Nico Pitney

Obama Hires Progressive Liaison for Transition Team


Veteran Democratic official Mike Lux has been tapped by Barack Obama to serve as an adviser and progressive liaison during the transition period, the Huffington Post has learned.



Lux, who worked on the Clinton administration transition efforts in 1992, confirmed the hiring but, citing a need for clearance, declined to offer further information.



The staffing move provides the Obama team with an important outlet to the progressive community -- a constituency from which the president-elect currently enjoys great support but one that has a wide range of priorities and will be holding Obama most firmly to his campaign promises once he takes office.

Cheney Lies To High School Kids

This post, written by Nico Pitney, originally appeared on Think Progress

"Addressing about 100 wide-eyed Wyoming high school students learning about government and the political process," Vice President Cheney yesterday repeated one of the key fabrications that helped send the United States into war.

During the question and answer session, one student asked, "I was wondering -- I'm not trying to start a debate, or anything, but do you still think that the Iraq war can be won?" Cheney immediately answered "yes," adding, "I think we're making significant progress now."

He then launched into a justification of the war, citing the September 11 attacks. "The fact of the matter is Iraq is part of the global war on terror," he told the students. "And you've got to go back and look at what happened on 9/11." Cheney recounted the tale of the late al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the administration's great pre-war myths:
The worst terrorist we had in Iraq was a guy named Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian by birth; served time in a Jordanian prison as a terrorist, was let out on amnesty. ... Then when we launched into Afghanistan after 9/11, he was wounded, and fled to Baghdad for medical treatment, and then set up shop in Iraq. So he operated in Jordan, he operated in Afghanistan, then he moved to Iraq.
The implication that Zarqawi helped justify the war was thoroughly debunked last year by the Senate Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Bush loyalist Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS.) It found:
Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and...the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi. [p. 109]
Adding insult to injury, earlier in the event, Cheney was asked about the "values or philosophy" he has developed during his 40 years of government service. He answered, "I basically developed a great respect for American history."

Gonzales Tried to Get John Ashcroft to Sign on to Wiretapping Program on His Sickbed

In March 2004, President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program was temporarily suspended after then-acting Attorney General James Comey refused to sign onto an extension of the program, citing an "extensive review" by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, stating "that the program did not comply with the law." In "gripping testimony" yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey†revealed extraordinary details about the efforts made by Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card -- then-White House counsel and chief of staff, respectively -- to persuade John Ashcroft to overrule Comey, even as Ashcroft was debilitated in an intensive care unit with pancreatitis. The Washington Post calls Comey's "account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source." Indeed, Comey's revelations confirm the worst fears about Gonzales's dangerously flawed judgment, and provide further evidence of the administration's -- including the President's -- contempt for basic legal restraints.

Race to the hospital: Describing the events as "the most difficult of my professional career," Comey explained yesterday how the ordeal began on the evening of March 10, 2004, hours before the authority for the spying program was set to expire. A top aide to Ashcroft alerted Comey that Gonzales and Card had arranged a visit with†Ashcroft, who was then hospitalized with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey "ordered his driver to rush him to George Washington University Hospital with emergency lights flashing and a siren blaring, to intercept the pair." Comey said yesterday, "I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to that." He described how he "literally ran up the stairs" to Ashcroft's room, and had FBI Director Robert Mueller order the agents on Ashcroft's security detail not to evict him from the room if Gonzales and Card objected to his presence.

Ashcroft, 'barely conscious,' rejects power play: Comey "arrived first in the darkened room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious." Minutes later, Gonzales and Card arrived, envelope in hand, and explained that they were seeking his approval to extend authority for warrantless spying.†"Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me," Comey said yesterday. "He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact...and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general'ˇ˝?and he pointed to me." The White House effort to overrule Comey had failed. "The two men did not acknowledge me," Comey said. "They turned and walked from the room." Comey added, "I was angry. I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man. ... I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper."


