Howard Dean is one of the great outsiders of US politics. His bid for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination energised the party’s grassroots and established Dean as a champion of the centre-left. But his campaign faltered on the belief that he was too far from the mainstream to be elected president. Serving subsequently as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Dean expanded the party’s grassroots organisation in traditional Republican-leaning states, paving the way for Obama’s victory last year. Still the outsider, Dean was not offered a position in Obama’s cabinet and has now returned to his activist roots. ‘I consider myself one of the older generation, who is passing things along to the newer generation,’ he told The Diplomat in a characteristically outspoken conversation.
Do you see the election of Barack Obama as a major turning point in American politics?
I do. There’s a generational change. It’s the first multicultural generation in America, which selected the first multicultural president in America. People under 35 voted in a higher percentage than people over 65 for the first time in my lifetime. It’s a tectonic shift.There is a whole new generation in charge of America now.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Would you agree with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that the current economic crisis stems from the neo-liberal economic consensus, the belief in free, unfettered markets that has dominated policy making for the past thirty years?
No. Well, indirectly. I think the current crisis stems from very bad business and ethical judgment based on the enormous pressure for increasing returns. Now, it’s all compounded by the unfettered capitalism regime as perpetrated by ideologues, like Reagan–people who put ideology ahead of practicality.The system has clearly been deregulated excessively [and] the people who are running the system have failed. They’ve failed in their responsibility to shareholders. They failed in their responsibility to their country.
Do you believe that President Obama has been bold enough in his measures to tackle the crisis?
Yes, I think so. I think he’s been extraordinarily bold and now, of course, we have to see how this all works. We are going to know fairly shortly because what happens to the automobile companies is going to make a big difference.
Given the extent of the current crisis, is now the right time for the US to pursue universal health care?
Of course. You can’t not do it. One of the things I like about Obama is that he gets how interrelated everything is. In the short term we have to fix this immediate financial crisis. But in the longer term, healthcare is a big part of American economic instability. This employer-based system that we have makes us uncompetitive with other industrial nations. The costs are going up two or three times faster than they are in other systems around the industrialised, democratic world. And that’s not a prescription for long-term economic health for America. So if you want to fix the economy, you can’t just fix the short term problems, you’ve got to fix the long-term problems.
How significant do you consider the change in tone that Obama has brought to foreign policy?
It’s created a whole different America. I think America is now seen as a team player again, as a country that wants to re-engage itself in the world. I think one thing that’s gone forever is America’s position as automatic leader. So we are going to have to get used to that. We are still going to be very important, but we are not going to be running the whole show anymore.Oddly enough, Bush’s removal of himself from playing a serious role in foreign affairs has created a world that has had to evolve beyond American leadership. That’s a good thing for the rest of the world.