On a rainy October night, Howard Dean showed up at a very well-attended fundraiser. Since I've been unemployed for most of this year, I hadn't been giving anyone any money for anything (beyond tsunami and hurricane relief). But, now that I have a contract job, I made a donation to the DNC so I could attend the party, shake Howard's hand and hear him speak in person.
I'd actually gotten pretty close to Howard once before. How close? How's this:
This was at a pro-choice rally in DC in late April 2004. There were nearly a million of us there that day, so I hung back a bit (besides, I was something of a volunteer).
A few days later, I was in Vermont attending my Dad's brother Winslow's funeral. I arranged to meet-up with my Mom's cousin Alice for breakfast the next day. We started talking about her years in the Vermont legislature, as a representative from Burlington. I mentioned I'd seen Howard Dean in Washington a few days before.
"Why, I used to commute to Monpelier with him in his old pick-up truck," she said.
They both served in the legistlature at the same time, driving from Burlington to Montpelier, which was something like an hour away.
What a great story!
I've always loved stories about local politics. Unlike many state legistatures, Vermont's is still small enough that the representatives don't have elaborate staffs. It was like that back in the '80s when Alice and Howard served together, and I suspect it's like that still. When my Uncle Winslow, a longtime Vermont state employee died, I heard people saying that the state office buiding had shut down that day so people could attend his funeral. Now, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but...
There's also a long tradition of "citizen service" in Vermont state government. People don't live to be "lifelong" politicians. They serve for a few years, and then they go home. I had a grandfather serve in the Vermont legislature during WWII, and a great-grandfather as well. I think that's the way it ought to be, I think that's the way the founders envisioned public service.
But back to Howard Dean. I gave him money early in 2004 because I thought he was the most interesting of the presidential candidates. And, frankly, I thought he was the most likely to speak his mind and be very honest. His honesty wound up biting him in the end - God forbid that a politician be too open and honest (and, heck, even exuberant!). His taking the reigns of the Democratic party is, frankly, a good thing, but I would rather have seen him or John Kerry or almost anyone other than Bush as president. So when I was invited to donate to a Democratic fundraiser for the sole purpose of meeting Howard Dean and hearing him speak in person, I jumped at the chance.
And I did get to meet him. While Howard is something of a "perpetual motion machine," he really isn't quite this blurry in person. I shook his hand, told him we had a slight connection, and mention my cousin Alice's story about commuting to Montpelier with him.
He looked a little perplexed at first, then said, "Why how's she doing?"
"Fine." Alice is almost 80. I was in awe of all the activities she was doing last year.
"Why she was more liberal than I am!"
"My mother always says I take after her side of the family." And we both laughed a little while I got this picture taken, and he went on to the next folks in line.
Howard gave a pretty good speech to a group of something like 200 attendees. When he specifically mentioned the importance of having a competent government and how the Democrats shouldn't behave unethically either, I started applauding before anyone else!
I was going to give Howard a letter about why I am finally a registered Democrat and a photo of Alice, but I didn't. Instead, I'll put the letter here:
I’m a Democrat because I believe in responsible governance, and leaders who demonstrate imagination rather than myopia. While I do not expect the Federal government to “do everything” for me, I do expect a Federal government to provide rational leadership and coordination for the state and local governments.
I’m a Democrat because I believe that taxation for the public good isn’t an abject evil. Responsible taxation funds our schools, our defense, our roads, and rebuilding in times of national emergencies. Responsible taxation spreads the burden so that those more capable of paying taxes pay them, rather than taxing the poor into destitution. If America truly is a society where fairness matters, it is so much fairer to tax responsibly than to spend and spend the country into generations of deficits.
I’m a Democrat because I want to be part of a party that doesn’t fear facts, constructive change, science, technology and the future.
I’m a Democrat because I don’t want my government demonize minority groups
I’m a Democrat because I’m well aware of history, of why the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution the way that they did. I understand why they insisted upon a separation of church and state while acknowledging a Creator. I understand why they instituted the concept of “advise and consent.” I understand why they insisted on an independent judiciary. These are vital issues, ones that the Federal government must understand and act upon rationally.
I’m a Democrat because I do not expect my government to go to war without just cause.
I’m a Democrat because I expect appointments to be based more on the competence, merit and experience of the individual rather than his or her political connections.
I hope you can help to lead the way!