Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who was briefly the Democratic frontrunner for president in 2004, gave an address to the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, and it was one of the better-received speeches of the night. After imploring those watching to make Hillary Clinton president, Dean reprised his famous Iowa speech from 2004, when he rattled off the swing states that Clinton needs to win. He either left off the “Yea!” at the end, or backed away from the microphone before delivering it.

The speech crystalized something important: that while his name isn't mentioned all that often, Howard Dean is a tremendously important and influential figure in the Democratic politics of the past 15 years, and that he deserves to be recognized as such.

The Dean narrative

Here’s the media narrative that was pushed about Dean around the 2004 cycle: He was the unknown insurgent candidate, supported by a mob of hippies and bloggers who had these weird things called “meet-ups” in various cities. As the only major candidate in that Democratic race who opposed the war in Iraq, Dean was probably too left-wing to have any hope of winning, and would soon fall to one of the establishment candidates, like John Kerry, Richard Gephardt or Joe Lieberman. This was proven true, the story goes, when Dean finished third in the Iowa caucuses; the “Dean Scream” speech was the final nail in his coffin.

I admit that I fell for the media spin, and was a Dean skeptic myself at the time.

The truth about Howard

The truth is, Howard Dean was a candidate well ahead of his time. Howard Dean opposed the war in Iraq when most major Democrats, Hillary Clinton included, did not. He launched a web-enabled, grass-roots liberal movement that formed the model for those later used by Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders- in part by channeling liberal energy of youth that had gone untapped for a long time.

Furthermore, Dean’s campaign had already peaked long before Iowa, and the “scream” had little to do with his ultimate loss.But that's only part of the Dean story:After the 2004 campaign, Dean took over as chairman of the Democratic National Committeein early 2005, stepped up fundraising and instituted a “50-state strategy.”

In his term the Democrats recaptured both houses of Congress in 2006, followed by Obama’s presidential victory in 2008.

Once he departed, under his successor Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s stewardship, the Democrats suffered Congressional blowouts in 2010 and 2014, not to mention the recent hacking scandal.Howard Dean is likely finished with electoral politics; 2004, after all, is the last time he ran for anything. But in this year of liberal insurgency associated with Bernie Sanders, it’s time to recognize the importance of that other liberal politician from Vermont.

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