Howard Dean was never one of us. Dean, a former governor, first became famous as a progressive hero in 2004, before serving as the Democratic National Committee Chair from 2005 to 2009. What has he done since then? Why, turned lobbyist. The last several years have been kind to Dean’s bottom line, but not his followers. The former Governor and DNC honcho opposes single-payer and called the Iranian Revolution Guard a terrorist organization. What can we make of such a decreased paragon?
We could discuss the failure of Dean the Progressive endlessly. I think two examples will suffice.
Let’s take a pair of Dean’s positions: one in foreign policy, one domestic. Then we can examine why Dean has ended up on the short end of the progressive stick.
DEAN AND IRAN
On October 13, Dean tweeted:
The replies to this thread are a joy to read.
Many of the Twitter snapbacks mentioned that Dean had been in the pay of MEK. That’s short for Mojahedin-e Khalq, or the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an organization which calls for the violent overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The organization is also known as PMOI or MKO.
Salon, in an article titled “Dem is paid shill for Iranian regime change group,” noted that Dean had been critical of Obama’s negotiations with Iran back in 2015: ” Dean, appearing on Morning Joe, urged the administration to back out of the negotiations still underway in Lausanne, Switzerland.”
How does the hand-me-down oracle of the Internet, Wikipedia, refer to Dean’s backers? Surely, they will share the former governor’s enthusiasm for MEK?
Or perhaps not.
It is designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq, and was considered a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom and the European Union until 2008 and 2009 respectively, and by Canada and the United States until 2012. Various scholarly works, media outlets, and the governments of the United States and France have described it as a cult. The organization has built a cult of personality around its leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. ... In 2002 the MEK revealed the existence of Iran’s nuclear program. They have since made various claims about the programme, not all of which have been accurate.
Human Rights Watch documented prison camps run by the MEK. This was in 2005:
Human Rights Watch interviewed five of these former MKO members who were held in Abu Ghraib prison. Their testimonies, together with testimonies collected from seven other former MKO members, paint a grim picture of how the organization treated its
members, particularly those who held dissenting opinions or expressed an intent to leave
Within the District, MEK is famous for its aggressive lobbying efforts. They spent with wild abandon to get their names stricken from the terrorist list. Nobody’s sure how much. Who received those funds? Among others, Howard Dean. Dean is a Democrat, and the MEK are equal-opportunity spenders.
The claim that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is a wholly terrorist organization, that they are a unique threat, is so laughable that only Dean and the National Review could believe it. The IRGC are pretty much the same as any military-industrial state complex: they play political games and try to expand their own power. Iran funds various militant groups and militias, but they’re far from the dominant state funder of terrorism. That would be us, and our good friends, Saudi Arabia.
The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland has recorded terrorist incidents since 1970 onwards. A significant majority of deaths—over 94% of them—are the work of the Islamic State’s Sunni jihadists and al-Qaeda.
Of course, factual documentation of Iran is hardly the point. Since the Seventies, the American national security apparatus has wanted to fight Iran. Labeling the IRGC a terrorist group is one step closer to war with Tehran, since the IRGC is almost as powerful as the clergy. Once you have labeled the government as a hive of terror, it is easy to paint the entire population as murderers-in-waiting, and if you have done that, there is little to prevent the rain of missiles. Now, did Dean buy into the Iranian menace because he was paid to, or because he actually believes Tehran is gunning for Vermont? Does it matter?
DEAN AND SINGLE-PAYER
The question of belief leads into the weirdest skit in the hip-hop concept album that is Howard Dean. In November, the former Governor will give a talk about how great Big Medicine is, at a private get-together for medical industry professionals. The Geisinger Healthcare Symposium is next month. Hillary will be there, giving the keynote, “From Crisis to Cure.” According to Geisinger’s site:
The invitation-only event will be held Nov. 8, 9 and 10 on the Danville, Pennsylvania, campus of Geisinger Medical Center and will bring together a panel of the nation’s leading healthcare experts on policy, patient experience, wellness and technology.
What will Dean be speaking about?
