Political Hay

Misunderestimate Dean?

The DNC's new chairman remains a scream no one can hear.

By 2.27.05

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The talking heads' leitmotif of the moment is the admonition that Republicans should not "misunderestimate" newly crowned DNC Chairman Howard Dean. "Say what you want about the former governor of Vermont, but there really is nobody on the liberal landscape that approaches his effectiveness in rousing the rabble," writes Noel Sheppard in ChronWatch. "Say what you want about Gov. Dean, he's an organizer," added Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Leave aside for a moment the fact that "say what you want about..." is political speak for, "look, I know the guy is a jackass, but..." "Misunderestimating" Dean would be impossible. He is a clown. Less than one month in office, he has already provided a lifetime worth of copy for right-of-center bloggers and interested journalists.

Take, for example, Dean's remarks at a DNC event with members of the party's African-American caucus. Dean, who wanted to be the presidential candidate for "guys with Confederate flags in their pickups," looked around the room and asked whether anyone thought the Republican National Committee could get so many minorities together in one place. "Only if they had the hotel staff in there," Dr. Dean said, answering his own question.

The new chairman then engaged in a foreign policy debate with neo-con Richard Perle in Portland, Oregon. At first Dean requested a media blackout. "DNC Chair Howard Dean has declared a news blackout of his appearance and requested the media not quote, record, and/or paraphrase his remarks," event coordinator Gabrielle Williams wrote in an e-mail sent to news agencies that morning. "We apologize for the late notice, but we were just informed of this request." Minutes later (minutes!) the erratic Dean opened the event up to the press. He was right the first time. Seconds into the debate, a spectator (presumably a Dean supporter) was hauled away by security screaming, "Liar! Liar! Liar!" Powerless against the neo-con conspiracy, the protester eventually threw his shoe at Mr. Perle.

And over a year later, we're still talking about the notorious scream. Last week Washington and Lee University professor Edward Wasserman wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald in which he attempts to argue the "Dean Scream" clip was a media "fraud."

Last year, a young cable news producer attended one of our twice-yearly Ethics Institutes at Washington and Lee University, in which students and journalists gather to discuss newsroom wrongdoing. He brought two clips.

The first was the familiar pool footage of Dean in Iowa. The candidate filled the screen, no supporters were visible. Crowd noise was silenced by the microphone he held, which deadened ambient sounds. You saw only him and heard only his inexplicable screaming.

The second clip was the same speech taped by a supporter on the floor of the hall. The difference was stunning. The place was packed. The noise was deafening. Dean was on the podium, but you couldn't hear him. The roar from his supporters was drowning him out.

Dean was no longer scary, unhinged, volcanic, over the top. He was like the coach of a would-be championship NCAA football team at a pre-game rally, trying to be heard over a gym full of determined, wildly enthusiastic fans. I saw energy, not lunacy.

Um, yes ... It requires a red-faced, spittle-spewing recitation of all fifty states to declare over an angry throng, "we came in third, we'll try to do better in New Hampshire." What Wasserman and, for that matter, everyone neglects to point out when flagellating the media for the "Dean scream" is that the Dean campaign melted down before the scream; specifically when the angry little man from Vermont shouted down a poor dirt farmer in Iowa and declared, "George Bush is not my neighbor!"

WE ARE, OF COURSE, reminded daily that Howard Dean was once endorsed by the NRA. But did you know he's also a "fiscal conservative"? Well okay, not really. But that's the talking point du jour, and the mainstream press has been rather uncritical in reporting it. Unfortunately, for Dr. Dean the facts get in the way.

The town of Killington, Vermont, has actually voted to secede from the Green Mountain State and has asked New Hampshire to annex them. Why? Because of a wildly liberal property tax scheme called Act 60, which was principally implemented by Howard Dean. Act 60 is a "rob Peter to pay Paul's property taxes" Robin Hood scheme that got socialist novelist John Irving to deride Dean's plan as "socialist."

Let's consider some real fiscally conservative Governors. Arnold? Rick Perry? Jeb Bush? Even Bill Richardson? Not one of these guys -- Republican or Democrat -- has a town in his state that is trying to secede because of a confiscatory tax structure.

Let me say this again: a town in Vermont is trying to secede because the tax structure implemented chiefly by Howard Dean is "socialist" and unfair.

When Dean ran for President of the United States, he took his economic liberalism to the national stage. Dean proposed repealing President Bush's tax cuts. All of them. Dean, in effect, ran under the promise to raise taxes on every living man, woman and child (and even dead men, women and children.) I don't care if your name is Lynndie England, you cannot torture the definition of "fiscal conservative" enough to include higher taxes on everyone in America.

On the spending side of the ledger, Dean again fails any serious test of "fiscal conservatism." According to the National Taxpayers Union, candidate Dean's economic plan would have increased annual federal outlays by $222.9 billion. Dean's not a spending cutter, either.

Ah, but occasionally pundits will confuse "fiscally conservative" with that overused, utterly meaningless phrase "fiscally responsible." "Fiscally responsible" is that modifier which is generally applied to various deficit-reduction packages that successfully hike taxes on people, but never seem to erase deficits. Anywho, is Dean "fiscally responsible"? No. The same NTU study says Dean's plan would have ballooned the budget deficit, primarily on the back of his ill-conceived socialized healthcare scheme.

The strategy now appears to be to distance Howard Dean from the press. David Freddoso pointed out in National Review Online last week that Howard Dean was behaving like a "stealth chairman."

Dean's handlers have done everything humanly possible to keep him away from reporters' questions. At the DNC winter meeting where he was elected chairman, Dean was shuttled out the back door from a "meet the candidates" session ten minutes before reporters were to be allowed entry. He disappeared from his own victory party that Saturday night at Capitol City Brewing Co. after his brief speech, in the first 15 minutes.

Based on a review of transcripts, his last television interview appears to have been a full month ago -- with George Stephanopoulos on January 23 -- before his victory as chairman had become inevitable. At the same time as RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman is interviewing with Judy Woodruff almost every week on CNN, Dean tried to block media coverage of his Portland, Ore. debate on Iraq against Pentagon adviser Richard Perle. Dean's DNC seems intent on outdoing the Bush White House in media discipline.

Instead of working the media, Dean kicked off his much-ballyhooed tour of "Red America." But the tour got off to an unfortunate start for the chairman. In Kansas, Democrat Governor Kathleen Sebelius made sure she was all booked up and unable to meet with him. Dean was reduced to begging yokels to do more to help the cause. "I'm asking you to run for the school board, I'm asking you to run for the city council, I'm asking you to run for library trustee." Pity the poor rural Kansan when the Dean-inspired Democrat candidate for dog catcher busts out into a chimerical conspiracy theory about the neo-cons at the next community candidate forum.

I remind you. Dean has been the Chairman of the Democrat National Committee for two weeks. It's going to be a fun four years.

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About the Author

Patrick Hynes is an account executive with the consulting firm Marsh Copsey + Scott and the proprietor of the websites www.passionforfairness.com and www.crushkerry.com.