updated 6/2/2005 1:10:33 PM ET 2005-06-02T17:10:33

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean told liberal activists Thursday they have an extraordinary opportunity to provide an alternative to the country after more than four years of the “dark, difficult and dishonest vision the Republican Party offers for America.”

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Dean told the annual meeting of the Campaign for America’s Future that a big problem facing the country is “the belief that propaganda and manipulation will succeed in America. I think it will not.”

The gathering at a Washington hotel was described by leaders as the “largest gathering of progressives since the November election.” Speakers said the Bush administration and GOP power in Washington were the greatest unifying force for Democrats and liberal activists in many years.

The Democratic chairman said Republicans already have control of the White House and Congress and are now trying to seize control of the judiciary. He was referring to the struggle in the Senate over conservative judicial nominees that have drawn unified Democratic opposition.

“I always thought an independent judiciary was important for a strong democracy,” Dean said. “This administration is beginning to erode the core of democracy.”

Republican response
“Howard Dean’s diatribe today illustrates that the Democrat Party not only lacks leadership but is overflowing with anger,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt. “Dean’s priority is to generate mudslinging headlines rather than engage in substantive debate.”

Dean told the activists that it was important for Democrats to outline what they would do if they were in charge and not just criticize the Bush administration.

He called for making pensions portable so they could be taken from one job to the next, while criticizing Bush for his efforts to create private accounts for Social Security while the private pension system is being poorly funded. He was referring to a new government report out this week that says the underfunding of pension plans grew from $39 billion in 2000 to more than $450 billion by September 2004.

“What does he think ordinary Americans live on after they reach 65 years old?” Dean said.

The chairman also called for changes to election laws, making Election Day a holiday or moving it from Tuesday and making it easier for everyone to vote.

He said he supports establishing a law “that says you cannot use a voting machine unless it can be recounted by hand.” That line brought the longest sustained applause of the day, reflecting lingering bitterness after reports of voting problems in the close 2004 election.

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