Sporting a Boston Red Sox cap and spouting familiar populist rhetoric, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean urged a crowd of nearly 5,000 enthusiastic supporters in Copley Square in Boston Tuesday to help him take the White House next November.
Tuesday’s rally marked the former Vermont governor’s first major foray into the backyard of rival Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass. Dean and Kerry are battling for support across the border in the critical primary state of New Hampshire.
Dean harped on his usual themes yesterday, railing on the Bush administration and accusing the President and his alleged corporate cronies — “Ken Lay and the boys at Enron” — for subverting the will of the people. But he also sought to distance himself from his Democratic competitors, faulting them for not opposing Bush with enough vigor.
“What’s at stake in this election is democracy,” he said. “Either we take action now and come together to restore a politics of participation and a politics of the people, or we allow the Washington insiders and the special interests to continue to make the back room deals that are destroying people’s faith in our government.”
About 75 Harvard University students turned out to the rally, according to Brooks E. Washington ’06, staff director for Harvard Students for Howard Dean. He said some came to support Dean, while others were undecided and attended to consider backing him.
Washington said Harvard’s turnout for the speech was “great, considering it’s in the middle of the school day and today was forecasted for rain.”
Despite the threat of showers, the crowd was energized, welcoming Dean with chants of “Howard! Howard!” and signs like “Beantown is Deantown.” Dean drew loud cheers when he donned the Sox cap just before his speech began.
“Eat your heart out, George Steinbrenner,” he joked, referring to the New York Yankees’ owner.
During his speech, Dean sniped at other Democratic candidates, rebuking some for their “support” of the war in Iraq and others for failing to distance themselves adequately from Bush.
“The way to try to beat George Bush is not to be like him,” he said. “It’s to stand up for what you believe.”
But he saved most of his ammunition for the current administration, accusing Bush and his deputies of ignoring, cheating and lying to the American people while failing to effectively tackle such major issues as terrorism, the economy and health care.
Characterizing the Democratic campaign to reclaim the White House in the grass-roots terms of the Boston Tea Party, Dean implied — much to the crowd’s approval — that then, as now, “there was a king named George who had forgotten his own people in favor of the special interests.”
“We want our country back, Mr. President,” Dean thundered.
He decried the current state of the political system, which he said is dominated by special interests like oil companies and pharmaceuticals.
“The only way people are asked to participate in this government is to pay the bills,” he said.
Dean chastised Bush as a divisive leader, taking him to task for exacerbating racial, socioeconomic, religious and sexual difference among the American people.
Dean cited the Bush tax cuts as a prime example of the Administration’s divisive rule. As he has before, Dean called for the repeal of the tax cuts, pledging to put the money toward homeland security and domestic policy initiatives like health care. He accused Bush of being fiscally irresponsible in running deficits.
“You can’t trust the Republicans with your money,” he said.
Dean also insisted that the state of health care in America must improve, noting that while scores of less prosperous nations can guarantee their citizens health insurance, the U.S. cannot.
He took Bush to task for his record on national security, claiming that while Bush is “capitalizing on terrorism for political gain,” he has failed to adequately fund homeland security initiatives and has diverted much-needed money to tax cuts and the war.
“The President has made the country weaker, not stronger, because he doesn’t understand defense,” Dean said.
Dean assailed the President on the war in Iraq, excoriating him for taking the country to war on what Dean called false premises. He said that many of the most prominent reasons marshalled for going to war — a supposed Iraqi tie to al Qaeda, Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase enriched uranium, and reports that Iraq possessed large quantities of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction-have since been discredited.
And he accused Bush more generally of promulgating a “foreign policy based on wrongheadedness and deception.” Referencing the decline of America’s popularity worldwide, Dean pledged to restore the U.S. to its former dignity, espousing a “high moral purpose and a set of ideals that the world aspires to.”
Dean campaign officials said they considered the rally a success in light of the substantial turnout in the face of overcast weather, according to Dean spokesperson Garrett M. Graff ’03, who is also a Crimson editor.
Undergraduates who attended the rally said they were impressed by Dean, although many came to the event already supporting him.
Washington, who worked for Dean over the summer, said he thought the speech was “great,” even though it was largely his standard stump address.
“I have heard the speech approximately 100,000 times,” he said. But he added, “I really do think that this swayed some people.”