Howard Dean remembered: Lunacy or legacy?
Howard Dean, we hardly knew ye.
Well, that's not true. In fact, by the end, we probably knew Howard Dean a bit too well. His allure grew early because no one knew who this vociferous governor from Vermont was, but he was against the war in Iraq when all the other candidates had voted for it. He was a choice, not an echo. He was the mysterious and surprisingly attractive woman sitting alone at the end of the bar that the other patrons whispered about over their beers. Who was she? Where was she from? Occasionally a brave soul would stroll over-buy ya a drink ma'am? YEEEAAAAGGHHHH!
Okay, that's probably a bit overboard. But only two candidates really had the ability to remake their images during the campaign-Dean and Clark. Although Kerry tried, and is still trying, he has a voting record that goes with spending many years in the Senate. Dean as governor, however, didn't have that voting record to be dragged forth with accusations of hypocrisy, especially with the bulk of it locked away for ten years in a Vermont courthouse.
The only other candidate who had the option of making a new image for himself was General Clark, but he managed to sound hypocritical even without a voting record. There was something unsettling about him swallowing every Democratic issue hook, line, and sinker, be it on the conduct of the war-which he had praised at Republican dinners, or on abortion, which he believes should have absolutely no limits ever. Life begins with the choice of the mother. Even Kerry can concede that the issue makes him uncomfortable as a Roman Catholic. Clark's lack of subtlety was the result of not actually having policies of his own and it showed.
There was also something bizarre about seeing the former NATO Supreme Commander of Allied Forces flipping pancakes in a hole-in-the-wall diner in no-name New Hampshire.
But Howard Dean did fine on the policy front. He really only had two gaffes. A tape from four years ago showed up with him decrying the Iowa caucus as a veritable whore-house of special interests. He was right, but this occurred right before that pivotal state made its decision for Kerry. Secondly, Dean mangled the religion issue, jumping on the Jesus-wagon when criticism of his ability to compete in the South started. His real problems, though, lay in appearance.
Television is a famously cool medium, and bulging neck arteries running from the shirt collar up the back of the ears just didn't play all that well. To Dean's credit, however, it wasn't entirely his fault. Americans are notoriously schizophrenic about candidates. We want presidents to be Superman and everyman. We want passionate and engaged and fiery and inspirational, but if you let loose just one maniacal scream...
Dean will be known in election history as the candidate who mobilized the internet. The problem is that those voters were the ideologues - the true supporters not necessarily of Democrats in general, but of Howard Dean himself. They knew and loved his fiery nature and supported him for it. No one's excited about Kerry. He's the oatmeal raisin cookie of Democratic candidates-people don't mind him, but generally speaking we all wanted chocolate chip. What remains to be seen is if he can rally an "Anybody But Bush" coalition of the willing and disaffected. It must be said though that Dean never botoxed his personality the way Kerry did those ravines on his forehead. There's something to say for that. Cynics will argue that the only thing to say for that is, "He lost," but that's not the whole story.
In 1964 Barry Goldwater ran for the Republican Party against Lyndon Johnson. He was fearlessly outspoken and is often credited with jumpstarting the modern conservative movement which Ronald Reagan came to lead 16 years later. In 1964, however, he got whomped. His campaign slogan was "In your heart you know he's right," and the Democratic response was "In your head you know he might," referring to use of nuclear weapons. Whatever people knew in their hearts or heads, only 39% voted for him.
Is Dean a Goldwater - a man who fearlessly blazes a path while daring the party to follow? It'll depend on how Kerry stacks up in November (yes, I am presuming his nomination). If Kerry bombs, then in 2008 there will be pressure for the Democrats to run left, to run an angry, fiery candidate willing to call down the Furies on the establishment that kept the party out of power for so long. Should he win, however, the attitude will be different. Looking back on the Dean boom Democrats will chuckle happily from the White House and say, rather unfairly, about Dean what a few had said all along: "In our guts we know he's nuts."
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