Positive Impact of the Private Sector in Healthcare: Howard Dean, M.D., former Vermont governor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who ran for the party’s presidential nomination in 2004
Private sector? Positive impact? But this is Dean, who made his national name arguing for single-payer! You scoffers can scoff all you want. I can only speak for myself. I, for one, regret that I will not be there to see Dr. Dean’s magnificent defense of the large-hearted medical industry. For example, on September 20, 2015, the Times reported that
In August, Impax sold Daraprim to Turing for $55 million, a deal announced the same day Turing said it had raised $90 million from Mr. Shkreli and other investors in its first round of financing. Daraprim cost only about $1 a tablet several years ago, but the drug’s price rose sharply after CorePharma acquired it.
The private sector has made leaps and strides in degeneracy, and we do not give it enough credit for its glorious vision of a world where only Martin Shkreli can listen to Wu-Tang. It’s truly beautiful and calming that the U.S. Health Care industry spends five hundred billion dollars a year on administration alone, and thank sweet Christ our man Dean is there to praise the industry that bankrupts millions of Americans. What a brave minister of the healing gospel.
As Lee Fang wrote for The Intercept back in 2016, Dean has been in the pay of the health care lobby for some time.
Dean, though he rarely discloses the title during his media appearances, now serves as senior advisor to the law firm Dentons, where he works with the firm’s Public Policy and Regulation practice, a euphemism for Dentons’ lobbying team. ... The Dentons Public Policy and Regulation practice lobbies on behalf of a variety of corporate health care interests, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a powerful trade group for drugmakers like Pfizer and Merck.
In 2009, as Fang notes, Dean praised single-payer. That changed as soon as he moved full-time into lobbying. Fang again:
After Dean began working in the lobbying industry, he gave a talk about how to navigate the post-Citizens United campaign finance world. “I’ve advised a lot of clients in the industries that I usually end up working with, which are mostly health care industries, not to give any money to either side, or if you do, give it to both sides because politicians really don’t know much about the issues,” Dean said. “But they remember the ads, and they remember who was on whose side and who wasn’t, and it makes a big difference.”
What can account for Dean’s move to the profitable center? Why, his nature.
HE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE
Dean is the last gasp of the Clinton Presidency, the moment right before Twitter swallowed up politics. Dean is the kind of progressive the Democrats used to follow; he symbolizes the final instant in American politics where grownups under forty took left-centrism with a straight face.
Dean is McCain, but less lucky. McCain scored his party’s nomination. Dean didn’t get that far. However, he definitely had McCain’s gifts for spinning a gullible press. The media painted him as a radical, but that was only in comparison to the times. In 2003 and 2004, Bush and the GOP were riding so high, they invaded Iraq on a rumor. Dean had the sand to say that Iraq was a mistake, and that set him apart from every other boneless Donkey in Washington.
That’s all it took to be a hero in 2004. No wonder the Governor of Vermont became famous. After failing in Wisconsin and his famous scream (which wasn’t much of a scream at all), he sank below the waves. Kerry was eventually nominated, met his destiny, and disintegrated into multiple windsurfing homunculi, never to be heard from again.
Dean, not President but very much alive, rose along an alternative path. In 2005, he became the DNC chair and instituted a fifty-state strategy which was incredibly useful and, frankly, blindingly obvious—make a national party a national party. Then, after Obama was lifted to the Executive. Dean and his followers promptly forgot everything that had got them there. The Republicans stayed a national party. Trump’s the result.
In his job as the chair, Dean traded on his image as the rebel leader of 2004. But any close reading of Dean’s record puts the lie to that assessment. Even during his supposedly courageous campaign, Dean argued for the War in Afghanistan; he advocated for the balanced-budget as if he’d just given birth to it onstage. He used the words “tax credit” with a straight face. His proposals were timid. In those days, with most of the Democratic party curled up around the radiator of the Iraq War, that counted as brave. Let me repeat that 2003 was deep in the Bush years, when Olbermann was considered a sage and Lance Armstrong could be a hero. During Dean’s run, the world cloned the horse and Arnold became governor of California, neither which should have been allowed by physics or good taste. Howard Dean was the great hope of progressives, but that counts more against Dean than progressives. Dean is selling out because he didn’t have much to sell to begin with.
Unless you’re one of those few political mutates who can see through tangled ship-rigging of time, you make use of what you have when you have it. In the Nineties hangover of Bush America, Dean was far enough out of the power structure to shock us all; he was honey to the bones, lithium to cranium. He was the only visible water in a vast desert. The rains have come since then. Why has Dean declined so? Because he was never high to begin with. He’s always been far from right, but this hardly makes him left.