Former presidential hopeful Howard Dean exhorts students to get involved in politics

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Additional reporting by Alex Glick

Telling students that “voting alone is only good for a D,” former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Howard Dean urged Swatties to get involved in politics at a level beyond simply voting on November 2nd. Speaking before a packed house in LPAC yesterday, he requested that audience members run for office and volunteer for political campaigns, both now and in the future. Despite jokingly telling the audience “I was going to say Bush-bashing, but [there will] be none of that” today at the beginning of his speech, Dean repeatedly asked the audience “[d]o you trust the President?” Appearing with Dean were congressional candidate Paul Scoles and Pennsylvania House member Greg Vitali.

In an interview with the Daily Gazette and the New York Times following the speech, Dean said that he came to Swarthmore because “rallies don’t win the election, getting out the vote does.” In part because Swattie voters are predominantly liberal and have already decided to vote for John Kerry, Dean believes that the pay-off from his visit to Swarthmore in terms of election day volunteers will be greater than it would have been from simply having another rally. “America is not as divided as George Bush would like it to be,” Dean said, and the American people “don’t elect presidents who they don’t see as credible.” In the final days of the race Dean will be heading to Ohio and New Hampshire for more down-to-the-wire campaigning.

In his speech, Dean argued that it is essential for people to get involved at all levels of government, including the low-profile position of library trustee, and not to allow themselves to be blinded by the grander scale of presidential campaigns. In his words, “I believe we should have people running libraries that believe in reading books, not burning them.”

The speech was filled with red meat for the Democratic faithful, and Dean reiterated many of the themes from his earlier presidential campaign. He asked students “do you trust the president who lost 400 tons of munitions in Iraq?” inquired if students wanted “to spend your junior abroad in Iraq courtesy of the federal government,” argued that “liberals balance budgets, Republicans don’t,” and concluded that “it’s not that [Bush is] a bad person, he’s just incompetent.” On the issue of campaign finance reform, Dean urged people to exploit what his campaign had shown to be true: that the combination of small donations from many donors over the internet could beat the large contributions of special interests and “fat-cats in Washington.”

Dean said that the issues Americans care about are jobs, health care, and public education, but Republicans have to run on “guns, God, gays, and abortion” since they don’t share the public’s views on any of the other issues. Speaking on the current state of American, he pled with the audience to get involved so that the “right wing never does this to the greatest country in the world again.”

Student reaction to the speech trended positive, not at all surprising given the trend in student opinion generally. Lucy McNamara ’08 commented, “I think that the professional Bush-bashing was a lot of fun, but I think the advertising was misleading because I was expecting more information on health care.” Ian Flora ’05 noted, “I felt that the ratio of standing ovations to meaningful content was surprisingly high. Nonetheless it was a rousing experience.”

Katie Davenport ’05, who worked for the Dean campaign in New Hampshire, said that Dean “was very inspiring and is one of the few politicians [she likes] to listen to.”

Patrick Hart ’06, Treasurer of the College Democrats, “felt really good” about the turnout. He stressed the importance of the local candidates getting the opportunity to speak. Hart added that the College Democrats are organizing phone banking, canvassing, and visibility efforts in the final days of the race. According to Hart, activities such as these, as well as the rally, are important because they “help people get enthusiastic.”

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