Letter To Governor Dean – Definitional Moment


To: Governor Howard Dean
From: [Joe Trippi and Pat Cadell]
Re: Definitional Moment
Date: June 11, 2003

The campaign has gotten to a place no one ever thought it could get to.

A confluence of your passion, events of the country, the mood of the voters, and the conjunction of history have produced yet another moment that is with precedence in American history – the transformation of American politics.

It began with Andrew Jackson who transformed America into a Democratic Republic, then to Lincoln who saved it, and to the populist/progressive movement of Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson and then to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

This is another one of those moments – the place where the future happens.

You have felt this – you know that something bigger is happening here beyond conventional politics. It is what happens every time you tell people that the future of our country rests in their hands – and not in yours. The room goes silent and you feel the hunger in them and the frustration within yourself to explain something that you have yet to find the words to express.

It is the need to throw out all that is transactional—and embrace the hunger to transform our country.

If the country wanted a transactional leader i.e. somebody to negotiate deals with various groups and interests, and grease the wheels of inside Washington and make things as they are run better, there would be no rationale for your candidacy – nor would thousands be joining your cause. In fact if the people wanted a transactional leader there are far more obvious choices among this field of candidates than you.

Yet young people are streaming into your campaign everyday, your supporters are energized, travel hundreds of miles, and wait for hours to cheer briefly as you go into an event that they are not even allowed to attend.

This is the thing you must recognize – the thing above all others you must understand. This campaign is not about you – it may have started out that way but you have touched something more powerful than any other force in our nation’s history. It is bigger than you, bigger than any single issue, and you can not turn away from it or your responsibility to move from a transactional leader who has a health care plan – to a transformational leader that rises to the historical moment, and leads a movement to save and restore America’s ideals – and invite – no demand that every American rise to the challenge.

You have touched a nerve of unvanquished hunger, and almost limitless need to transform our country.

At the core of this transformational leadership is moral leadership – which is of course the last quality people expect from the insider, self dealing, and the friendly corruption of Washington’s political elite. Dick Gephardt understands this – and it is why he declared Health care a moral issue – but he and the others know that their years in Washington have totally compromised their ability to offer transformation leadership no matter how hungry the country is for it.

But there is another quality they lack. As James MacGregor Burns put it “a transformational leader stands on the shoulders of his followers, expressing coherently those ideas which lie inchoate in the hearts of the followers – and in the process makes his followers into new leaders”

This is what you have begun to do – without inherently knowing you were doing it. You have had transactional leadership moments and transformational leadership moments throughout this campaign – but it is the transformational moments (periodic as they have been) that have lead to 33,000 joining your cause. 1200 in Seattle, 2300 in Austin – it happened because new leaders have already emerged from within the followers in these places. You are creating the future leaders of this nation in ways no other candidate has done in decades.

The campaign is at a critical juncture – in which you must see this as a transformational challenge to turn this candidate driven campaign once and for all into a cause carrying candidacy – the cause it carries is America.

It is why when you say “I want my country back” it invokes not simply polite applause but a visceral deep seated roar from the audience.

The Political Imperative

Ever since the Hunt Commission that convened in 1983, the Democratic Party’s nominating process has been about one thing – stopping a true outsider from gaining the nomination. The late Alan Barron exclaimed repeatedly after Jimmy Carterâ’s victory – that the Democratic establishment would never let another Jimmy Carter happen again. The Hunt Commission went about making sure of it – with a process designed to insure Mondale’s nomination in 1984. But the doctrine of no outsiders has never really stopped – in fact Terry McAuliffe and the current Party establishment have frontloaded the system more than it has ever been frontloaded in the past. IT IS TO INSURE THAT THIS PARTY HAVE NO OUTSIDER NOMINEE, i.e. only an insider can get the nomination.

What is missing from their calculus is the exegesis of this historical moment: that the entire grassroots of this Democratic Party is enflamed and in revolt.

