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Interesting Howard Dean article


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I think a Dean-Bush matchup would make for a colorful, entertaining election at the very least. Might be a blowout, though, which is an attractive prospect for me. :D


The son of a patrician Republican, he comes from a long line of investment bankers. At Yale, he was deep into beer, not politics, and later quit drinking altogether because he couldn't handle alcohol. People think he's arrogant, and spoiled, and he doesn't like to be crossed -- especially by reporters. He knows how to raise money, but tends to be underestimated. The Democratic establishment is afraid of him, but he relishes that fact.

NO I'M NOT talking about George Walker Bush (Yale '68), son of George Herbert Walker Bush. I'm talking about the man he could face in the fall of 2004, Howard Brush Dean III (Yale '71), son of the late Howard Brush Dean Jr.

This feels like Groundhog Day: Here I am writing about Howard Dean again for about the sixth time (in Newsweek or here on the Web) this year. But there is a valid reason: The guy is and will remain a central character -- perhaps the central character -- in the Democratic presidential campaign of 2004.

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. The theory goes that he is a frontrunner now, and that, as such, he will be whacked like a pinata and that all manner of pink-wrapped liberal candy will fall out and voters will recoil in horror. At least that's what the spinners are saying.

But that ignores a central fact: Democratic primary voters, not the guys at The Palm, pick the nominee, and the voters may actually like the fact that Dean opposed the war in Iraq and campaigned in support of court-ordered "civil unions" in Vermont. And it ignores the fact that on virtually every other issue Dean isn't so much a flaming liberal as he is a flame-retardant moderate. Yes, were he the nominee, Dean might lose -- big time -- to Bush. But primary voters don't think in those terms; at least I don't sense that they will in '04. They are mad as hell and want someone to embody their anger.

The greater risk to Dean, it seems to me, is that he will react badly -- very badly -- to all the attention. He says he is pre-disastered, 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 -- not to mention Karl Rove in the Bible Belt, if it comes to that.

And Dean is a prickly sort, whose sense of humor (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here) isn't the soothing surface-level sort that lubricates the life of politics. When challenged -- let alone made fun of -- he can go blank or gets angry. No one likes to joke at their own expense, unless they tell it on themselves. Dean doesn't even seem to like that. Can he lighten up? We'll see.

Another risk Dean faces is that, in our Web-surfing, broadband society, he may simply become old news -- and an old story. I know that his savvy campaign managers are aware of this problem. They know they need to start "unpacking" the Dean story before others do it for them -- or before everyone gets bored. The model, of course, is J.K. Rowling. We're watching Harry Potter grow up before our eyes. Dean is going to have to do the same thing to keep us interested.

In the past, insurgents have hit the big time just as the voting starts in Iowa and New Hampshire. Indeed, they were made by the notoriety they achieved in those events. Dean has reached that point a full half-year earlier in the cycle than did past insurgents such as George McGovern, Gary Hart or (on the GOP side) Pat Buchanan.

As voters/surfers/readers take a closer look at Dean, they will discover how similar, in many ways, he and Bush are. It's as though we're headed for a campus-wide election at Yale in the late '60s, with a soundtrack by, say, Neil Young and the Drifters. (Don't forget: John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are '60s-era Yalies, too, and that Dick Cheney was one for two years, before flunking out.)

When I saw Dean in Minneapolis he alluded to this theme. "Actually," he said, "George Bush and I have one thing in common. We're both short." Talk about low blows! (Dean isn't diminutive but he is at best 5'8; Bush is about 5'10 but is one of those people who is a little shorter in real life than you expect him to be.)Here's my not necessarily complete little list of other similarities:

LINEAGE: Investment banking is in their blood, big time, going back several generations; both have roots in the old-line suburbs of New York (Bush in Fairfield County, Conn., Dean on the North Shore of Long Island. Both families were patrician Republican and, in many ways, remain so. Both went to prep school. At the time, Dean's (St. George's) actually was socially tonier than the more meritocratic Andover.

NO NAM: Bush somehow got into the Air National Guard so that he could protect the air space over Houston; Dean got a 1Y classification for a fused vertebrae -- though the infirmity didn't prevent him from spending the year after Yale skiing like a banshee down the slopes of Aspen.

BEER: Dean wasn't a frat guy but that didn't stop him from drinking, big time, by his own testimony and that of his friends. Both men acknowledge that they couldn't modulate their consumption, and that those difficulties forced them to quit -- Dean in 1981 (when he got married), Bush in 1986 (when he turned 40 and dad was getting ready to run for president).

ENERGY: Both men radiate an intense hum of impatient energy, which alcohol may have once calmed -- energy now focused on winning races.

WRITING NEW MONEY RULES: Bush tapped the banquet-room circuit as no one else before him had done, and then boldly eschewed public financing in the GOP primaries; Dean has perfected a whole new route of money raising on the Internet.

COMBATIVENESS: Neither suffers fools or feels the pain of opponents who get in their way. They both seem to believe in the value of a good knockdown pitch.

ARROGANCE: Both these guys seem to think that it is somehow their God-given right to run things. It's the result of everything else you can say about them.

TENDENCY TO BE UNDERESTIMATED: This one speaks for itself.

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