Dr. Dean is more often called “Governor” because he was governor of Vermont for five terms.
So how does a former governor from a small New England state become a front-runner to take on the president?
In large part, because he has positioned himself as diametrically opposed to the president. Correspondent Dan Rather went to visit Howard Dean in his home state, at his favorite diner, the Oasis, where he wanted to talk about the issue that jump-started his campaign – Iraq.
“I believe as president that you gotta be willing to send troops anywhere in the world to defend America, but also I believe as president, you never send troops without telling the truth to the American people about why we’re going there,” says Dean.
“And that is exactly what happened to us in Vietnam. We sent troops to Vietnam, without understanding why we were there. And the American people weren’t told the truth and it was a disaster. And Iraq is gonna become a disaster under this presidency.”
That’s tough criticism compared to his fellow Democrats, who have been more cautious in taking on the president while American soldiers are fighting overseas. But Gov. Dean has been consistent in his opposition to the war.
This is what he said last March, before a single shot was fired at Saddam Hussein’s forces: “What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the president’s unilateral intervention in Iraq. I’m Howard Dean and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.”
But 60 Minutes II wanted to know if Howard Dean were President, what would he do now in Iraq? What would he do different?
“President Bush in his speech said that Iraq now is the central battleground against terror. That’s because he made it that way, and that’s the bad part about this. But the fact that it has now become true means we can’t just pull and leave the Iraqis to their own devices,” says Dean. “We have to be there. Now Iraq, this president has turned Iraq into a potential security emergency. So we can’t cut and run. We need foreign troops in Iraq.”
Gov. Dean is also critical of the president for going to war without many U.S. allies. He believes those allies have been alienated and said he would focus on restoring those relationships: “This president does not understand that having high ideals and a moral purpose, where people admire this country is an important part of our defense. You would be hard pressed to find a majority in too many countries around the world where people admire America after two and a half years of this presidency.”
As American casualties keep rising in Iraq, Dean’s aggressively anti-war message has caught on. 60 Minutes II went along on a cross-country tour and saw thousands of people show up to hear him in state after state, coast to coast.
Everywhere he went, Dean blasted away at President Bush -- not just on Iraq, but also about jobs and the economy. He promised, if elected, to roll back the president’s tax cuts, which Dean says favor the wealthy. But his critics, both his Democratic opponents and those in the Republican party, say that would amount to a tax hike.
“I think this is typical of my party’s problem. I just laugh at these politicians from Washington that are promising everybody everything. Oh, tax cuts, you can have everything you want. We can’t have everything we want, and you’re gonna have a choice,” says Dean. “We can have a balanced budget and jobs and prosperity. We can have health insurance and funding of special education. Or we can have the president’s tax cuts. But we can’t have both.”
The re-election forces of President Bush have tried to marginalize Howard Dean by calling him a liberal former governor of a small state. His Democratic opponents say just the opposite – that he some times sounds more like a Republican than a Democrat, especially when it comes to balancing budgets.
But no one is criticizing the fundraising skills at Dean’s headquarters. It’s hard to find anyone there above the age of 30. And these young people, many of them computer whizzes, have been invaluable. With their help, the campaign has made unprecedented use of the Internet and raised $25 million, much of it in small donations.
In addition, the Dean campaign uses the Internet to show video of their rallies live, all over the country. And the campaign also benefits from the Internet because it is used to organize meetings nationwide. It’s called a meetup, a gathering of people curious to learn more about Dean, on the first Wednesday of every month in cities and towns across America.
Grass-roots Dean supporters, not the Dean campaign, organize and schedule these get-togethers on a Web site, a sort of electronic bulletin board, called Meetup.com. To the envy of the other candidates, it’s brought tens of thousands of new supporters to the Dean campaign.
“You got a campaign who really didn't have any infrastructure. Really didn't have much money. And they didn't have an ability to set up offices in every town and in every state. And it was the people who told their friends and family and coworkers that there's this candidate that they like and they brought their friends to Meetups and the meetups started,” says Scott Heiferman, the brainchild of Meetup.com.
“And in the first month in five cities, and then it went to 100 cities the next month, and before you know it, there were Howard Dean meetups in nearly 800 towns across the America.”
These informal meetups have become so important to the campaign that now the candidate himself sometimes crashes the party.
Dean seems to love the very public campaign spotlight. But he’s very private about himself and his family life. So when 60 Minutes II met him at the University of Vermont, overlooking Lake Champlain, we told him we wanted to talk about his personal background.