White House Caves only after mass resignation threat: Shortly afterwards, a "very upset" Card called Comey "and demanded that I come to the White House immediately." Comey told Card that, after the conduct he had just witnessed, he would not meet with him without a witness present. Card apparently replied, "What conduct? We were just there to wish him well." Comey insisted on having then-solicitor general Ted Olson accompany him to the White House, but Card "would not allow Mr. Olson to enter his office." Comey was informed that White House officials (including Vice President Cheney and Cheney's then-general counsel David Addington) wanted to continue the program. The next morning, March 11, the program was reauthorized "without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality." Comey had seen enough, and wrote up his resignation letter. "I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis. I just simply couldn't stay." Comey said yesterday that he believed both Mueller and Ashcroft were prepared to resign with him, along with all of their top aides. One day later, on March 12, facing a threat of mass resignations, the administration cracked. Bush informed Mueller that he would authorize the changes in the program sought by the Justice Department. Comey said he signed the reauthorization "two or three weeks" later. "It was unclear from his testimony what authority existed for the program while the changes were being made."

Bush and Gonzales in the spotlight: The Washington Post notes that "the bottom line" of Comey's revelations is "the administration's alarming willingness...to ignore its own lawyers." After all, the Justice Department's conclusions "are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department's supervision." The fact that Gonzales "is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all." Moreover, Bush's direct role in this affair remains to be fully explored. Last year, Newsweek reported that Bush dubbed Comey "with a derisive nickname, 'Cuomo,' after Mario Cuomo, the New York governor who vacillated over running for president in the 1980s"; Bush was "[m]iffed" that Comey, "a straitlaced, by-the-book former U.S. attorney from New York, was not a 'team player' on this and other issues." Comey noted yesterday that Ashcroft's wife "had banned all visitors and all phone calls" to the hospital, but that Card and Gonzales were permitted to visit Ashcroft after a direct call from the White House. "I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself," he said.

The Case Against Chris Cox

Meet Chris Cox, the man who helped produce the Enron scandal. Orange County Weekly reported that "Cox, as part of conservative Republicans' so-called Contract With America, spearheaded efforts to torpedo protections for corporate investors and shield companies -- like Enron -- and their accountants -- like Arthur Andersen -- from investor lawsuits." Cox's sustained effort to provide protections to corporate bad actors was successful; the nation's economy was not. Moreover, Cox pushed his securities reform bill through Congress at the same time he was a named defendant in two lawsuits for securities fraud. Cox's conduct raises serious questions about his ethical suitability for the job. For the last two-and-half years, outgoing SEC Chairman William Donaldson has worked to repair the damage Cox helped produce. But Cox remains committed to his ideological agenda, and, should he be confirmed, is ready to take the country back into the Enron era.

Cox's crusade to weaken investor protections

Cox claimed on the floor of the House on 3/7/95 that securities law was "a legal torture chamber ... more suitable to the pages of Charles Dickens' 'Bleak House' than a nation dedicated to equal justice under law." Cox's efforts to weaken protections for investors culminated in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which provided extensive legal protection to corporate executives, accountants and lawyers who made misleading statements. The bill was enacted into law over President Clinton's veto "after heavy lobbying from Andersen [and] the rest of the accounting industry." Duke University Law Professor James Cox (no relation) called the law "the ultimate in special-interest legislation." Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, said Chris Cox's law "made it not only possible but likely that something like Enron would occur."

How the Cox law protects corporate crooks

According to OC Weekly, "[i]ndependent legal analyses and securities lawyers agree" that Cox's bill "significantly raised the bar at several points in the litigation process, making it much harder for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits." Specifically, plaintiffs "would have to prove there was a 'strong inference' that the defendant acted with the required state of mind for fraud. Securities lawyers refer to this requirement as "'scienter' - a mental state embracing intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud." It's an extremely difficult standard to meet. When the standard was interpreted by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals it "even forgave executives who said they forgot to disclose bad financial news to investors."

How the Cox law protects Kenneth Lay

Cox's law provided additional protections for executives who made inaccurate "forward looking statements" about the future of the company to investors. So when, 12 weeks before the company declared bankruptcy, former Enron CEO Ken Lay told a reporter from Business Week, "We think the company is on solid footing, and we're looking forward to continued strong growth," he was unlikely to face legal consequences.

Cox misrepresents the impact of law

Cox has blatantly misrepresented the impact of the law. For example, according to Cox, his law "requires a company and its officers to constantly update and correct any forward-looking statement once made." The official Congressional Research Service summary of the law, however, "[s]tates that there is no duty upon any person to update a forward-looking statement."

