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Howard Dean Calls For A New Generation Of Democratic Leaders


Howard Dean thinks that, for Democrats of a certain age, it is time to step aside. The former Vermont governor and one-time Democratic National Committee chair says it's time to make room for the young talent in his party ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign season. He joins me in our studios.

Governor Dean, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So the other day on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," you said something you have said, before but you said it in a stronger fashion. You said your generation needs to, quote, "get the hell out of the way." Can you expand on that? What needs to change?

DEAN: The most important age group for us is people under 35. They elected Barack Obama in 2008. But now it's time to let them take over. And they're going to have to take over on their own terms. We have tons of talent in our party. We do not need to rely on my generation anymore. And these kids think differently. They're more respectful of each other. They're willing to listen to each other's ideas and work things out. They're entrepreneurial. They're more conservative than we are economically than the left wing of the Democratic Party. They're mostly libertarian.

I just think this is the future of America. They are diverse. They value immigration. They value different kinds of people. They believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. They care deeply about the environment. We need a real change in this country and the only way to do it is for us to get out.

MARTIN: Although it was only just over a year ago you, yourself, were vying to run the Democratic National Committee - so over the past year, you have come to this new conclusion?

DEAN: No, I was a placeholder. I ended up supporting Pete Buttigieg, who didn't win or get many votes. He was - 35-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., you know, the perfect candidate for this generation - two-term mayor of a city in a red state, served two terms in Afghanistan and openly gay. I mean, that is the generation that is coming up. They're incredible kids.

MARTIN: So you're ready to step aside, too?

DEAN: I'm not stepping aside. I'm raising money for Indivisible and Run For Something and Flippable and all of these great groups that helped so much in the races in Virginia. I'm coaching. I'm trying to get them to work a little more together because their problem is mostly that they cooperate but they don't commit. They're great at mobilization, maybe not so good at long-term organization. There's a lot we can teach still, but they're going to have to do it on their terms with our coaching, not our terms.

MARTIN: This past October, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, who's the fifth-ranking Democrat in the House, suggested that she believes it's time for Nancy Pelosi to step down as House minority leader. Let's listen to this clip.


LINDA SANCHEZ: I personally think that, you know, our leadership does a tremendous job. But I do think we have this real breadth and depth of talent within our caucus. And I do think it's time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders.

MARTIN: Do you agree? Do you believe Nancy Pelosi should resign her leadership position?

DEAN: I don't think that would help right this moment. Nancy is probably the greatest speaker since Tip O'Neill. If she'd only had a couple more terms, her version of the health care bill was terrific as they got it through the House. She knows what she's doing.

MARTIN: But isn't she the personification of the old entrenched Democratic Party?

DEAN: Republicans have made her that way. She does need to transition out. I'm not about pushing her out given her record. But I'm just saying, we do need to change. Look, Congress is going to be the last place to change. I want to see the presidential races change. I want to see Cabinet officials in their 50s appointed. I'm not talking about, you know, these people that are taking free plane rides in the Trump administration. I'm talking about real people who are public servants.

MARTIN: But Tim Ryan challenged her for the leadership position. He got a lot of votes. Ultimately, she prevailed. And because you say that the Republicans have used her as the poster child of their ire against Democrats, I mean, for those reasons alone, shouldn't she move on?

DEAN: I'm not interested in talking about who should move on and who shouldn't. We need a movement to do this. People are going to have to make their own minds up about when they move on. And some of them are going to be moved out. And some of them are going to move themselves out, and that's up to them.

MARTIN: Democrats have been unsuccessful at the local and state level over the last decade, I think it's fair to say. Your party's lost a dozen governorships and more than 900 statehouse seats during the Obama era. Does this mean Democrats have just not done well at cultivating young talent?

DEAN: No. What it means is when you have the White House, this always happens. This is not just particularly Obama's problem. When you're in charge, the DNC becomes the re-elect for the president. And they neglect the stuff that's being done on the Republican side by outside forces. We're going to have to start doing that. We are doing that now.

All these races in Virginia - the reason we won 15 races is because of all these young people on the Internet. We did have 40 organizers down there. It was great. But a lot of the heavy-duty work and the field work was done by young people organizing informally outside the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: So how do you do that?

DEAN: Well, these kids vote with us because the Republicans are an - Donald Trump doesn't represent a single value that the younger generation in America has. He's attacked the environment, attacks gay people, transgender people. Now he's talking about pushing the button on the atomic bomb. I mean, this guy is way out of touch and so is the whole Republican Party. So they're going to vote with us.

The question is, can we integrate them into an institution? And the answer is probably not the way it's been done for the last 10,000 years. When young people come in to big institutions, they're socialized by the institutions, and they socialize the institution a little bit. This time, the young generation that's coming in is going to socialize the institution a lot more than the institution is going to socialize them. But you do need institutions, and that's the message I have for the young people. They're unattractive. These kids don't need them because they can go on the Internet and get half a million...

MARTIN: Right. It's not the time of institutions.

DEAN: It's not. It's not. But they are still valuable. They've got to change dramatically, but they're still valuable because they're the only thing that gives us continuity.

MARTIN: Who are the young up-and-coming leaders you would like to see break through?

DEAN: There are tons of them. I named four, but there are many, many others. Now, excuse me in advance for alienating those people I don't mention. The ones that I have - interested in the presidency in reverse alphabetical order because I go back and forth are Chris Murphy, senator from Connecticut; Kamala Harris, senator from California; Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York; and Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles.

But there are many others, really interesting people - Seth Moulton, you know, a bit of a longshot. But, you know, I think it's great for these young people to be out there. Seth Moulton has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and recruited more than a dozen veterans to run for office, and a lot of them are going to win. And that's really important.

MARTIN: Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, one-time DNC chair, one-time presidential candidate - Governor, thanks so much for your time.

DEAN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASSTI'S "DER DRITTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.