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Defending Dean

Crank Call


Published July 9, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

The last time I saw Howard Dean in the flesh -- don't be frightened, kids, it's just an expression -- was at a small ceremony in the Burlington High School library, where a room devoted to the study of women's history had just been dedicated. I was there because, as a student at BHS back in the dark ages, I'd written a memorably gigantic term paper about Anastasia Romanoff, the woman-in-history who became the subject of my first book, Anastasia. Dean was there because -- well, I don't know why Dean was there. It was June 2002 and he was still marking time in his last term as governor. On his way out the door, he stopped to shake my hand.

"Hi," he said. "I'm Howard Dean. You probably don't remember me."

Forgiving the cliche, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Not remember Howard Dean? Not only had I met him before, but my sister, photographer Gillian Randall, used to tell him, "Howard, stick your chin out!" whenever she took his picture. It's a command she gives everybody when she does portraits, but I suppose Howard had no way of knowing that. This was before he got a better tailor and stopped wearing shirts with collars two sizes too small.

Anyway, challenged to "remember" the governor of Vermont, I stammered something stupid by way of reply. "Oh, I think I do," I said, or, maybe, "What? Are you kidding?" Then, quick as a flash, I put two and two together. "You're running for president, aren't you?" I asked. Wink wink, nudge nudge!

At this, the look in Dean's eye became half-bewildered and half-noncommittal, the total amounting to a perfect cipher. He seemed wooden and awkward, as though cut out of cardboard, and I thought to myself, "Well, he'll fit right in. Wouldn't want a bona fide entity running for president!" Then I didn't think about it at all anymore.

Now, judging by the disdainful reaction of the national media to Dr. Dean's wondrous ascendancy in the Democratic presidential contest, it appears that no one else thought about it, either. The condescension with which the braying pundits and talking hairdos of this sick and twisted land -- the same unstoppable blowhards who insist that George W. Bush is a "great wartime leader" -- has been rubbing me the wrong way, which is just Howard's good luck. I wasn't born in Vermont, but I've been here longer than he has and I'm feeling chauvinistic.

"Dean has come so far so fast that the serio-comic question inside the Beltway right now is whether this formerly obscure insurgent has insurged too fast," writes Howard Fineman, no doubt serio-comically, in the current issue of Newsweek. "The theory goes that he is a frontrunner now, and that, as such, he will be whacked like a piñata."

Pardon me, but this is no "theory." It's the current crusade of the Fourth Estate, now wholly owned by corporate interests and as determined to crush the Dean campaign as it was to put -- and keep -- Ding-Dong in power. "The fact is," says the Los Angeles Times, "'the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,' as [Dean] likes to call it, is an aberration, a modern-day version of the old McGovern wing of the party, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist interest-group liberalism at home."

Take that, upstart! Or listen to CNN's Judy Woodruff, the phoniest thing in journalism since Diane Sawyer, who seems to have developed an extra set of adenoids just to register her contempt for Dean and his supporters.

"Howard Dean has jolted the Democratic race," Woodruff declares, shaking her dyed and varnished locks, "but just how much and for just how long?" This bimbo ought to be at home baking cookies, but, alas for democracy, she isn't. Neither is Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager, who calls Howard Dean the "Flavor of the Month."

"It's amazing," says Brazile about Dean's undoubted progress, "but I don't know if it's transferable into delegate support." Why anyone still listens to this brainless wonder is a secret known only to the Delphic oracle and the Democratic Leadership Council, which persists in asserting that the Demo-cratic Party needs to "move to the center" while ignoring the fact that "the center" is now somewhere to the right of Marie Antoinette.

"The people who are attracted to the Dean campaign are precisely the kinds of grassroots activists that the Democratic Party needs to get involved (or re-involved) in politics," an outraged reader responds in the LA Times. "We are the rank and file. We are ordinary Americans... who have been energized by the willingness of Howard Dean to do what the DLC and the Democratic leaders in Washington have been so unwilling to do: match George W. Bush word for word, and call every lie he tells a lie." And if the Democratic leadership doesn't wake up, it belongs in the political sewer it's dug for itself since Dubya came to power.

"Dean says he is pre-disastered," Fineman goes on, "that he was hardened by the vicious attacks directed at him in Vermont in 2000, when he was defending the 'civil union' legislation. But having some yahoo call you names at a parade is a little different from what the national 'oppo' guys may have in mind."

Some yahoo? Pray, Mr. Fineman, who would that be? Not a Texan, surely, some jackass cowpoke and locker-room towel-snapper taunting the world to "Bring 'em on!" If Dean does nothing more than rally the rabble to the "Dump Bush" banner, he'll have done his country an enormous service. And if he wins the election and turns out to be nothing but hot air, he'll have proved the essential point -- that "We, the People," when aroused, can get rid of presidents any old time.