By Rachel Stengel and Katie Zeck
The importance of upholding and respecting our nation’s most valued document, the Constitution, particularly amidst the current state of politics in Washington, was the main focus of former Gov. Howard Dean’s speech Thursday night as the keynote speaker for the university’s celebration of Constitution Day.
Hosted by the Office of Campus Life and the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, the event drew a crowd of more than 100 in the Cavalla Room of the BLC.
Dean began by declaring that the Constitution is “worth talking about,” and that there are two main qualities of the document that he hoped the audience would remember. The first is that the Constitution is “a living document” because of the dominant position it played and still plays in developing our nation’s freedoms.
“I don’t believe in the idea of American exceptionalism, because I don’t believe any individual American is any more exceptional than the Chinese, European, South American, Africans or anybody else,” Dean said. “But it is true that the Constitution is a unique document that played a big role in the evolution of democracy.”
Dean was a practicing physician for 10 years. He entered the political arena in 1983 when he was elected as a Democrat to the Vermont House of Representatives. He held the title of Vermont’s lieutenant governor for five years before being elected as Vermont’s governor for six terms. During his gubernatorial stay, he provided guaranteed health care for children and gave same-sex couples equal rights by passing a civil unions law.
After an unsuccessful run for president in 2004, Dean served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009.
Currently, Dean is the senior strategic advisor and independent consultant for the Government Affairs practice at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. He is also an independent consultant to Democracy for America, which he founded 2004.
During his speech, the former governor described the way in which one of his favorite political figures assisted in the democratic development of the United States.
“[George] Washington, as a leader, first established the principle of democracy by his own personal actions, not just his philosophies,” he said.
According to Dean, Washington pioneered the idea that the office of the president is more important than the person in it, an idea the former governor feels is “the core feature of democracy and core feature of any nation that is a stable successful nation.”
The second point Dean brought up was that the Constitution is truly an “extraordinary document.”
“This country was built on an extraordinary model that does not exist anywhere else on the face of the earth,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of people from other countries came together to build a nation, and it wasn’t easy.”
However, it was the Constitution that allowed the United States to develop despite its unique birth, making it a monumental piece of American history.
In addition to giving his views on the significance of the Constitution, Dean delved into topics of the divergent generations and the broader scope of politics as a whole.
“I’m optimistic for your generation,” he said. “You focus on things you have in common with those of other races and ethnicities instead of the things you perceive as differences.”
Dean praised “the most extraordinary invention” of the Internet for its ability to “serve the preservation of individualism in democracy.”
Dean tied the current state of politics to legislation that our forefathers crafted for the nation.
“The truth is you cannot avoid politics,” he said. “You may not like politics because it is ugly, particularly right now, but you cannot forget them; they are a necessary evil. If you forget politics, someone else won’t and that someone may undermine the document that started it all.”