Ask where Democratic Party powerhouse Howard Dean is a week before this season's primaries and you may be surprised at the answer: the northern suburbs of Chicago. Dean has put his weight behind 10th Congressional District candidate Ilya Sheyman, a 25-year-old pro-gay Democrat who is facing off against incumbent Democrat Robert J. Dold.
Dean caught up with Windy City Times while in town for a Sheyman fundraiser. He shared some of his thoughts on the current state of the Republican Party, Occupy movements and the future of conservative social messages, including anti-gay rhetoric.
Windy City Times: Other than Ilya Sheyman's race, what races are you eying this season?
Howard Dean: There are a lot of them. Gabby Giffords' seat in Arizona is certainly one of them. There are some interesting races in New York where we have a chance to take back some of the seats that were won by pretty extreme far-right people. I actually believe we're going to pick up the house this year if Obama wins, and I think he will.
WCT: Some have speculated that this is the last presidential election where you can run as a vehemently anti-gay candidate and be viable. Do you think that's true?
Howard Dean: I think in most parts of the country, I think that's true. I think there will be a market for that for a while in some parts of the Deep South, but in most parts of the country that's absolutely true.
WCT: Should the Democratic party adopt a platform of support for marriage equality?
Howard Dean: Yes.
WCT: Should President Obama come out for marriage equality?
Howard Dean: I don't care about that so much as I care about getting rid of DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act]. DOMA is blatantly unconstitutional. It shouldn't be enforced. Obviously, I'm in favor of marriage equality, but I think that the problem with marriage equality is that it isn't really equality as long as you have DOMA. We don't have marriage equality in any state right now.
WCT: What do you make of the Republican Party right now?
Howard Dean: They've essentially, they've been what I call the "hate wing" of the Republican Party, cultivated in the beginning by Richard Nixon, after George Wallace's success, decided that he would try to appeal to racism in the South and other races. They've been running these anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim campaigns. You can point the finger at different groups and blame them forever, which is an old political trick, but eventually people see through it in a democracy where there are lots of media outlets to counter the kind of propaganda that goes along with it.
The Republicans are going to have to have a total retooling. I do think they're going to lose, and I do think that as a result, they're going to really focus on economic issues, and the far-right social positions that they take are going to have to be cast off. They're never going to have any chance with people under 35 [years old] with the kinds of things they're talking about and good proportion of women. Obama has opened up an enormous gap among women in this country. It's almost 20 points, the gender gap, and the Republicans have done that for us. That's not something we've done. That's something they've done by attacking every possibility that women have for economic advancement and for social advancement.
WCT: What impact do you think the Occupy movement is going to have on this election?
Howard Dean: Well, it already has had the biggest effect it's probably going to have, which is to completely change the political dialogue in the county. This businesses of the 99 percent and the one percent, everyone can identify with that. I think that has recast who the Republicans are and what they believe in. … They're for the 1 percent.
While there are a lot of people who don't think the Democrats have done a perfect job, they can now see that Republicans are waging a war on women. They care much more about corporations than they do about people. It's pretty clear that the Republicans have no interest in the average person in the country. Their loyalty is to their corporate funders.
WCT: In 2004, when you were in the Democratic primary, you aimed to mobilize young voters with a progressive message and a handle on social media. Do you seeing that coming fruition now with Occupy?
Howard Dean: I think it came to fruition in 2008 in terms of the mobilization of young people. I think there's actually been a backslide since that time. But I think the climate has changed forever in this country, and I think that Republicans just haven't gotten around to realizing it yet. I'm not entirely sure the Democrats have gotten around to realizing it yet entirely. But they're certainly a whole lot closer than where the average person under 35 is than where the Republicans are.
WCT: What would be your strategy for getting out young voters this time around?
Howard Dean: Well, I think that's tough. I think young voters have been somewhat disappointed. I do think the president is a lot closer to where they are than any Republican is, but there's a strong economic message about jobs that has to be delivered by the president, too. We can't just rely on the Republicans to self-destruct here because eventually they'll get better after they have a candidate. The 99 percent, one percent issue is absolutely critical.
WCT: Is there a way for Democrats to work with Republicans to end the gridlock in Congress?
Howard Dean: I don't think you can work with an extremist party that doesn't want to compromise.
WCT: Do you have a general prediction for the 2012 elections?
Howard Dean: Obama will win. At this point, it's a long way off but I do think he'll win and probably more handily than people suspect. I think he'll bring a Democratic house back, and I think the Senate will be very very close, possibly tied.
WCT: What are the chances we'll seen a 2016 Dean presidential ticket?
Howard Dean: [Laughs] Well, let's get through this one; then we can talk about that.