After so many Democrats voted for the Iraqi War Resolution there has been a steep decline in direct-mail fundraising receipts for the DNC – and a lower turnout among progressive Democrats in the 2002 mid-term election.

But it is not just the war alone – it is the complicity across the board with the Bush agenda – albeit always less – but still the Democratic silence and acquiescence to his agenda that has continued to pour gasoline on the flames of grassroots revolt.

It is exactly these transformational moments—that the American people will not accept two insider parties – and it is ironic that it is at this very moment that the Democratic establishment is determined to defend to the death the inside the beltway castle of their power.

This opens up a huge political opportunity for your candidacy.

As pitching is 75% of winning in baseball – so is setting the definition 75% of winning in Presidential politics.

He who controls the definition wins.

The political ground that is begging for you, is to cut this race down to you vs. them – to Howard Dean the outsider candidate of the people vs the insiders representing establishment Washington.

The question is either the Democrats in Washington are right and the people are wrong or the Democratic people are right and the Washington Democratic elites are wrong. You can not have both.

To have this as the question of the election is a gift from the political gods that comes but once in a century. To have on one side – you – and on the other side five interchangeable candidacies – is a prescription for victory.

More over it is to pit the 5 congressional candidacies against not you, but against the will of the people to take their country back.

The important secret of this campaign is empowerment. People are taking this candidacy and saying “this is ours” – it is the power you turn over to people when you say this is about you – not me.

To make this candidacy a cause is to let the people claim it as theirs’, and for you to take the role as Lincoln said “I am the instrument of your will.”

Humbling your role makes this campaign no longer about personal power – but about common purpose. It is to link this moment with the chain of America’s history, the truth of which is, America is built from the bottom up – not from the top down. Historically to release this creative energy of the people is to create not a political storm, but tsunami of power, purpose, and patriotism.

This is something you need to understand about humbling yourself. It is why “There are many in Washington who say I am unelectable because I spoke the truth early about the war in Iraq, well when speaking the truth makes you unelectable – that is the time when it is most important to keep speaking the truth”

is so much better than

“They say I am unelectable because I spoke the truth early on the war with Iraq – but it may turn out that I am the only one who is electable because I spoke the truth”.

One is transformational – the other completely transactional. One says no matter what the costs you will speak the truth – the other says that you care about being elected.

Remember your power comes from knowing that you can not win – the people must win and put you in office in their place.

This campaign is not about you – it is about the people reclaiming their party, their Democracy, and their country.

Who do they want to reclaim their party from? The candidates of personal power.

Who do they want to reclaim their Democracy from? The special interest money that is legal bribery.

Who do they want to reclaim their country from? A bunch of neoconservatives that are destroying what we stand for.

It is to stand with the people on one side against all of them.

Because all of them – whether you embrace this empowerment or not will seek to destroy you and your campaign at every turn.

And that is why embracing transformational empowerment – is not just winning politics – it is about protecting the viability of the candidacy.

You are by definition the classic outsider. But think about the fear and anger you have engendered from the DLC, the other candidates, and many in the Washington establishment. They are not afraid you are George McGovern, or Jerry Brown. No what they are afraid of is that you are Jimmy Carter – the one thing they have been driven to make sure never happens again. Jimmy Carter was not about being a centrist – he ran after the turmoil of Watergate, when a country was questioning itself, when it had been shaken—and he was about bringing change to Washington

“To make our government as good, and honest, and decent and filled with love as the American people themselves” When Jimmy Carter said that – Washington laughed – but the people responded.

As different as our times are today—they are disarmingly similar—a country that has been shaken, questioning itself about the future, and in economic if not broader turmoil.

Those that run the country today – who like Washington just the way it is – are afraid of the Jimmy Carter they see in you – and you have only scratched the surface of the message.

Make no mistake – if you continue to walk down this road – there is no walking back. This is not about issues – it is about values. This is not about differences in health care plans, tax cuts, or social security – its about a fight for our values and our country, who owns it – and who runs it.

