Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said that corporate accountability could become the "big issue" of the 2004 presidential campaign unless President George W. Bush moves dramatically to curb multi-billion dollar business scandals currently shaking investor confidence.
In an interview with Stateline.org, Dean criticized Bush's ties to the corporate world, saying that the president and Vice President Dick Cheney are so "entwined with the business community" that their administration "will rise or fall on what happens here in terms of corporate accountability."
Dean, who is busy promoting his own presidential ambitions, said the president should be doing more than just talking about the Enron, WorldCom and other Wall Street scandals or the American people will end up losing their confidence in the economy and government's ability to rein in corporate corruption.
"It doesn't matter what you say, it's what you do. And what the president's done is send really bad signals to the corporate world about what will and what will not be permitted," Dean said.
On Tuesday (7/9), Bush called for tougher penalties against financial crimes and corporate "wrongdoers." Reaction in Congress to the president's speech on Wall Street fell along party lines.
Dean has already been more outspoken on the issue than any of the Democratic Party leaders in Washington, who he contends have been "too timid about going after the president's lack of a domestic agenda."
As he travels across the country trying to raise his name recognition, Dean is being compared to Jimmy Carter, another little-known governor who won the presidency in 1976 by promising to restore trust in government in a post-Watergate America.
He says he's no Jimmy Carter, but Dean says it was Carter who inspired him to go into politics and he has borrowed a page right out of the former president's campaign book to mount his own bid for the highest office in the land.
He's already running for the Democratic presidential nomination like Carter in 1976, early, with no apologies, and with such a commitment that he's been to Iowa seven times since the first of the year. Throw in just as many trips to New Hampshire, the site of the first presidential primary, and several visits to South Carolina and California, and you've got a serious contender in the running long before any of the other possible Democratic candidates have even filed official papers declaring their plans.
Dean, 53, did that on May 28, and since then he's been trying to enlist party activists to his side by promising an honest, plain-speaking campaign wrapped around two basic issues providing affordable health insurance to anyone in the country who needs it and reining in what he calls "the borrow and spend politics" of the Bush administration, which he says has already "cranked up the size of the deficit dramatically."
There are other issues, of course, that the six-term governor talks a lot about; the well-being of the nation's children, terrorism, what he calls Bush's nonexistent domestic policy, and what is fast becoming a Democratic Party campaign staple - corporate corruption and the how the administration is dealing with it.
But having been a practicing physician before he was elected lieutenant governor in 1986, it's health care and social issues that he is most concerned about, especially care of the young and old and making sure that the nation's skyrocketing health care costs don't end up bankrupting the country.
"I want healthcare or health insurance for every American. We need to do that, and that's one of my principal issues, if not the principal issue, in the campaign," Dean said in an interview.
But government accountability is also high on his list. Dean assumed the governorship in 1991 after the death of then-Gov. Richard Snelling. Now, as the longest-serving Democratic governor in the nation (Republican John Engler of Michigan has held his office for a few months longer), it has become the cornerstone of his administration, forcing him to make painful budget cuts when necessary and tax cuts when prudent.
His critics in the Democratic Party describe him as a fiscal conservative whose views on taxes and spending matters differ little from Republicans. But he has also been called the most liberal of the likely Democratic contenders in 2004 because of several programs enacted under his leadership. They include a health insurance plan for every Vermont child 18 and under and the Success by Six initiative, a state outreach program that helps new parents identify services available to them.
Dean believes that some of the healthcare programs he started in his small state can be implemented at the national level as well. But first he has to win.
"I'd like to be president," he says. "But if that's not going to happen, I'd like to make sure the next president will be committed to universal health insurance and balancing the budget...So I figure I'm in this race for two reasons: first of all because I intend to win and, secondly, because I think I can move the party and the country whether I win or not."