Dean named Democratic Party chief
Former presidential candidate rips Bush's plans for America
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took the helm of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, vowing, "Today will be the beginning of the re-emergence of the Democratic Party."
Dean, 56, won the chairmanship on a voice vote of the 447-member committee after six other candidates dropped out in recent weeks.
He immediately laid out his vision for rebuilding a party clobbered in recent elections, leaving it out of power in the White House, both chambers of Congress, and a majority of governorships.
"Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress.
"But the reason that we lost control is because we forgot why we were entrusted with that control in the first place," Dean said in his acceptance speech.
"The American people cannot afford to wait for 40 more years for us to put Washington back to work for them."
"It won't take us that long -- not if we stand up for what we believe in, organize at the local level, and recognize that strength does not come from the consultants down. It comes from the grass roots up."
Republicans, Dean said, "know the America they want, and...are not afraid to use any means to get there.
"But there is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of -- it is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe: fiscally responsible, socially progressive values for which Democrats have always stood and fought."
The former presidential contender, who appeared likely to win the party's nomination before his candidacy fizzled in early 2004, promised to work hard in areas in which the Democratic Party faces major uphill battles.
While avoiding the heated, emotional style of his infamous "scream" speech that contributed to his loss of the presidential nomination, Dean, in measured tones, lobbed heavy criticism at the GOP and President Bush's agenda.
Referring to Bush's 2006 budget, submitted this week, Dean said, "The Republicans introduced a $2.5 trillion budget that deliberately conceals the cost of their fiscal recklessness."
The budget, Dean said, "brings Enron-style accounting to the nation's capital and it demonstrates once again what all Americans are now beginning to see: you cannot trust Republicans with your money."
He lashed out at Bush's Social Security plan, which would allow people to place some money earmarked for Social Security into private investment accounts.
"We believe that a lifetime of work earns you a retirement of dignity," he said. "We will not let that be put at risk by leaders who continually invent false crises to justify policies that don't work, in this case borrowing from our children, shredding our social safety net in the process."
Despite his litany of criticisms, Dean said, "We cannot win if all we are is against the current president and his administration."
"The Republicans will not tell Americans what the Democratic agenda is. We will do that," he aid.
Dean described his party is a "big tent" that represents the young, the elders, veterans, members of the armed services, and all working Americans "desperate for a government that looks out for them."
Dean also vowed to work to help the Democratic Party build a reputation as strong on national security, saying, "There is no reason for Democrats to be defensive on national defense."
We cannot win if all we are is against the current president and his administration.
-- New DNC chief Howard Dean
Some Democrats are nervous that Dean, who has actively opposed the Iraq war from the start, will galvanize Republicans. But others see him as just what the party needs: an outspoken, courageous voice that does not bend to the winds of political change.
Dean has proven an ability to build widespread, grass roots support, particularly through the Internet.
Many Republican leaders have said they look forward to Dean leading the DNC. Many describe him as an angry, northern liberal -- a symbol of what many argue is "wrong" with the Democratic Party.
"I think if (Democrats) have a true death wish, he'd be the perfect guy to go with," former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich told Fox News last month.