Cox was sued for alleged involvement in Ponzi Scheme

Cox's efforts to limit the ability of investors to sue for fraud was informed by his personal experience. Cox worked for the law firm of Latham & Watkins from 1978 to 1986 before leaving to join the White House counsel's office. On 9/17/94, the LA Times reported, Cox was sued for his work at Latham that involved him in a business scheme that robbed nearly 8,000 investors of approximately $136 million. The scheme cheated customers out of their retirement nest eggs by enticing them to invest in phony mortgages. High-level officers at First Pension Corporation, the company at issue, pled guilty to fraudulently diverting funds. The charge against Cox was that he helped write a deceptive plan to sell mutual fund shares. Cox claimed ignorance and said he was only distantly involved in the case, but information uncovered later revealed him to be more involved with the convicted dealer than he previously let on.

Details murky on resolution of class action lawsuit against Cox

Two suits were filed against Cox: a class action by the investors of First Pension Corp. and another by the court-appointed receiver. On 6/15/96, the LA Times wrote that although Cox was dropped as a defendant from the receiver's case (a move that was meant to "streamline the case," according to the receiver), Cox remained a defendant in the class action. The other major defendant, the accounting giant Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) was found guilty in July 2000 by a California Superior Court jury, according to the LA Times, for having "misrepresented First Pension's condition, concealed material information and abetted the company's managers in the fraud." In August 2000, the LA Times reported that the class action was settled before the damages phase could be entered into, but "terms of the agreement were not disclosed."

Conflict: Cox sought to pass Class Action Reform Bill while named in class action suit

Cox was named in a class-action suit brought by the defrauded investors of First Pension. At the same time he was named in the suit, Cox was holding hearings on the Hill on the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, a bill that, according to the WSJ, would "sharply limit the circumstances in which investors could bring class-action lawsuits." The AP noted, "Cox was informed one week before the bill was introduced that attorneys were threatening to add him as a defendant in a securities lawsuit." Although the bill did not directly affect the case against him because the case was filed in state court, the AP noted, "it could affect future legal actions brought in federal court against him or his former law firm, Latham & Watkins, which is named as a defendant in the suit." Despite there being an obvious conflict of interest involved with Cox's legislation, the House took no action against him.

Conflict: Cox amended the legislation after learning of his own liability

Though Cox claimed he only performed a small amount of legal work for one of the convicted securities dealers, the AP uncovered documents that showed Cox had actually worked with the felon in another major transaction. When confronted with the new evidence of the relationship, Cox said, "I don't have any independent recollection of that work." Back on Capitol Hill, Cox added an additional protection for targets of securities fraud lawsuits. "The day after the AP questioned Cox about [the relationship between him and the convicted dealer,] the congressman amended his legislation to prevent lawyers and others from being sued if they 'genuinely forgot to disclose' important information."

Cox's questionable campaign contributions

Throughout his career in Congress, Cox has received more than $254,000 from the securities and investment industry, the fourth-largest industry contributor to Cox. He received another $206,000 from the accounting industry. Taken together, the securities and accounting industries combine to form the largest industry contributor to Cox. Cox's single largest contributor is the law firm of Latham & Watkins, the former employer that both involved him and absolved him of his personal legal troubles. Cox received $2,000 from William Cooper, owner of First Pension, but was forced to return the funds as controversy surrounding Cox's involvement in the scandal grew. Cox received a campaign contribution from ethically challenged lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 1996. He also received $2,000 from an Andersen Accounting executive in the 2001-02 cycle.

The Progressive Case for Howard Dean

I passionately supported the Greens in 2000 and 2002. I traveled 125 miles to see Dennis Kucinich speak when he came to Los Angeles in May, and had the pleasure of introducing him to a crowd of several hundred when he visited Santa Barbara recently. Kucinich is a guiding light in Congress and, of the nine Democratic presidential contenders, his views most closely mirror my own.

Yet I won't be voting for Kucinich in the Democratic primaries, nor will I vote Green in the general elections. My support will go to Howard Dean.

