Tuesday, December 9, 2003

They Don’t Know What to Make of Him

The punditocracy is in full tizz mode over Howard Dean. Witness Nick Kristof and his “Democrats-Can’t-Win” mantra last week, and now David Brooks today goes after Dean as the “mysterious stranger” who never seems to be all things to all people, which is a new version of the old rant against Clinton, Gore, and – lest we forget – Richard Nixon.

They’re all twitterpated because Howard Dean does not fit the mold of the cookie-cutter candidate for president they’ve gotten so used to – or think they’ve gotten used to. But for the life of me, I can’t recall a successful candidate in my lifetime who did fit into the Conventional Wisdom – the “mainstream.” Everyone runs as an “outsider.” Eisenhower had no elective office experience, JFK was a Roman Catholic, Nixon had all the warmth and charisma of a cross-eyed halibut, Jimmy Carter was a one-term governor, Ronald Reagan was an actor…you get the idea. They “weren’t supposed to win.” But they did. And they did it by fitting with the time in which they ran. JFK couldn’t win today; neither could Eisenhower, but they don’t belong in 2004.

Howard Dean, if anything, recognizes the times. He knows the country is restive and frightened and that what is needed is not more fear and division but energy and inclusion. If he comes across as angry, why not? Our budget surplus is gone, we’re in a war that we started – and Americans are dying almost every day to support the lie. Our stature around the world is at an all-time low, and we live in a nation of fear from within and without. And what does the president do? Cut taxes for the rich, get his cronies to redistrict states illegally to insure a Republican majority, screw over Medicare and the envrionment, and cut taxes again, all the while mangling the language to the point where every English teacher in the country wants to throw rocks at him.

So I guess the pundits had better get used to yet another “out of the mainstream” candidate. Howard Dean has started a fire, and, to shamelessly lift a line from John F. Kennedy, “the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”