HOUSTON -- After years of government deregulation of energy markets, telecommunications, the airlines, and other major industries, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is proposing a significant reversal: a comprehensive "reregulation" of US businesses.
The former Vermont governor said he would reverse the trend toward deregulation pursued by recent presidents -- including, in some respects, Bill Clinton -- to help restore faith in scandal-plagued US corporations and better protect US workers.
In an interview around midnight Monday on his campaign plane with a small group of reporters, Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his "reregulation" campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out "reregulating" the telecommunications industry, too.
He also said a Dean administration would mandate new workers' standards, a much broader right to unionize and new "transparency" requirements for corporations that go beyond the recently enacted Oxley-Sarbanes law.
"In order to make capitalism work for ordinary human beings, you have to have regulation," Dean said.
In a speech here last night, one mile from the Enron headquarters, Dean sought to place this idea into a new and broader campaign context: a "new social contract for the 21st century" to restore public trust in corporations, national leaders, and US military might. Dean blamed President Bush for eroding the public's faith in these institutions with his policies over the past three years.
"At Enron, those at the top enriched themselves by deceiving everyone else and robbing ordinary people of the future they'd earned," Dean said. "The Bush administration is following their lead."
Dean has excited core Democratic voters with a relentless assault on corporations and the rich, and he is moving quickly to stake a position as the candidate with the boldest plans for tempering the influence and power of US businesses. If the economy continues to rebound, Democratic strategists say, Dean's proposal may offer a way for the party to frame the debate over jobs, income, and fairness.
Dean said that "reregulation" is a key tool for restoring trust. In doing so, he drew a sharp distinction with Bush, an outspoken advocate of free markets.
Dean also continued his clear break from Clinton's "New Democrat" philosophy of trying to appease both business and workers with centrist policies. Earlier in the campaign, Dean reversed his prior support for Clinton's free-trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, and China.
Virtually all Democratic candidates are making the fight against corporate influence a centerpiece of their campaigns. Every Democratic presidential candidate save Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut has come out strongly in opposition to the GOP deals on energy and Medicare, and criticized them as gifts to big Republican corporate campaign contributors. Yet Dean appears to getting the most traction on this front.