Yes, I've read the unfavorable commentaries on Howard Dean by writers whose opinions I greatly respect, like Norman Solomon and Alexander Cockburn. And yes, I know that I disagree with some critical components of Dean's platform. Progressives should be well aware that they're going to disagree on a range of issues with every individual who has a chance at being in the White House two years from now. Our choice is not between Howard Dean and the-even-better-candidate who-has-a-shot-at-winning the-Democratic-nomination and-defeating-George-Bush; that other candidate doesn't exist. Neither Kucinich nor Al Sharpton nor Carol Moseley Braun nor any Green will be President. Progressives should incorporate these realities into their electoral strategy, however disappointing they may be.

In a recent column, Norman Solomon criticizes "liberal Democrats [who] routinely sacrifice principles and idealism in the name of electoral strategy," and then argues that Greens are practicing the reverse strategy -- "principled idealism" without a coherent electoral strategy. But in the same column he remarks, "Few present-day Green Party leaders seem willing to urge that Greens forego the blandishments of a presidential campaign. The increased attention -- including media coverage -- for the party is too compelling to pass up." If this latter analysis is accurate, the impetus to run a Green presidential candidate has come not from principled idealism but a rather inconsiderate self-indulgence.

In any case, the role of ideals in the voting booth is hazy. Voting Green isn't necessarily the most effective way to achieve Green policies. More importantly, supporting and voting for Democratic candidates is in no way a personal affirmation of the Democratic Party platform. It is, in part, a recognition of Duverger's Law -- one of the few reliable "laws" in the social sciences -- which states that American-style, winner-take-all, plurality voting systems produce political structures intractably dominated by two parties. Moreover, it is a recognition that the Democratic Party is simply one network among many (albeit an incredibly powerful one) through which those seeking fundamental political change in the United States can act. Progressives ought to engage the Democratic Party in the same way that we engage any powerful institution; we should creatively test the limits of reform and attempt to produce change that will assist us in our own wider struggles.

The goal of progressives in the coming months, then, should be to continue what we're doing now -- organizing, developing alternative social, economic, and environmental programs, and working to raise the national profile of our allies in the public sphere -- while supporting Howard Dean and helping him win the primary and general elections. We have to keep close in mind what our country and our world will look like if George W. Bush's administration captures another term and can carry out its agenda without being restrained by reelection considerations. In what will likely be the most divisive and bitterly contested presidential election in decades, let's not use our precious energy and resources on candidates with no chance of defeating Bush. Rather, let's make sure to elect a candidate who, like Dean, at least supports publicly financed elections, instant run-off voting, and a constitutional amendment declaring that political contributions are not free speech, so that we directly strike at the structural stultification of our electoral system that forces us to limit our choices in the first place.

Why, of the establishment candidates, should progressives choose Dean? His platform is as good or better than those of Dick Gephardt and John Kerry, the only other two candidates with a hope at gaining the Democratic nod. Vastly more important, however, is the fact that Dean's web-focused campaign has the potential to revolutionize the way American politics operates, and progressives ought to be taking note.

Unfortunately, most left-leaning commentators have written about Dean as though their responsibility were to lead the well-intentioned but misguided progressive flock away from his campaign, implicitly and sometimes explicitly asserting that supporters have jumped on Dean's bandwagon without seriously considering his record. Antiwar.com's Anthony Gancarski questioned whether "Dean supporters are following their candidate blindly, without knowledge of the full spectrum of his positions." Potential Green presidential candidate Carol Miller told NBC News that she feels "sorry for those people [Dean's supporters] when they learn who the real Howard Dean is."

Putting aside the presumptuousness of such sentiments, they're also wildly ironic: The overwhelming majority of claims that Dean is a far-left candidate come from conservatives who are clearly attempting to marginalize one of the two prominent Democratic candidates. Almost without exception, right-wing commentaries on Dean compare his campaign to McGovern's and brand Dean as an "extreme leftist" whose support is built predominantly on activists' antiwar sentiment. Rush Limbaugh recently warned his listeners about a shift he perceived in mainstream reports on Dean: "Have you noticed how some in the press are starting to say Howard Dean is not that liberal? Keep a sharp eye out for that, because the left knows that being a far left, progressive liberal is a killer, so they're going to try to paint the picture of Dean as a moderate." Surprisingly enough, one of the few prominent progressives to make a substantive link between Dean and Kucinich was Ralph Nader, who noted that Bush "is very vulnerable but not if you campaign the way the major candidates -- except for Dean and Kucinich -- are campaigning."

