Friday, May 2, 2008

Can we talk about Howard Dean for just a moment?

Remember when Howard Dean ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004? To many progressives, he seemed like a phenom, a physcian-politician, willing to speak truth to power by demanding that the Democratic Party push to the left. And then of course there was that fabulous fundraising machine he invented, being one of the first candidates to realize that the internet makes it easy to collect donations.

All well and good.
Dean withdraws: 2004

And Dr. Dean was looking to finish strong in Iowa in 2004. For a long time, this relatively unknown governor from a small state in New England had been way up in the Iowa polls.

Two days before the caucus, polls still showed Dean running strong, no longer a clear frontrunner but closely bunched with Senators Kerry and Edwards. These three were head of the Democratic pack at this point. (See T. McAuliffe, What A Party, p. 328).

Polls are not necessarily great indicators. That poll in Iowa certainly was not. Senator Kerry took roughly 37 per cent of the vote; Senator Edwards, just under 32 per cent; and Howard Dean, well, he did come in third, but with only 18 per cent of the vote.

Now that was a discouraging result. But Dean had plenty of money, and as we all know, a defeat in Iowa does not mean loss of the nomination.

How did Howard Dean handle the situation? He gave a concession speech. Ok, pretty normal under the circumstances. He said that despite the Iowa results he was heading on to other primaries. Still pretty normal. And then, as he was wrapping up his concession speech, Dr. Dean seemingly flipped out: letting loose with what has become known as the Dean Scream.

After that lovely moment, Dean went on to lose badly in New Hampshire, and then in Wisconsin. On February 19, 2004, not six weeks after Dean was projected to do well in Iowa he ended his campaign.

Talk about a flash in the pan.

This election cycle Dr. Dean seems to have fallen early for Senator Obama. In my view, Dr. Dean sees Senator Obama as his successor of sorts, somebody running as an outsider and raising a ton of money via the internet. And D.N.C. Chairman Dean's not-so-subtle support for Senator Obama has definitely helped Senator Obama remain competitive in the current contest for the nomination. So, Senator Obama's candidacy does not appear quite like the imploding star that Dr. Dean's was. Dr. Dean has succeeded in sustaining the primary season strength of the guy who reminds him of himself.

And so far, at least, Senator Obama has not let loose with any screams.

But just as Dr. Dean's reaction to his Iowa setback created the moment where he displayed the lack of political judgment and personal self-control that ended his chances, Senator Obama's reaction to the setbacks his campaign has suffered show a similar lack of judgment and self-control.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dean, who nobody ever thought was dumb, may have been quite right to see a lot of himself in Senator Obama. As voters and automatic delegates decide whether to have Senator Obama head up the Democratic Party ticket in November, I suggest they bear the Dean-Obama resemblances in mind.


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