Though Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean is not known for being publicity-shy, a speech by the former Vermont governor at Harvard Law School Saturday was closed to the press.
Dean laid out a strategy for Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 elections, according to students in attendance. Although Dean addressed the media’s perception that Democrats have no plan or message, students in attendance said, the media itself was barred from the speech.
“Governor Dean’s presentation...was not intended to be a open press event, but rather an opportunity to discuss with conference participants their role in the party and some of the items addressed in their program,” wrote DNC spokesman Damien LaVera in an e-mail yesterday.
“We thought it would be most interesting and inspiring if Dean was able to speak without concern about being quoted,” said co-president of the HLS Democrats, David S. Burd.
Harvard Republican Club President Stephen E. Dewey ’07 criticized the decision. He said that his organization has always made its events open to the press so that all students may hear the Republican message.
“Howard Dean has a history of harming the Democratic Party when he speaks on the record,” Dewey wrote in an e-mail. “So it’s understandable that the [HLS] Democrats would not want him to be quoted.”
But students who attended the event said Dean was not controversial.
Markus R.T. Kolic ’09, one of four undergraduates admitted to the event by lottery, wrote in an e-mail that he was impressed that Dean had a clear plan.
“The 6-point plan was less important for its content, which was fairly generic Democratic talking points (improving the health care system, etc.) than for the simple fact that it existed,” Kolic wrote. “Dean prefaced it by talking about the widespread media perception that Democrats have no message and proceeded to counter it by listing, rapid-fire, six clear points.”
Dean told a packed audience in Austin Hall at HLS, “Don’t let anybody tell you Democrats don’t have a message” to audience applause, according to Kolic.
“He was very decisive,” said Indira Phukan ’09. “He didn’t hesitate to criticize the Republicans, but he didn’t hesitate to criticize the Democrats either.”
Phukan said that while many in the audience were hoping for insider comments on potential candidates for 2008, Dean was mum on who might be his party’s nominee.
Dean’s image in the media is misguided, some attendees said yesterday.
“Howard Dean can be a provocateur,” Kolic wrote, “but what he fundamentally does by that is energize his supporters, not damage them.”