There is, in fact, good reason to believe that progressive supporters of Dean are well aware of his record, and are choosing to support him despite its flaws. As American Prospect senior editor Garance Franke-Ruta points out, "the most important part of the Dean message is that it makes [supporters] feel that they have the power to control their own destiny. ... This sense of renewed personal power and hope seemed more important to most posters [to Dean's weblog] than any specific policies that Dean supports or does not support, and few on the threads agreed wholeheartedly with the former governor on all his positions. Most recognized that he is a centrist who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal."

Critically, Dean's progressive supporters share a visceral passion to purge the White House of George Bush and his dangerous administration. They seem to agree with Bernard Weiner of the Crisis Papers, who admits that "from a long-term historical perspective, the Democrats and Republicans look and behave virtually alike. But in the real world, where most people live, there is just enough of a difference to justify a vote for a reasonable Democratic candidate for President. One's sense of personal 'purity' might be slightly compromised by voting for the Democratic candidate and thus helping to perpetuate a system that is not as uncorrupted as we would all like. But I don't think we can afford that self-involved luxury in 2004; this election decision is simply too vital, a matter of life and death for so many around the world."

This all said, the weaknesses in Dean's platform must be accounted for and seriously assessed.

Dealing With Dean's Downsides

Military Spending: Dean has rightfully aroused anger and skepticism from progressives with his claims that he will not reduce military spending. It appears, however, that these statements are a political dodge of sorts to avoid media characterizations of Dean as the "antiwar candidate" and "weak on national security." Dean has told audiences that he would not reduce military spending but rather "redirect" it toward the development and implementation of renewable energy technology (an issue he ties to defense), homeland security measures to fund local first responders, inspect container ships and protect nuclear sites (a move that Alexander Cockburn himself recently called on Bush to make), and the purchase of old nuclear materials in Russia.

Military/Foreign Policy: Dean has called Bush's policy of renewed nuclear weapons development "insane" and opposes every significant component of "Star Wars" missile defense, declaring that any missile defense programs he would support will at least remain in compliance with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Dean also supports (with provisions, in some cases) the comprehensive nuclear test ban, the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Biological Warfare Convention Protocol and the International Criminal Court (a website for the United Nations Association of the United States lists Dean as an "outspoken supporter" of the ICC). Dean supports signing the 1997 Landmine Treaty and believes that a similar treaty should be used to ban cluster bombs.

Norman Solomon mistakenly took Dean to task because "at his official campaign kickoff, Dean gave a 26-minute speech and didn't mention Iraq at all. It was a remarkable performance from someone who has spent much of the last year pitching himself as some kind of antiwar candidate." Despite the strength of this rebuke, Solomon failed to mention that Dean's speech contained nine paragraphs dealing with foreign policy, and that far from avoiding Iraq, Dean used the Iraq invasion to address a broader theme. Among other things, Dean declared: "Since the time of Thomas Paine and John Adams, our founders implored that we were not to be the new Rome. We are not to conquer and suppress other nations to submit to our will. ... We must rejoin the world community. America is far stronger as the moral and military leader of the world than we will ever be by relying solely on military power. ... [T]here is a fundamental difference between the defense of our nation and the doctrine of preemptive war espoused by this administration. The President's group of narrow-minded ideological advisors are undermining our nation's greatness in the world. They have embraced a form of unilateralism that is even more dangerous than isolationism. ... [T]hey would present our face to the world as a dominant power prepared to push aside any nation with which we do not agree." Since the speech, Dean has consistently spoken out on Iraq and many of the occupation policies. He has called on Bush administration officials to resign for misleading the American public, and continues to criticize those Democrats who voted for the Iraq resolution. He received significant critical press after saying that "the ends don't justify the means," when asked about the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons. On Dean's official website, one can find commentaries by campaign staffers like Ezra Klein condemning Bush's policies that force young, poor Americans to "fight and die in wars of choice."

