By Ruby Bolaria
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
On Wednesday evening former Vermont Governor Howard Dean spoke to a large and diverse crowd at UCLA as part of the Luskin Lecture Series.
The event, hosted by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, brought together donors and invited guests – several of whom are currently UCLA undergraduates – at the Covel Commons on campus.
Governor Dean spoke about why “Campaigns Matter.” It boiled down to how 20-35 year olds, with the help of the internet, are already transforming not just our nation, but our planet.
The theme for the night was about how a growing sense of shared fate among young people is helping to transform the world, beginning in the United States. Governor Dean recalled his first year in college, in 1968, and how at that time it would have been absurd and crazy to consider the possibility of a black president.
“We did do a lot of things and we did transform this country,” he said, “but this new generation is going to transform the world, thanks to tools like the internet.”
He credited the younger generation for dismissing the usual concept of “us and them” and embracing all people as “us.”
“For the first time they understand that there is no other – the other is them,” Dean said.
Governor Dean, who was Vermont’s governor for five consecutive terms, explained how the Republican Party does not get this message and has ostracized many young voters by framing campaigns around social issues, criticizing the gay community, racial minorities, immigrants, etc.
“The problem is those people are all our kids’ friends,” he said. “If you can have an economic platform that is much more attractive – focusing on spending cuts and entitlement programs, that makes sense. But if you hate their friends they aren’t going to vote for you.”
He said voters under age 35 are more conservative than democrats, somewhat libertarian but are socially much more liberal than republicans.
Governor Dean went on to talk about his role within the Democratic National Committee in coordinating the widespread grassroots campaign to elect Barack Obama in 2008.
“More people under 35 years old voted than over 65. That has never happened in my lifetime. Barack Obama was elected by young people and that was a big surprise. He is a multicultural president and kids could identify with him.”
Governor Dean said republicans were better at running campaigns than democrats – they are more organized, disciplined and better funded. That started to change that in 2004 with his presidential candidacy which eventually transformed into the advocacy nonprofit Democracy for America (formerly known as Dean for America).
However, it was the Obama campaign in 2008 that made historic changes to the way democrats campaigned. It was a well-organized widespread grassroots strategy using new technologies.
A key tool used during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, started within the DNC by young 20-somethings as Neighbor to Neighbor, software used to connect organizers and volunteers with voters. Governor Dean stressed that internet, although helpful, is not the end.
“The internet is not a substitute for person-to-person contact,” he said. “We used the internet as an organization tool so it was easier to touch people.”
He also stressed the importance of a solid ground game that is always prepared for the unexpected, saying “change favors the prepared mind.”
Dean went on to clarify how the Obama campaign strategy included all 50 states – a strategy first implemented by Dean in his 2004 campaign – even historically republican voting states like Utah and Texas. If time isn’t spent in a place like Utah now, there will be no chance to win that state in the future.
As an example, the Governor recalled how he initially told Obama not to bother spending money in Florida because it was a lost cause. He was glad to be wrong when Florida voted democrat.
Beyond political campaigns, Governor Dean praised young people who took action using tools including Change.org to petition Bank of America to reverse their decision to charge for checking accounts.
He also credited young people for incorporating more social responsibility and ethics into business models. Dean cited how some young business owners are making it part of their mission to “do good” and preventing shareholders from suing the company if they do not maximize profits.
“We are on the verge of a revolution; in fact it’s already started,” he said. “I don’t know where it’s going yet but it’s happening through the extraordinary power of the internet and it’s all about grassroots.”
He ended with a challenge of sorts – saying what young people are struggling with now is how to institutionalize the movement without denigrating the message or diluting the innovation.
The Luskin Lecture Series is designed to enhance public discourse on topics relevant to today’s societal needs. Bringing renowned public intellectuals and scholars together with national and local leaders, the Luskin Lecture Series presents issues that are changing the way our country addresses its most pressing problems. For more information on upcoming Luskin Lecture Series events, please click here.