BURLINGTON, Vt. — Five hundred miles away from the White House, in the same city where he announced his campaign for president more than a decade ago, Howard Dean is convinced he could still run the show in Washington.
Dean, the liberal, anti-Wall Street former governor of Vermont, isn't so sure he should be the one to do it in 2016 — you have to "have real fire" to run for president, especially twice, he says — but, with mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton and amid demand for a candidate to her left, he isn't ruling anything out.
"You never say never," Dean said in a recent interview at a Burlington coffee shop. After all, he noted, at a party this summer celebrating his presidential campaign's 10-year anniversary, there was a feeling in the room that he should do it all over again.
"Of course people were trying to convince me," Dean said. "We'll see. As I say, you never say never in politics."
Dean added quickly that Clinton would make "a terrific president." But he also suggested her window for the gig may have closed. "My own view is that you rarely go back a generation. We've passed that generation onto Obama's generation," Dean said, who is a year younger than Clinton. "It's unusual to go back. It's only happened once in my political lifetime, which is with Carter to Reagan."
Dean hadn't read the article in the New Republic that sparked runaway speculation earlier this month about a possible Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign — headline: "Hillary's Nightmare" — but he argued that Clinton, already the presumed front-runner, will face a primary challenge from the left.
"She's definitely going to have a primary. Who's going to let an open seat pass by?" Dean said, but denied he had any interest in being that candidate.
Who might? Dean named Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who made a well-received speech at a New Hampshire Democratic Party dinner last week and told reporters in August that he has been mulling a bid for the White House.
"I've already met with him about this," Dean said of O'Malley. "I think he wanted to know what [running for president] was like. He's a serious guy."
And Warren? "I think she'd be terrific," he said.
Dean, who splits his time advising a Washington law firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge, with part-time teaching at three universities, doesn't sound like a man who's done with politics. He told the website Political Wire last week that he'd "give anything to be in the White House" to "kick some serious butt over fixing" the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which has been plagued for weeks by major website glitches and complaints of cancelled plans.
"We need to make this work," Dean said. "They ought to get all those Obama people out there and start calling people who lost their insurance policies and start signing them up for this."
Asked if that's what he'd be doing were he in the White House, Dean said, "You're damn right. I'd have 10,000 kids volunteering to make these phone calls."
Dean argued that Organizing for Action, the nonprofit founded to organize support for the president's policy initiatives, should be taking a more active lead in helping to implement Obamacare. "That's the whole point. Why have it if they can't do anything," he said. "They cannot use OFA for getting people to vote for immigration — calling your nut-job congressman is not gonna move 'em an iota, because they're all in safe districts — but it could work for something like this."
The former Democratic National Committee chair also accused a swath of Democrats in the House of Representatives — the 39 members who voted last week for a bill that would allow people to keep their health insurance plans, overriding the recent wave of cancellations — of what he called the "old panicked Democrats syndrome."
"They're just afraid. It's all short term," he said. "Somebody's got to grab the bull by the horns and say, 'Look, behave yourself. I don't care if we go down to 10% in our favorability ratings. We've got to get this done.'"
"These Democrats are screwed no matter what happens," Dean added. "It doesn't matter how they vote on the bill. The only thing that's gonna save the Democratic Party right now is to have Obamacare work. We've got about till March to do that. And I think we will do that. But we've got to stop all this pussyfooting around and agonizing and just get the goddamn thing done."
But for Dean, the underlying foe in this recent panic over Obamacare is the media, what he called the "third failed institution" behind Congress and Wall Street. "It drives me crazy," he said, arguing that more and more opinion and punditry makes its way into the pages of the country's biggest newspapers.
Dean said he manages his own account Twitter, where he only follows about 60 people — mostly friends — and often blocks people to keep himself from getting too worked up. "I cut people off on the left not just on the right. And I'm victimized by the Twitchies," he said, referring to the conservative website that curates tweets and often attacks members of the media. "And I've also realized there's a Twitchy on the left. Max Blumenthal is a Twitchy."
For now, though, it seems Dean is set on observing Washington from the outside.
"Once you've run for president, you realize how unbelievably difficult it is. You have to have the fire, knowing what you're facing," he said. "And plus, I've had a very enjoyable time in the last 10 years if you can believe it."