it is important that young Americans continue to stay active after electing their first president if they want to see change.
“Not being enthusiastic about a particular politician or candidate does not exclude you from being involved. You better be doing something for somebody, whether it’s building houses in New Orleans or doing something for the Amazon or whatever it is. In order to do your share in making the world a better place, you have to contribute in some positive way. The minimum you have to do is go to the ballot box,” he said.