In such a fight they can stop Howard Dean – but they can not stop the people. And that is why to continue down this road requires taking this campaign to higher ground – and the conscious empowerment of the American people as patriots for change.

In the end you have been straddling the Rubicon and you can not straddle much longer. To stay on this side of it is to have a transactional Senate primary campaign in which we most certainly will eventually be overpowered and lose. To continue to straddle leaves us in no-mans land without the protection of the people. Our only choice is to leap over to the other side – to a transformational leadership role for our party and our country. Which has the advantage of not only being the right move politically, however risky such a move is to you, it is the right thing to do for our country and for the people who must be empowered if we are to save it.

This is not about saving a bike path, or a patient, its about saving a country and an Idea,–an Idea that has transformed the world.

We are at the Rubicon of history – we must cross it for the sake of the nation, if not for ourselves.

The Message

This is a journey – it is not a static political exercise – we have reached a new epoch and this speech is a proclamation of that epoch.

You began the race because you were a doctor and a governor – who thought that by entering the race – you could raise the issue of health care for every American to the forefront of the national debate. And whether you won or lost you would have made a difference. But something changed along the way, you talked to Americans across the country – and you found in Iowa a profound fear and distrust of corporations, everywhere you go you find Americans questioning if their government is telling the truth – and asking who we can trust. What is happening to our country? They ask.

Governor – this campaign is not about issues – its about themes, and values, and vision – and most of all its about the truth.

Jimmy Carter said “we should have a government that does not lie to the people”

Truth is the issue – but sitting out there is the biggest issue of all time.

Somehow 7 trillion dollars of people’s money disappeared. 8% of our retired people have had to return to the workforce because they lost their pensions. Companies are leaving the country to avoid paying taxes, or avoid paying people livable wages. And they are doing it with the support of the Government they own, and the opposition party they have rented.

The past is prologue and we have been here before. In the 1890’s just as we moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, we now see the same attempt to profit from economic change, disruption and chaos, as we move from an industrial economy and into the information age.

Madison said when speaking for the founding fathers “what we fear the most is that economic power would try to seize political power.” And that is why our country was founded on the idea of Democratic Capitalism – where the undeniable power of capitalism would be subservient to democracy and not the master.

A government of the people, by the people and for the people—not a government for the corporations, special interests, and campaign contributors.

In the first gilded age there were two responses – the angry populist, and then shortly thereafter came the progressive movement of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and ran through Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was a movement that sprang from anger but promoted a positive vision that brought justice, and progress, and saved our nation.

It offered a critic, and hope and a progressive plan – we are not the old angry populist – we are the new progressives.

Our critic is that we are in crisis. And the crisis domestically is the destruction of the idea of community. We are witnessing the repeal of E Pluribus Unim (from the many – one) – and it is being replaced by survival of the economic fittest.

We are not about revolution – we are about restoration – and we aim to reclaim the American ideal of community – the idea that survives from John Winthrop who said:

“We shall be as one. We must delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor, and suffer together, always living before our eyes our Commission and Community in the work, our Community again as members of the same body, so shall we keep the virtue of the spirit in the bonds of peace.”

This statement of the very idea of American community is under the biggest assault in our history by radical Republicans, a flood of special interest and corporate money, and the open complicity by the Democrats in Washington – who have come to believe that money trumps truth.

At the same time we are witnessing the effort to literally repudiate 225 years of American bi-partisan agreement on the purpose of what America is in the world.

That we would be the new light unto nations, our freedom, and our self government would be the beacon that would inspire freedom around the world.
Our country has been the only Idealistic moral force in the affairs of the world.

Thomas Paine and John Adams deplored that we were not to be the new Rome. We are not to conquer and suppress other nations to summit to our will. We were to inspire them.

And Teddy Roosevelt said “I should be heartily ashamed if any American who did not try to make the American government act as justly toward other nations in international relations, as he himself would act toward any individual in private relations.” “I should be heartily ashamed to see us wrong a weaker power, and I would hang my head forever in shame if we tamely suffered wrong from a stronger power.”

