Christians in Vermont aren’t surprised Howard Dean wields the word “Christian” as a curse not a compliment. They have long chuckled over the mainstream media’s lazy acceptance of Dean’s self-description as a moderate willing to make overtures to the religious. That’s not the Howard Dean they recall.
On a Vermont radio talk show, Dean once referred to pro-lifers in the state as common criminals whom he didn’t care to meet, and would demonize conservative Christians as “haters” while choking on his own hate. Dean, who oversaw abortions as an executive board member for Planned Parenthood New England, had no use for Christians in Vermont except those of the most secularized sort.
Dean, desperate to recast his image during last year’s primary, did ruminate on the life of Jesus Christ in an interview with People. But this only added to the gallows humor of Vermont Christians, who note that his fidelity to Episcopalianism turned on a bike path dispute.
Dean has been on a postmodernist slope for some time, from baptized Catholic to Episcopalian (until the Episcopalians wouldn’t go along with his bike path) to Methodist to now de facto secularist.
I asked Steve Cable, president of Vermont’s Center for American Cultural Renewal, about Dean’s “White Christian” outburst. No surprise there, says Cable. “I have the distinct privilege of being called much worse than that. He called me an asinine, despicable coward and an embarrassment to Vermont, and oodles of others things, like being a hater, and on and on it went,” he says. Cable says Dean, whom he describes as a bully who turns coward once confronted, turned “ashen white” when Cable met him accidentally at the Vermont Capitol.
“He has a contempt for any kind of transcendent truth,” says Cable. “We ran an ad [against his same-sex civil unions bill] in all the papers in Vermont and he went nuts and wouldn’t answer our questions. We found out after all this occurred that he had been making promises to gay activists for 11 years before civil unions happened…He was always a radical but a smart one.”
Cable noticed an “innate animus” against not just Christians but anybody who would question his secularist assumptions. His disdain for traditional religion would seep out in various gaffes, but because the Vermont press corps was in his pocket the gaffes never did him any real damage.
For example, Dean thought nothing of dismissing religious wedding ceremonies as “hocus pocus.” In a 2003 interview with Vermont public radio, he said, while discussing his own marriage, “Judy is Jewish and I’m Methodist and I did not want to go through all that hocus pocus to get married in a church. So we got married by a justice of the peace.”
When Christian pastors opposed his same-sex civil unions bill, Dean didn’t mind bullying and pulling secularist rank on them. “I think they need to watch out about their tax-exempt status,” he said in an attempt to neutralize what he called their “politicking.”
Vermont political observer James Dwinell remembers how quickly Dean would resort to crude caricatures of his religious opponents as reactionaries who wanted to go back to the days when “raw sewage was running down hills.”
To Trudy Erhard, who employed Howard Dean as a dishwasher at the Golden Horn restaurant in Aspen, Colorado, when he was a ski bum avoiding Vietnam (this was before she moved to Vermont and opened the Golden Horn East), Dean is a radical who never grew up. “He was a complete and total loser, and it is coming out more and more,” she says. “He was crazy like all the kids in the late 1960s,” she says. “I’m not surprised at the screaming.”
After the Democrats lost “values voters” to George Bush, Dean and Nancy Pelosi, among others, made a great deal of noise about the party’s renewed outreach to Christians and other believers. This charade didn’t even last a year. Journalists who were planning to help Dean with this con job are now very disappointed in him. He has gone and made explicit what they hoped would remain hidden, that the Democratic party is no place for the religious. As Vermonters expected, Dean is back on the bike path against Christianity.