“I’m not terribly introspective. I really am a pragmatist,” says Dean. “I want action, I want results. Some of it is my medical training.”
He was baptized a Catholic, raised basically as Episcopalian, and married to a woman of Jewish heritage. His children are being raised Jewish, but he’s now a Congregationalist.
“What a journey,” he says, laughing.
That journey began in a wealthy, Republican family. The governor's father, Big Howard, as everyone called him, was a stockbroker who supported Barry Goldwater. Howard Dean grew up on Park Avenue and the exclusive ocean-side community of East Hampton on Long Island.
“My father was a very hard working guy, but every Friday, the rule was, we all had family dinner, no matter what,” recalls Dean. “There were no social engagements in the Dean household before 9:00 p.m. at night on a Friday. So we were close. It was fun, too.”
But after Howard Dean went to Yale, he started to rebel against his father’s brand of politics.
“The Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement were really in full swing. And that’s actually how I ended up becoming a Democrat,” says Dean.
What else did he do?
“Well, you know, there’s not much I agree with President Bush on, but one of the things I decided before this campaign started, that I was going to use his line of attack with, my irresponsible youth was my irresponsible youth, and I wasn’t going to go into any detail about that,” says Dean, who admits he stopped drinking when he was in his early 30s.
When he was still in his 20s, there was a family tragedy that changed Howard Dean’s life forever. It’s a tragedy he remembers every day by wearing a ‘60s-style leather belt – a belt that belonged to his younger brother, Charlie.
“I have a brother who was 24 years old. He was traveling in Laos with a friend,” says Dean. “He was captured by the Pathet Lao, which is the Laotian Communists during the Vietnam War, and held in captivity for three months and then executed.”
When they were growing up, the brothers were close. Charlie was the politician in the family, and no one was surprised when he went to Indochina to see the effects of the Vietnam War.
“I’ve actually been to the site where his body, we believe his body is. And right now, there’s an excavation going onto see if they can find it,” says Dean, who admits the experience changed his life.
“It gave me a sense that you oughta live for the moment with people. That you really need to tell people you love them if you love them,” says Dean. “It was certainly the most awful thing that ever happened to our family. And it was terrible for my parents. It was even worse for them than it was for us.”
At the time, Howard Dean, without telling his parents, had started taking night classes at Columbia so he could qualify for medical school. He was also working on Wall Street. After Charlie died, he studied even harder and managed to get into the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. That’s where he met his wife and future fellow doctor, Judith Steinberg.
“She’s great, she’s a very bright woman and we used to do the crossword puzzle in the back of the neuro-anatomy class, which was the most frightening class for any young medical student,” says Dean. “And the passing grade was 34. I got a 35 and she got a 99 on the test, which tells you our relative brain scale.”
Dr. Judith Steinberg is not only smart but also very independent. She was there when her husband announced he was running for president, but she does not campaign for him.
Will she give up her medical practice if she becomes the first lady of the United States?
“No, she will not give up her medical practice if she becomes first lady,” says Dean. “She will entertain at some state dinners and things like that, but that’s not gonna be her life. Her life is gonna continue to be medicine.”
Eventually, Dean says, his wife will campaign for him. In the meantime, he has some important decisions to make. The most immediate: how to deal with the instant candidacy of Gen. Wesley Clark. There’s a lot of speculation that the Democratic establishment, including the Clintons, support Clark - to slow down Dean or hold a place for Hillary Clinton.
In the diner, there’s a picture of Dean with Clinton when he was president. What happened?
“I don’t think anything bad happened to me and Bill Clinton. We seem to get along reasonably well,” says Dean, adding that the former president isn’t supporting anyone in this race.
Does he think Clinton is supporting Wesley Clark? “I don’t, but I don’t know, I haven’t asked him about it,” says Dean. “And I do not believe Wes Clark is a stalking horse for the Clintons. And they’ve basically, Hillary basically told me she wasn’t gonna run. And Bill Clinton told me that he was not necessarily supporting any particular candidate and he wasn’t gonna be doing that.”
Dean knows a lot of people think Gen. Clark just looks presidential. But Gov. Dean’s job, in the months ahead, is to convince people he’s up to the job.
“What people look for when they elect a president is values and strength,” says Dean. “I was able to figure that the president wasn’t being candid with the American people on the Iraq issue, long before any of my compatriots who are running in this race were able to figure it out. If I can figure that out, I can be president of the United States.”