'Can't beat Republicans by being Bush-lite on the issues'
Dr. Howard Dean served up hot cakes and his new agenda for Democrats Saturday morning to more than 300 people at The Embers.
Building momentum in his drive toward the Jan. 19 Iowa caucus, Dean said he knew this would be a difficult election and that people are going to bring up the things that divide the Democratic Party. But he said he wasn't asking any Democrat to back off on their beliefs nor would he back off his beliefs about equal rights under the law for every American.
"We want a country with idealism. We want a country where a president of the United States appeals to the best in us, not the worst in us," he said. "But when they bring up the stuff that divides us, when they bring up race in the South, we're going to say jobs. Because everybody need a job. It doesn't matter what race you are or where you live. When they say guns, we're going to talk about education, because everybody needs an education. And every person in America understands what this president has done to our education system, with No Child Left Behind. When they talk about gay rights, we're not going to back off our beliefs that everybody ought to have the same rights as everybody else, but we're going to talk about health insurance, because everybody needs health insurance, whether they're white or black or gay or straight or whoever they are in America. This party must stop trying to fight the Republicans on their ground and insist on fighting on our ground where we have everything in common."
Dean told the standing-room-only local crowd that he wanted to help bring a "sense of community back to our country."
He said he would not lead an administration that appears to care more about special interests than ordinary Americans.
"The biggest loss that we've had in our country since George Bush has been president is not the 3 million jobs that have disappeared, and it's not the loss of face around the world," Dean said. "The biggest loss that we've had is our sense of community, our sense that we're all in it together."
He said when he was 21 years old, near the end of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and four little girls in a Birmingham church died so everyone could have equal rights under the law.
But, he added, it also was a time of great hope: Medicare passed, Head Start passed, civil rights, voting rights, the first African American justice on the Supreme Court.
"We felt like we were all in it together," Dean said. "If one person was left behind, then the country wasn't as strong as it should be or as good as it could be."
In his one of few remarks toward his Democratic rivals, Dean cautioned the crowd about Democrats who have voted for Bush's programs and the war.
"We can't beat the Republicans by being Bush-lite," he said as the crowd responded with laughter at the obvious pun. "I'm proud to be a Democrat and proud of all that the party stands for. I hope our campaign will instill that pride in all Democrats."
Many national polls, including CNN, have Dean leading in Iowa and New Hampshire, and leading his Democratic rivals in campaign funds raised, although he is in a tight race Rep. Richard Gephardt, Dem.-Mo., in Iowa polls.
"This campaign empowers ordinary people, many of whom have not been in politics for years, to get involved. That is really what the campaign intends to prove next November 2004, when it brings enormous numbers of new Americans back into this process," Dean said.
He addressed an important issue to many in the crowd when he said that "the state of agriculture in Iowa is emblematic of the Bush administration."
"Many, many farms are out of business, a half million people have been sent into poverty since Bush took office," he said. "People have a right to be angry with President Bush for all the things he's done to Iowa farmers, helping corporatize American agriculture. He is a president who appears sometimes to care more about the special interests that his political policies help rather than ordinary Americans.
"But one of the interesting things about my campaign is it's really based on hope, not anger. "
Addressing the flow of jobs out of the country, Dean said that "we can't turn the clock back on globalization, but we need to have a level playing field."
"If we're going to have open borders, we need to have the same kinds of environmental protections, labor protections, human rights protections and worker protections we have in this country," he said. "That will not disadvantage exports but will give the workers around the world the ability to become consumers too."
The only people who made out on the recent tax cuts made by the Bush administration were the super wealthy, Dean said.
"We've got to look at the big picture," he said. "If you make over $1 million, you've got a $112,000 tax cut. Sixty percent of us got a $304 tax cut.
"The questions I have for Americans is: did your college tuition go up more than $304 because the president cut Pell Grants in order to finance his tax cuts for his millionaire friends? How about your property taxes, did they go up more than $304 because the president wouldn't fund special education, wouldn't fund No Child Left Behind, wouldn't fund COPS and - how about your health care payments? Did they go up more than $304 because the president cut thousands of people all over America off health care because he wouldn't fund the states' share that they needed to continue to insure people, and that was shifted to insurance and the health care premiums?"
Most middle-class people in this country are worse off because of President Bush's so- called tax cut than they are better off, he continued.
"So let's talk about education," Dean said. "How many of you have heard of the No Child Left Behind Act? The one some school boards call the 'No School Board Left Standing Act' and teachers are calling 'No Behind Left Act?' "
Dean said the reason he opposed it was that it was an "unbelievable, intrusive mandate."
"I talked to a woman who's a teacher the other day - she was told by the federal government she wasn't a highly qualified teacher," he said. "This after she had taught math and physics and gotten the best scores for her students for 23 years. What's wrong with this picture? She knows her students better than George Bush or Tom DeLay does."
An audience member wanted to hear what Dean had to say about his health care plans, what would Dean do about people like the questioner who don't have health insurance?
"My plan is based on what we did in Vermont," he said "If you're under 25 you get a government program, unless you make lots of money. Or if you make under $33,000 you can get a government program or keep the insurance you have, which in your case wouldn't apply.
"Or let's suppose you make $40,000, have a family of four, run a small business, and it's really expensive to get health insurance, or you don't want to go into someone else's plan, you can but the same private health insurance plan that Congress has for 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. That'd be around $300 a month."
Qualifying for the government program is not free, Dean said, unless a person made a little less than $33,000 a year, and then the insured might be charged up to 5 percent of their income until they were below $26,000 and then it would be free.
Everybody gets insured, Dean said, nobody's excluded, unless they simply don't want to be insured.
"Now, the plan is not perfect," he said. "If you were going to design a healthcare system from scratch, it wouldn't be this one. But we're not starting from scratch and this is the kind of thing that could pass."
And after it is passed by the Congress then it time for adjustments and working on it, he said.
"If you go for something perfect first, If you try to reform the system first, the Democrats fight over how to reform the system, the Republicans and special interests kill the bill, and nothing happens for the 43 million people who have no health insurance," he said. "All I want is something that will pass."
Dean said he wants something for the 43 million without insurance and for the millions of people who are paying almost as much for health insurance as for house payments. "After everyone is in the system, then we can have a big fight about how to change the system."
Toward the end of his speech, a questioner asked Dean about discrimination toward gays and lesbians. Dean who signed Vermont's civil union law, giving gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as a heterosexual married couple handled this question directly.
He said that it is a matter of equal rights under the law and that's his stand.
"Equal rights under the law are not just for your friends who you play golf with or for the neighbors that you have supper with, they're for every single American, every single one... If one person is discriminated against in the United States, then we are all poorer because of it."
Dean signed a bill to that effect is his home state six months before his reelection, when 60 percent of the people were against it, he said.
Buena Vista County Supervisor Jim Gustafson attended the meeting at The Embers and said he's a Dean supporter for several reasons.
"He's a governor from a small, rural state," Gustafson said. "And he's outside the Washington beltway. I think that helps him understand the hardships caused by people's property taxes and college tuitions going up. How hard on families that is."