In honor of Howard Dean, perhaps John Edwards will slip another line into his "two Americas" stump speech. It would go something like this, "In so many ways, we still live in two Americas. There is one America for politicians who can fail and fail again, and continue to be celebrated in the media, while ordinary Americans are forced to actually succeed before being showered with praise."
After a third place finish in Wisconsin last night, Dean is a 17-time loser and a zero-time winner, but the press continues to be almost as fixated on the former governor of Vermont as he is on himself. Six weeks after his spectacular crash and burn, one of the major questions posed to panels on all the cable networks last night was, "What happened to Dean?" as if his irrelevancy as a candidate was news. Despite his complete record of failure, Howie continues to get credit from pundits for having run a "brilliant" campaign, even if those same pundits are placing their money on Kerry now
Of course, it's a different kind of "brilliant" than is used in common parlance, and it must have been in play only until votes were cast. His performance since people started voting -- not winning a single state, blowing through $40 million, exploding like an unattended pressure cooker on primary night in Iowa -- has not been stellar.
Recently, the Dean campaign has gotten downright pathological. Two weeks ago, Howie called Wisconsin a "must win" state, and said he would bow out should he lose there. On primary day, far behind in the polls, he seemed offended that anyone might expect him to keep that promise.
"I think the campaign obituaries that some of you are writing are a little bit misplaced," he scolded reporters at during one campaign stop. Later in the day Dean became even bolder. "This isn't done yet," he said. "I'm in this to win. We have more delegates to the convention that anybody else except John Kerry, and we think we can overhaul him in the Super Tuesday primaries."
Someone should ask Dean exactly what he means by "we." All signs from the campaign indicate an exodus of staffers Wednesday morning, and Dean himself has no set schedule beyond Tuesday night.
LAST NIGHT ON Hardball, Chris Matthews brought out former Dean campaign manager/guru Joe Trippi, gushing that he had "changed everything" in political campaigning by utilizing the Internet for fundraising and grassroots organizing. Trippi, forced out in the wake of debacles in New Hampshire and Iowa, was unemployed less than a week before being snatched up as a political analyst for MSNBC. Instead of sifting precinct returns, Trippi spent the night spinning who the "real" winners and losers were in Wisconsin and handicapping the race for us poor saps at home.
Predictably, he never strayed very far from the tired line that Dean had remade the Democrats and brought "millions" of new people into the party. Strangely, no one on the Hardball panel bothered asking Trippi why the Democrats fled from Dean for the much more moderate Kerry. Or why the "millions" of new voters haven't been much help to Dean.
Or -- to be more pointed -- what brilliant insight he, as the campaign manager who presided over one of the most dramatic campaign implosions in primary history, can be expected to deliver. Trippi, like his former boss, remains as much a celebrity as he was two months ago when the Dean Machine was thought to be unstoppable.
It is simple to see why the media continue to be fascinated by Dean. For reporters following him around, he provides controversy, which makes for good copy. No reporter in his right mind would prefer to follow Kerry around for the next eight months, and just try to envision the boredom of a Kerry presidency would generate. It's absolutely chilling.
ALSO, THE UPSETS in Iowa and New Hampshire made this race look like it would be much more exciting than it's become. Few expected Kerry's early wins would translate into such a commanding lead. But it has, and even fewer people still speak of a deadlocked convention. But imagine how much fun it would have been to watch those fisticuffs and you'll get some idea why we ink-stained wretches are still so drawn to the idea of a Dean candidacy.
But, alas, future presidential candidates will not study the Dean campaign in order to try and re-create its magic. They will bone up on it to avoid its failings. It will become a parable, a joy-killing warning to every presidential hopeful riding high in the polls, or swimming in cash, or endorsed by everybody and his brother: This all could disappear at any moment.
Now if only Howard Dean could find the good sense to the same. There are worse fates than accepting the voters' verdict and riding off into that cool Vermont sunset.
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