Dean: Democrats must be smarter about their message

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Former Gov. Howard Dean speaks to a crowd at the North Idaho Democracy Luncheon on Saturday at the Coeur d'Alene Casino.

WORLEY - It's been seven years since Howard Dean ran for President of the United States, but the fiery physician is still outspoken as ever.

"You can't trust Republicans with your money," the former Vermont governor shouted into the microphone. "The motto of the Republican Party is 'borrow and spend.' You wonder why we're in debt to China? You can thank George Bush for that."

Dean, who served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005-09, was the guest speaker at Saturday's 9th Annual North Idaho Democracy Luncheon. He addressed a crowd of roughly 200 people in a large conference room at the Coeur d'Alene Casino.

"We allow Republicans, who don't know what the facts are, to say things about us that aren't true," Dean said. "We are not tough enough."

A loud and passionate speaker, Dean served six two-year terms as governor of Vermont. By the end of his tenure, every child under 18 in the state had health insurance, he noted.

In 2004 he tried for the presidency, but failed to win the Democratic nomination (it went to Sen. John Kerry instead). Under Dean's leadership, the DNC implemented the so-called "50-State Strategy," increasing the Democratic presence in historically red states.

"He is truly a populist," said Kristy Johnson of Post Falls, the legislative vice-chair of District 5 of the Kootenai County Democrats. "Howard Dean is one of my idols. I get tired of partisan politics. And that's what he's not about. Even as head of the DNC, it was always policy before partisanship."

Democrats must be smarter about their messaging, Dean told the audience. He encouraged Democrats to talk about their values, which are shared by most of the American public.

When organizing their campaigns or programs, Democrats should not be afraid to make long-term plans, he added, in order to lay the groundwork for successful elections several years down the road.

"The money matters," Dean said, in reference to fundraising. "But the planning matters, and sticking to the plan."

He encouraged simple Democratic messages - money management, for instance, and fairness in society - and repetition of those messages.

"The 857th time that you're saying the same thing is the first time a lot of people are hearing you," Dean said.

On the issues of abortion, immigration and gay marriage, he once again stressed simplicity. Republicans, he said, are very concise when describing their anti-abortion stance: Life begins at conception. When advocating for pro-choice, Democrats should be equally clear-cut.

"'The government has no right to interfere in my personal life.' That's about as Idahoan of a message as you can possibly get, right?" he said. "(Republicans) talk about freedom. How about giving my daughter and my wife some freedom?"

Bill and Connie Miller drove up from Greer, near Orofino, to hear Dean speak. Connie described the former governor as "dynamic."

His primary lesson, Bill said, was "To stand up and fight. Stand up for what Democrats believe in. Stand up every chance you get, and start talking to your neighbors and people. He's a good speaker."

Mike Perdue of Grangeville said Dean's comments were "interesting and encouraging," particularly "what he had to say about the youth in this country becoming involved."

Dean pointed toward young people as the future of the Democratic Party - the first real "multicultural generation in the history of America."

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