The Current Crisis

The Paranoid Style

Next to conspiracists like Dick Durbin, Howard Dean looks sentient.

By 6.16.05

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WASHINGTON -- The American media, whether consciously or unconsciously, believe in the "winning side." Always their journalists find themselves on it. The facts of almost every story matter only ephemerally. What matters most is that the whole bovine community of scribes ends up on the winning side.

Perhaps in the aftermath of the Michael Jackson trial you have noticed how the journalists have retreated from the pandemic sneer they had adopted toward Jackson when his case went to the jury. The sneer has been replaced with general sympathy for the nincompoop. Of a sudden he is the wronged celeb; and yes, the journalists admit, the media were among the many forces that wronged "Michael." Once again these journalists have found the winning side.

Then there is the case of Dr. Howard Dean. Have you noticed the growing consternation amongst Democrats and members of the media that the new chairman of the Democratic Party is "a problem"? The "feistiness" that won him admiration en route to the 2004 Iowa caucus is now causing such Democrats as Senator Joe Biden and former Senator John Edwards to "distance" themselves from him. As things appear to me in this news cycle, the journalists are instinctively moving to the consensus that the winning side is going to be sayanora Dr. Dean. If he bows out, the media will again be vindicated. Once again their journalists somehow sensed that they knew best.

The line will be that this wild man lost touch with his party whose members are not in sympathy with calling Republicans "brain dead," "corrupt," "evil," "liars" who never did an "honest day's work" in their lives. Yet has he really lost touch with his party? Are there many activists or even party leaders who disagree with his contemptuous description of Republicans? Not long ago the most popular of the likely candidates for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, the newly-moderate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, described the Bush Administration as "intent on abusing power, destroying the United States Senate and undermining our Constitution." She has had several such outbursts of late.

I actually know Dr. Dean quite well. Throughout the 1990s and into the Twenty-First Century I did a weekly television show with him, a PBS show out of Montreal called "The Editors." He was cocky and combative, but never inordinately so. Nor was he a political extremist. He was what is traditionally called a "Democratic regular." Perplexed that this seemingly moderate Democrat is about to be booted by the media from the winning side, I recently called fellow panel members on the show and they agreed with my estimate. One said that there was always a "strain of extreme grabby language about the other team" that would spill out of Dean's mouth. He might accuse panelists, usually me, of intoning "right-wing tripe" or "right-wing extremism," but within the bounds of acceptable discourse and never overdone. Said my fellow panelist, "the spirit and the heart of 'The Editors' was lively but thoughtful, the best of public conversation."

Dr. Howard Dean would not have been invited back if he were obnoxious. Admittedly I find his vituperation today obnoxious, but knowing Dean I can tell you it is not a sign that he is a wild man. He is a skilled politician talking to his party's activists, and this "raw meat" is just what his activists want. The term "raw meat" was Spiro Agnew's for his rhetorical flourishes that pleased the Republican activists of the late 1960s.

The activists are by nature excitable and actually in need of excitement. Dean understands them. So on behalf of my colleagues who served with Dr. Dean on "The Editors," lay off Dr. Dean. He is not a nut. The paranoiacs in the Democratic Party are those who talk of a "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy," to a general audience of American television watchers. They are the Democratic leaders who accuse journalists of playing "into the service of the right wing," as Democratic minority leader Richard Durbin recently did when he chastised the press for reporting Dr. Dean's outbursts. Senator Durbin went on, "I think we understand what's happening with you all [the journalists]. The right wing has got the agenda moving? You've bought into it. You can't let up on it. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

Now that is another example of what in American history is called The Paranoid Style. It seems to afflict many leaders of the Democratic Party, first the Clintons, now Senator Durbin. By comparison with them, Dr. Dean is a perfectly sensible chairman of his party.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.