Israel/Palestine: As Mid East analysts Ahmed Nassef and Stephen Zunes have pointed out, Dean's positions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are very disappointing for those who seek a just and sustainable peace in the region. Unfortunately, they're also standard amongst the Democratic presidential hopefuls. All nine candidates essentially toe the same line: they support a vague "two-state solution," the removal of settlements (without details as to how many or when), and the cessation of terrorism, and they concede that further details will have to be worked out by the relevant parties. JTA, a Jewish news service, recently had a piece focusing on a hawkish Democratic fundraiser named Peter Buttenwieser, who notes that the "litmus test for me is a candidate has to be good on Israel. ... But all of these candidates are good on Israel." This pattern is hardly new. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair wrote that Paul Wellstone, "in common with ninety-eight other senators, [has been] craven on Israel." Even Kucinich chose not to join nearly two dozen fellow representatives in voting against a strongly worded May 2003 House resolution that "supported Israel's incursions into Palestinian territories, and apparently endorsed as justifiable the brutality and bloodshed the Israeli Army inflicted on the unarmed civilians there," according to prominent English-language daily Arab News.

Trade: Dean has pledged to renegotiate current trade agreements (including NAFTA) and oppose new trade agreements that do not require the enforcement of internationally recognized workers' rights and environmental standards. He will also "oppose any further rounds of the World Trade Organization agreements that do not make substantial progress on incorporating" these rights and standards. When asked about policy toward Africa and the Caribbean Basin at the NAACP Presidential Forum, Dean voiced his support for debt forgiveness and remarked that "we need to get the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank off the backs of these countries. ... [T]he conditions that are attached mean that the whole country depends on a free market system in order to get food to the poorest people in that country. It doesn't make any sense at all. ... [N]ow that we're imposing a Western economic model on African countries, we find there's famine. What a big surprise. We need to work cooperatively with African governments instead of telling them what to do." Dean was awarded the inaugural Paul Wellstone Award by the AFL-CIO in January 2003 for "Exceptional Support of Workers' Freedom to Form Unions," and maintained a 100% rating with the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education while serving as a state representative. He is also a vocal proponent of workplace democratization, in which employees own the majority of a firm's stock.

Death Penalty: John Kerry opposes capital punishment, while Dean favors it for individuals who commit acts of terrorism or who murder young children or police officers. One wonders, though, whether Kerry's position is really preferable. He told NBC's Tim Russert that he opposes the death penalty "because I'm for a worse punishment. I think it is worse to take somebody and put them in a small cell for the rest of their life, deprived of their freedom, never to be paroled. Now, I think that's tougher. ... I don't think that -- you know, dying is scary for a while, but in the end, the punishment is gone," and he couples his opposition with desires for harder prison service commitments so we don't have "some cushy situation where they live off the fat of the land in prison." Either way, it should be noted that Dean did not "suddenly [abandon] his perfectly acceptable reasons for opposing the death penalty ... to express his support for the machinery of death -- a transparent bid for votes in the primary elections in southern states like South Carolina," as Alan Maass of the International Socialist Review writes. It is widely recognized that Dean's opinions on the death penalty began changing in 1994 after the Polly Klaas murder, and statements by Dean throughout his terms as Governor reflect this change in thinking. Dean strongly supports the Innocence Protection Act and has said that he will establish a Presidential commission to "analyze the causes of wrongful convictions around the country and recommend additional reforms at the federal and state level."

Gun Legislation: The "A" rating that Dean has received from the NRA is chilling, but it has to be taken in context. As Lance Bukoff points out, "the NRA rating system is actually rather 'passive' in its assessment of politicians. Put simply but accurately, an 'A' rating is 'earned' by not voting for or promoting any laws which would restrict gun ownership. Dean observes that Vermont is not NYC or LA or Philadelphia. Vermont is a state where gun violence does not occur in any way significant enough [in 2002, Vermont had five homicides] to warrant restrictive gun control laws, unless you take the deer's point of view, of course. So he says Vermont does not need them, and he did not sign any, and he did not promote any as a governor, and as a consequence he gets an 'A' rating from the NRA, but not because he shares a duck blind with NRA members. He goes further. He says he supports the Brady bill, he supports the assault gun ban, and he supports closing the gun show sale loopholes. And he also tells voters in states like New York, 'We don't need gun control laws in Vermont, but you probably do, and if that's the case you should make them.'"