These Ideals are being threatened by a Doctrine of Preemption and by a group of narrow idealogues that are undermining our nation’s greatness in the world.

How did the crisis come? How is it that Americans are being asked to abandon community and to repudiate our idealism?

It is because of what has always been feared since the time of our founders – the hollowing out by the corrosive corruption of the moral fiber at the heart of our Democracy.

For more than 20 years the pathology of a slow motion poison has been injected in small and imperceptible dozes into the heart and is now spreading throughout the entire body politic.

It has been happening so slowly that no one has noticed – that things that are happening today could never have happened 20 years ago – let alone 10 years ago.

But Lincoln’s warning is still there “If it – the danger ever reaches us – it must spring up amongst us – it can never come from abroad.” “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” “As a nation of free men we must live for all time or die by suicide.”

The suicide Lincoln speaks of is the destruction of the rule of the people.

This campaign is about restoring what America has always been in the world.

It is about restoring our values, our principles, and our purpose.

And far from radical – we stand together with the mainstream history of this nation.

From Winthrop aboard the Arbella speaking about the America that would be a community, a new chosen people and a beacon to the world.

To the ageless Ideal of our people that each generation has a responsibility to pass the torch to our children – and that they inherit a nation, and a world, that is better and stronger than when the torch was passed to us. We are the first generation that may fail this test – and we can not let that happen.

To John F. Kennedy proclaiming “We seek not worldwide victory of one nation or system but a worldwide victory of man. The modern world globe is too small, its weapons are too destructive, and its disorders are too contagious to permit any other kind of victory.”

We are going to draw on America’s history and her traditions.

We are going to cloak ourselves in the mantle of our nation’s greatest leaders at our nation’s greatest moments, Republican and Democrat – for this is not a Democratic Party Campaign – this is an American Campaign.

This is not Sgt. Peppers Magical Mystery Tour – this is Howard Dean’s Magical History Tour of the Greatest Nation on this Earth. And a call to reclaim what we have lost.

We are not going to promise the American people a paradise – instead they are going to hear a summons to do their duty.

We are going to do what every great transformational leader has done throughout our history – we are going to call the American people to the service of those traditions, those principles and those truths that make them Americans.

This effort on your part is an act of faith in America – An act of faith in the American people.

Our party has lost this faith . . .

For Republicans wallowing in corporate soft money, and millions in special interest dollars – all the while aiding what our founding fathers feared most “that economic power would seize political power” and survival of the economic fittest would overrun working people, is an act of faith – something they have come to believe in. For the Democratic Party to wallow in the same is a rejection of our birthright as a party, and a moral betrayal of every principle we stand for.

This campaign is a journey – a long one – we do not have all the answers – but we must reclaim our party, our Democracy, and our country – and we must restore the Ideals and Values that have sustained our Party and our Country.

The rest of this campaign will be the process of asking the American people to participate once again in their common future – to meet with you and other Americans across this nation – to come together in common cause – in town meetings and town halls – to forge a new American Century from the bottom up – from the people of this nation will the greatness of America rise to rebuild and reclaim all that has made us what we are.

You must understand that you have already touched this nerve – the people who believe in you believe you believe this. If you do not believe this – then do not take another step in this direction for it will tear your candidacy apart – when the followers and leaders you have created realize that you do not believe.

If you do not believe it – then we are locked in a transactional fight – a Senate primary of sorts – forever debating employer mandates and lesser issues – while the larger ground on which the nation’s future rests goes unclaimed with no one fighting to save it.

This is a campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. For whatever reasons fate has thrust you forward at a time that demands a transformational leader – the time has come before – and the great leaders of our nation emerged only in transformational times. Like it or not fate picked you.

The time is now to lead this nation, not run a tactical campaign. And to make sure as Lincoln promised – “That government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth”

You have the power to make the American people realize that they have the power to make it so.