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Friday, January 10, 2003


Dean accepts Wellstone Award

posted by B at Friday, January 10, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
By Charles D, guest blogger from We’re Left, They’re Wrong

This evening, former Vermont Governor and current presidential hopeful Howard Dean, MD appeared at the Capitol Hilton, blocks away from the White House, to accept the AFL-CIO’s first annual Paul Wellstone award.

During the reception that preceded the dinner and awards ceremony, the former Governor worked the crowd, which was full of the bud-light swilling, “NASCAR Democrats” to which Senator John Edwards hopes to lay claim. While schmoozing with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and other labor bigwigs, Dean, who unlike the archetypal candidate, did not have anyone whispering in his ear, was followed by only one video camera and precious few still photographers. In fact, Dean did not have much of an audience at all, as witnessed by the fact that I physically bumped into him by accident on more than one occasion. One wonders if many of the attendees even recognized him.

At the dinner, your loyal correspondent was unmasked as a gatecrasher but still more or less tolerated. The shrimp was rubbery and the steak was a little on the cold side, but one can’t expect much better from hotel ballrooms. I sat next to the Director of Affiliations and Organizing of an education-related union and I asked him what he thought of Governor Dean. The most I could get out of him was that he believed that Dean had a dark horse, Carter-like quality.

Interrupting the assembled steelworkers, carpenters, teachers, electricians and their brethren from their white chocolate cheesecake was a video montage/tribute to the late Senator Wellstone, a man whose ability to rouse a crowd should be the envy of any aspiring Democratic presidential candidate.

Following the video presentation, Sweeney took the stage and introduced the awards. Contrary to the impression given by The Note and other sources, Dean was not the sole recipient of the Wellstone award. The Good Doctor shared the honor with California State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, who recently shepherded the new labor relations law for migrant agricultural workers in California to passage. Burton’s speech was unremarkable until the conclusion, when he serenaded the delegates with a William Shatner-style spoken-word rendition of Pete Seeger’s “Talkin’ Union.”

After Burton finished his acceptance speech, the crowd learned from a procession of labor leaders that Dean had earned the Wellstone award for his support of collective bargaining for RN’s at the Fletcher Allen hospital, where Dean himself worked for 13 years. Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers Nate LaCour quoted Dean as saying that if he were a nurse, he would support unionization.

Dean’s speech was rather short, which is to say that it was over before I knew it, but it packed a mid-size wallop. He wasn’t afraid to raise his voice, if only intermittently. There were no veins popping on Dean’s forehead, but then again, there were no yawns from the audience either.

During the body of the speech, Dean received two standing ovations. The first, for promising not to sign free trade agreements with out environmental or labor protections, was a attempt to draw the labor movement away from former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, who enjoyed strong union support when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988.

The other ovation for Dean (aside from the finale) was when he announced his commitment to universal health insurance “like every other industrialized country” and denounced the patient’s bill of rights as too much moderation and not enough actual progress. Once again the ovation was no surprise coming from this crowd.

To strong applause but no ovation, Dean said that “I personally believe [President Bush] hasn’t made his case” on Iraq.

Dean’s signing of Vermont’s civil unions law was not mentioned – Dean instead chose to speak entirely on the bread-and-butter economic issues that sustain the labor movement.

It has often been said of Dean that his record of fiscal conservatism is one of his greatest assets, a fact that he stressed. In what sounded like the seeds of a stump speech, Dean said that he is the only Democratic Governor to have served through two recessions. Of the Republicans responsibility for the current budget deficit, he said “they sure can’t handle money on the other side of the aisle.”

Perhaps most appealing to the liberal base that delivers primary victories, Dean said that the Democratic party has decided to “go along” with President Bush and that “we have forgotten what we stand for.”

In a veiled reference to Senator Trent Lott’s recent “slip of the tongue,” Dean said that “only the Democrats have endorsed diversity” and himself endorsed affirmative action as a remedy for the common (and understandable) phenomenon of hiring people with whom the person doing the hiring is familiar.

Overall, Dean seemed loose, animated, and generally able to hold the attention of the just-fed unionists, (a surprisingly large number of whom were vegetarian). It has occasionally been noted that Dean is rather short and thus might face the same “stature” problems that fellow former New England Governor Mike Dukakis faced. Given the way he projects his voice and his strong eye contact, he should be fine as long as no one takes a picture of him sitting in a tank.

Charles has more pictures here.

(UPDATE - added link to C-SPAN video. --Aziz)


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.