Medicinal Marijuana: Dean's reputation as a hard-headed skeptic of medicinal marijuana belies his actual position, which is more nuanced (if a bit neurotic, presumably because of his experience as a doctor). Dean doesn't "believe the war on drugs is a criminal matter; it's a public health matter. I think to throw users in jail is silly." He recently told the Liberal Oasis that his "opposition to medical marijuana is based on science, not based on ideology. More specifically, I don't think we should single out a particular drug for approval through political means when we approve other drugs through scientific means. When I'm President, I will require the FDA to evaluate marijuana with a double blind study with the same kinds of scientific protocols that every other drug goes through. I'm certainly willing to abide by what the FDA says." After resisting a medicinal marijuana bill that had made its way through the Vermont legislature for the reasons stated above, Dean eventually did sign a bill in June 2002 that established a task force "to investigate and assess options for legal protections which will allow seriously ill Vermonters to use medical marijuana without facing criminal prosecution under Vermont law." The Marijuana Policy Project said the bill set "the wheels in motion for solid patient protection."

The Environment: Dean's Vermont "has one of the most progressive environmental programmes in America" according to the London Times. As former Vermont radio and television talk show host Jeff Kaufman points out, "During his decade in office, Governor Dean helped protect more land from development than all previous governors combined; ... he administered a 'best practices' agriculture plan that preserves land and water quality; he helped form the nation's first statewide energy efficiency utility (preventing more than one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions since 2000); and he championed a commuter rail system to lower traffic congestion and pollution while diminishing urban sprawl (in its last report on sprawl, the Sierra Club ranked Vermont as the second best state in America for land use planning)." Vermont also followed California's lead in establishing regulations on greenhouse gas emissions that go beyond standards set in the Kyoto Protocol. According to the New York Times, Dean "is calling for the auto industry to build cars that get 40 miles per gallon by 2015 and for 20 percent of the nation's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. ... [A]s president he would close the loophole that exempts sport utility vehicles from gas-mileage standards, ... make the Environmental Protection Agency cabinet level and work to re-establish the Clinton administration rules limiting roads in national forests." Even when Dean was judged less favorably on environmental issues, the executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Elizabeth Courtney, recognizes that pressing economic circumstances impacted his decisions ("in the early 90s the rest of the country seemed to be pulling out of the recession and Vermont seemed to be languishing in it") and acknowledges Dean's general qualities as governor: "fresh candor and intelligence. You always know where Howard Dean stands. He is candid and honest in his communications with Vermonters, and he is appreciated for that. He's also very bright, and he has a clear sense of his direction." The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "[executive director of the Sierra Club Carl] Pope said that although the Sierra Club had some disagreements with Dean's land-use policies, Dean did 'fabulous things in Vermont.'"

Fiscal Conservatism: It now seems that Dean's hardline fiscal policies have paid some dividends. While virtually every state in the nation cuts funding for vital social services, Vermont ended the fiscal year with a $10.4 million General Fund surplus. For this accomplishment, Stephen Klein, chief fiscal officer for the current Vermont legislature, says that "Dean gets a large amount of credit." But Dean isn't as fiscally conservative as was suggested by Paul Wellstone's former press secretary Jim Farrell. Farrell argued in The Nation that Dean "targeted for elimination the public financing provision of the state's campaign finance law," cut education spending, and proposed "deep cuts in Medicaid." These claims are all true, but Farrell leaves out critical details. Dean, who is a strong supporter of publicly financed campaigns, used the money from the public financing fund to help balance Vermont's budget only after a federal court judge ruled that the spending limits provision in the campaign finance law was unconstitutional, meaning that the fund would sit untouched. Facing large state deficits, Dean proposed cuts in the amount of state funds to education because "dramatic increases in property values" already had produced an education fund that was "flush to overflowing with money," according to the Associated Press. The proposal to cut Medicaid was hardly serious; it was made as a threat to force Vermont's legislature to pass a 75-cent tax on tobacco products that Dean desired (the tax revenues actually went to fund Medicaid), a move supported by Vermont's PIRG and all of the state's major medical associations. Also, Dean does not support raising the retirement age to 68 or 70.

