Howard Dean ought to have been happy with his fifteen minutes of fame.
During the diminutive former Governor of Vermont's mercurial rise to the top of the news cycle throughout the 2004 Democratic presidential primary -- and his equally sudden fall into buffoonery -- Dean easily affixed his immortality on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card. Unsatisfied though, Dean ran for chairman of a defeated, demoralized and directionless Democratic National Committee. And won. Today marks the completion of his first 100 days in office. It's a natural integer at which to take stock of his performance.
Unfortunately for Dean it's a big leap from 15 minutes to 100 days. While Dean approached the job of chairman like a 747 through a doggie door, some high-level Democrat governors have so far dangled him at arm's length like a soiled diaper. Arizona's Janet Napolitano, Kansas's Katherine Sebelius, Tennessee's Phil Bredesen, blue governors in red states all, have cited the always convenient "scheduling conflict" when the chairman has swung into their respective towns. Virginia's Democratic Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine, who would like to be governor of the conservative Old Dominion, has also recoiled from Dean.
Dean is not without his fans, of course. An April Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey shows Dean indeed has a gaggle of enthusiasts. But they can't really be called "mainstream" in any strict sense of that term. Eighty-two percent of self-described Dean activists also describe themselves as liberal; 99% opposed the war in Iraq; 91% favor gay marriage; and half "never" or "rarely" attend church. But an open question remains as to whether or not this audience is large enough to win a national election.
No job description of "national chairman" could exclude the responsibility of raising the money necessary to mount a respectable performance in 2006. Here again, though, Dean has fallen short. Way short. During the first quarter of 2005, Dean's Democrat National Committee raised $16.7 million. In contrast, Ken Mehlman's Republican National Committee raked in $32.3 million, nearly twice the amount. Indeed, the Republicans nearly matched Dean's three-month take in one night: May 17, on which the GOP raised $15 million.
Asked about this on Meet the Press on May 22, Dean pretended it was no big deal. "Well, that's -- I think that's fine. You know, Republicans have always been better at raising money than we have," he said. But Dean wasn't being honest. For example, during the 2004 election the Democratic National Committee raised and spent more money in its losing effort than did the GOP.
These first 100 days have been characterized largely by Dean's quixotic foray into "moral values" territory. The reader will recall that nearly a quarter of all American voters cited "moral values" as the primary motive behind their vote in 2004 and that this subgroup split its votes in favor of President George W. Bush over Senator John Kerry 82% to 18%.
Overnight, 2004's Dr. Dean, who castigated voters for caring about "God, guns, and gays," transubstantiated into 2005's Rev. Dr. Dean, the Bible-quoting crusader for the rights of the poor. But casual observers might be forgiven for believing Dean is speaking in tongues. Here's the Right Reverend on Meet the Press on May 22:
"I don't think we ought to give a whole lot of lectures to people -- I think the Bible says something to the effect that be careful when you talk about the shortcomings of somebody else when you haven't removed the moat from your own eye."
Well, something like that, anyway.
At an early-March fundraising dinner in Mississippi, Rev. Dean expounded, "Jesus said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven." It was an odd homily coming from Dean, who appeared to condemn himself and his whole family to an eternity of teeth gnashing and flesh tearing, for Dean grew up in Manhattan's tony Upper West Side and vacationed at the Hamptons as a boy.
At the same dinner, the Rev. Dean preached, "You should love thy neighbor. I didn't notice that in the Republican platform." This was a peculiar tirade for the Chairman of the Democratic Party because the Democratic platform doesn't contain that language, either. Moreover, Dean has a history of rejecting that little pearl, as when he berated a simple farmer in Iowa named Dale Ungerer on January 11, 2004:
Ungerer: Please tone down the garbage, the mean mouthing, the tearing down of your neighbor and being so pompous. You should help your neighbor and not tear him down.
Dean: George Bush is not my neighbor!
Ungerer: Yes, he is...
Dean: You sit down. You've had your say and now I'm going to have my say.
Moreover, just when the Left thought it had the Religious Right on the run over the perceived political overreach regarding the tragedy of Ms. Terri Schiavo, Dean pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.
"We're going to use Terri Schiavo later on," Dean told a homosexual group in West Hollywood in mid-April. "This is going to be an issue in 2006, and it's going to be an issue in 2008. Because we're going to have an ad with a picture of Tom DeLay saying, 'Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not? Or is that going to be up to your loved ones?'"
Dean's 100 days could be a googol of days and Republicans could try cruelly to save the lives of a million disabled women, but he won't win moral value hearts and minds with talk like that.
There have been other verbal calumnies that cannot be correctly identified as "gaffes" because they were not mistakes and are completely consistent with other samples of unvarnished Deanism. Dean recently stated House Majority Leader Tom DeLay should "go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence." And yet as a presidential candidate Dean had this to say about terror master Osama bin Laden:
"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found. I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials."
It should be noted that Tom DeLay has not been convicted of -- or even charged with -- anything while Osama bin Laden boasts from his secret hideout of murdering 3,000 innocent Americans.
Dean has called Republicans "corrupt" and "brain dead" and has implied they are "evil." He endorsed a socialist for U.S. Senate in Vermont. He put on an improvisational comedy routine in which he pretended to be Rush Limbaugh snorting cocaine. He called black Republicans "hotel staff." He declared, "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for." He called Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) a "liar." And he said Republicans -- all Republicans, not just the office holders -- "are mean, they are not nice people."
Whether you call him doctor, Governor, Chairman, or reverend, Howard Dean is an absolute scream.
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