- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

More than a decade after proudly declaring that he would revive “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean finds himself out of step with the progressive movement he once led.

Mr. Dean in September endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, firmly planting himself in the camp of the Democratic establishment despite growing liberal enthusiasm in the party for Sen. Bernard Sanders, a self-described socialist and the candidate widely viewed as the progressive alternative to Mrs. Clinton.

The liberal PAC that Mr. Dean founded, Democracy for America, threw its support this month behind Mr. Sanders, raising increasingly pointed questions about whether the former governor and briefly the 2004 Democratic presidential front-runner had lost touch with the leftist base that propelled him to national prominence.

The vote wasn’t even close. More than 200,000 Democracy for America members took part in a poll, and nearly 88 percent voted to endorse Mr. Sanders. Mrs. Clinton got only 10 percent, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the party’s third presidential candidate, barely broke 1 percent.

After the release of the poll — which the Sanders campaign quickly touted as proof that he is the candidate best positioned to shake up Washington — Democracy for America officials tried to downplay the split between what its members want and Mr. Dean’s current political allegiances.

In the end, some political analysts say, Mr. Dean — and Mrs. Clinton, for that matter — haven’t changed their core positions much, if at all, in recent years.

Instead, the party base has moved dramatically to the left, and positions that may have qualified Mr. Dean as a liberal titan in 2004 now appear moderate, said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University who studies the evolution of political parties.

“In some ways, Howard Dean really hasn’t changed,” she said. “I think he is a much more moderate candidate in line with where President Obama and Hillary Clinton and the mainstream Democratic Party are today, which is slightly left from where it was in 2004 but not hugely far left. But what has happened is the progressive base has grown as there has been frustration with mainstream Democrats.”

Mr. Dean has emerged as an active surrogate for the Clinton campaign. He appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week to defend Mrs. Clinton’s widely challenged claim that Islamic State terrorists were using video footage of Republican front-runner Donald Trump to attract recruits.

He stood firm despite the hosts’ insistence that no such videos had surfaced. “ISIS is, in fact, using videos of Donald Trump trashing Muslims to recruit. That is true,” Mr. Dean insisted.

‘His own individual’

Mr. Dean’s office said the former governor was unavailable for comment. But Democracy for America officials told reporters this month that Mr. Dean fully supported the organization’s endorsement process, even though it directly contradicted his personal preference.

Gov. Dean is his own individual. Once in a while, he makes a decision that isn’t 100 percent aligned with the grass roots, and that’s fine,” Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain said on a conference call announcing the group’s endorsement of Mr. Sanders. “The bottom line is, every single one of our members, including Gov. Dean, is on board with making sure that whoever is the Democratic nominee will win the election in November.”

Right now, it appears Mrs. Clinton will be that nominee. A Real Clear Politics average of polls conducted this month shows the former secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York with a 25-point lead over Mr. Sanders, though the senator from Vermont has been making gains in the key state of Iowa and remains ahead of Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire, surveys show.

As for issues important to progressives, the main difference between Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton seems to come down to the candidates’ relationships with corporate America. Mrs. Clinton has, to some degree, refused to break her ties with the “1 percent,” evidenced by her appearance at a fundraiser and campaign rally with billionaire Warren Buffett this month.

At a Democratic primary debate, she was asked whether corporate America should “love Hillary Clinton.”

“Everybody should,” she responded.

Mr. Sanders said corporate America absolutely would not love him if he was in the White House.

The difference has begun to manifest itself in the form of tax-and-spending proposals. Mr. Sanders claims he can raise money for his vast agenda — estimated to cost as much as $18 trillion over 10 years — by hiking taxes on the wealthy.

Mr. Sanders‘ spending proposals and attacks on Wall Street have proved wildly popular with progressives. Those same progressives have been openly skeptical of the Clintons’ ties to Wall Street, including Mrs. Clinton’s record in the Senate representing her state.

Mr. Dean largely has stayed away from specific issues and instead has thrown his support behind Mrs. Clinton because, in his mind, she is the most qualified candidate in the race.

Clinton is not only the smartest and the toughest person in the race, she is also the person who has put forward specific policy proposals on issues ranging from profit sharing for workers, revitalizing rural America, criminal justice reform, universal automatic voter registration, to an economic plan that recognizes equal pay, paid family leave and childcare are essential to competitiveness and growth,” he wrote in a September piece in The Washington Post announcing his endorsement.

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