Human Rights: Dean not only signed the first bill in the United States recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples, but did it six months before his gubernatorial election when it was opposed by two-thirds of Vermont's population. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Dean differs from top-ranked Kucinich and Braun only on the issue of gay marriage, and is unique among top-tier Democrats in supporting federally-enforced equal rights legislation and GLBT-supportive education policies (Kerry and Gephardt only support state-based civil union legislation and both voted for "an amendment to the Improving America's Schools Act prohibiting federal funds 'for instructional materials, instruction, counseling, or other services on school grounds, from being used for the promotion of homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative'").

Dean, who sat on the board of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England for five years, is perhaps the strongest Democratic candidate in regard to abortion rights. The New Republic's coverage of a presidential forum on abortion rights mentioned that "Dean took partial-birth abortion, NARAL's most controversial and difficult-to-defend position, and made it the centerpiece of his speech, insisting that the term itself was an artifice manufactured by the right. 'This is an issue about nothing,' he proclaimed to the most boisterous applause of the evening." Dean strongly opposes parental notification and implemented a program in Vermont that provides specialized child care, health services and home visitation to all families, regardless of income. He wants to sign the UN's 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and ratify the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Apart from his platform and its flaws, however, Dean should be commended by progressives for accomplishing what social justice movements so often work toward and only rarely achieve -- his campaign is creatively utilizing the internet to facilitate large-scale independent organizing, and drawing significant numbers of new and disillusioned voters into the political process, getting many of them to contribute their time and energy away from the computer screen.

Dean's campaign has developed an infrastructure to support grassroots activism unmatched by any in American history. The uniquely interactive nature of the campaign "creates, embraces, enhances, validates, and rewards intimacy," as one supporter wrote on the campaign's weblog. Dean has dropped in on threads and message boards at unofficial websites set up by supporters and fielded any questions that were asked of him. Author David Weinberger, commenting on Dean's guest-blogging at Stanford law professor Larry Lessig's website, asked, "Has any presidential candidate ever in history been dropped into a free-for-all quite like this? Could it be any more different than Bush's scripted press conferences and tailored, crotch-enhancing photo opps? Democracy just got a little real-er." Even some establishment commentators recognize the fundamental reforms being rushed in by Dean's campaign. Dick Morris, hardly cheering on such changes, recently argued that the "larger message of the Dean candidacy is that the era of TV-dominated politics is coming to a close after 30 years. ... [T]he inevitable replacement of television with the Internet as the fundamental tool of political communication is destined to accelerate. The true answer to campaign-finance reform, the Internet will open a real possibility of a transfer of power to the people."

Dean has also demonstrated an impressive ability to draw supporters from diverse backgrounds. From the politically-marginalized to the politically-uninitiated, from registered independents (who have set up personal websites to help bring new independents into the fold) to McCain and Perot supporters upset with Bush's accelerated neo-imperialism and cultural conservatism (who have a website of their own), Dean's message is resonating widely. According to the progressive youth mag Wiretap, every campaign's "youth outreach efforts were routine and shallow" except for Dean's, which is far larger and designed so that youth "are not just a passive audience for campaign speeches, but enlisted as community organizers" addressing issues beyond Dean's campaign, like Bush's attack on the Teach for America program. In polls, Dean frequently leads his fellow Democrats by wide margins amongst independent voters and men, who are typically more likely to vote conservative. This information is fantastic for folks who support Dean but wonder about his electability. It's also great news for progressives in general, who should be clammoring to draw such a politically-diverse group of individuals into left-leaning web-based political activism. The internet is the progressives' optimal playing field: decentralized, free of the constraints of the mass media, perfect for alternative information dissemination and mass organizing. Individuals who are drawn to Dean's blogs and mailing lists can be introduced to the various and sundry sites providing news, op-eds, and activism opportunities for progressives.

"Patience and fortitude conquer all things," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. In pressing times, progressives have demonstrated great fortitude by committing themselves to institutions and social movements that addressed injustices theretofore neglected. Howard Dean is no holy grail, but amidst a trend in our country toward widespread political ignorance and a sort of corporatized proto-fascist nationalism, perhaps it is our patience that is needed now. What we have in Dean is a man who can articulate liberal positions intelligently, passionately, and commandingly, and who has the grassroots/netroots support and an appeal to diverse constituencies that will allow him to defeat George Bush. Let's join Dean's campaign, get on his e-mail lists, and spread the word.

Nico Pitney is a student activist based in southern California.

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