It's been a big week for our favorite presidential hopeful from Vermont. Howard Dean has been all over the tube and at the center of the storm.
There was a big candidates' debate before a labor forum in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday. On Sunday, Ho-Ho had 90 minutes all to himself as he add-ressed a "Hear It From the Heartland" gathering hosted by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. Both aired live on C-Span and were later repeated.
Ho-Ho hit all the right notes in perfect pitch. No grimacing gerbil this time. No reading from prepared remarks. Dean told Newsweek's Eleanor Clift last week that he'd been a little "grumpy" during the earlier Columbia, South Carolina, debate. We noticed.
The candidate who caught the spotlight opposing President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq hammered the president's post-war policy and warned the nation that Dubya's leading us into a depression. Dean cited the more than two million jobs lost since Bush took the White House, and he continued to trash the latest round of ridiculous tax cuts for the rich.
"The enormous tax cuts are not only undercutting Medicaid and Social Security, Mr. President. The enormous tax cuts that you have passed," said Dean, "are actually undercutting our ability to defend ourselves."
Dr. Dean told the Iowans and the national TV audience that Bush's War on Iraq was a "diversion" that had done nothing to advance our cause in the War on Terror. Last week's terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco proved his point. Hey, Pop Gun, where's Osama bin Laden?
"We have a president who talks tough on homeland security," said Ho-Ho, "but is strangling the cities and the towns and not giving them the money that is necessary to protect them."
Last week, 1200 people turned out in Seattle, Washington, to catch the Dean Show. The crowd was so big the fire marshals had to lock the doors. The candidate from Vermont had them jumping out of their seats. We watched on the Internet, which is rapidly turning into Dean Country.
We've caught enough Dean speeches of late to get the gist. His standard stump speech hits on the following notes:
First, using the famous Paul Wellstone line, Dr. Dean reminds everyone he wants to be the voice of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." That gets 'em cheering every time.
Interesting to note that Florida Sen. Bob Graham has a comeback for that one. As he did in South Carolina two weeks ago, Graham hit the Iowa audience with "I'm Bob Graham and I'm from the electable wing of the Democratic Party."
Ho-Ho was ready for him in Des Moines on Saturday. He quickly answered, "If we worry so much about electability that they can't tell the difference between the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party and the Republicans, then we're going to be in a lot of trouble in this party. We need to win this election by standing up for who we are and speaking our piece."
It's the core of Dean's message -- "The folks in Washington have made a fundamental mistake, thinking we can beat George Bush by being Bush-Lite. We need to stand up for what we believe. If you make me the Democratic nominee, I'll make you proud to be Demo-crats again!"
Next up on the Dean stump speech -- pocketbook issues. He reminds the audience that no Republican president has balanced a federal budget in 34 years. The point is, says Dean, "Republicans cannot manage money."
Coming from the lips of the son and grandson of Wall Street investment bankers, the line has legs.
"Can we afford another tax cut for people who make a million dollars a year on top of the largest deficit in the history of the country?" asks Dean. He labels the GOP a "borrow-and-spend party that uses Argentina as their fiscal model."
Next, Ho-Ho slides into the social agenda. Health care and the lack of universal coverage in America top his list.
"What we ought to be fighting about in Washington is health care for every single American. The British have it. The Germans have it. The Italians have it. The Canadians have it. The Israelis have it. The Irish have it. The Costa Ricans have it. The Japanese have it. I'd like to make the President of the United States explain to the people of this country why we can't have what all those countries have."
All it's going to take, notes Dean, is $88 billion -- a big number, but less than half of the latest Bush tax cut.
From health care, Dr. Dean moves seamlessly into highlighting the need for early childhood intervention. It's a mom-and-pop issue. He talks about the Ver-mont model. From kindergarten teachers can identify the five kids most likely to end up in jail 15 or 20 years later. Dean says that's the time to act.
"Prisons," he notes, "are the most expensive and least effective social-service intervention."
Good point, and audiences eat it up.
Next topic -- energy. Candidate Dean has become a champion of alternative energy. He talks about the Dutch getting 16 percent of their electricity from wind, and gets the audience whooping by telling them the Bush administration "believes oil is king, that it's better to drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge than put a windmill in Iowa."
Dr. Dean also wants mileage standards for SUVs and ethanol in America's gas tanks.
After the energy bit, he slows the tempo and gets serious about America's radically altered foreign policy.
"This president's foreign policy is not consistent with our values," says Dean. That line got a standing ovation in Seattle.
The Bush Doctrine of preventive war, warns Ho-Ho, "will come back and bite us one day." If Bush thinks we'll establish a democracy in Iraq and pull the troops out in 18 months, "He is smoking something he forgot about when he was a kid."
As he heads for a thunderous finale, Dr. Dean zeroes in on the man he intends to defeat in No-vember 2004: George Bush the Great Divider.
Dean highlights Bush's stand against affirmative action in the pending University of Michigan case and his support for Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum, as you recall, got in a little hot water for comparing homosexuality to bigamy and bestiality. Bush called Santorum an "inclusive" man.
"For him [Bush] to put his arm around Sen. Santorum and say he's an inclusive person is a pathetic catering to bigotry and hatred, and is not becoming of the President of the United States," Dean told the folks in Seattle.
For the close, Dean picks up the tempo as he displays a passion rarely witnessed in Vermont.
"I am tired of being divided by race. I'm tired of being divided by religion. I'm tired of being divided by gender. By income. By sexual orientation. We want our country back!"
Who'd a-thunk that our little governor, who had a well-earned reputation for being a lousy public speaker (based on his annual legislative addresses), would morph into one of the great American orators of the day?
Apparently, there is a time for every purpose. And Ho-Ho is certainly making the most of his. Two recent pieces of evidence prove just how seriously Candidate Dean is being taken. One was a full-frontal assault by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The other a pathetic cheap shot in Sunday's Boston Globe.
The DLC was founded after the 1988 race that saw Massachusetts' Michael Dukakis go down in flames to Bush I. They are "centrists" who think the old liberal path is no longer the road to victory. The DLC believes firmly in Bush-Lite.
Last week DLC Chairman Al From and President Bruce Reed released a memo trashing Howard Dean's candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"We are increasingly confident that President Bush can be beaten next year, but Dean is not the man to do it," Reed and From wrote.
The DLC leaders said Dean represented the "McGovern-Mondale wing of the party that lost 49 states in two elections and transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one."
Howard Dean a liberal?
Former State Sen. Cheryl Rivers (D-Windsor) just laughed when we ran that one by her. She battled nose-to-nose with Republican, er, sorry, Democratic Gov. Howard Dean through the 1990s. Rivers was a liberal and proud of it. Dean was a penny-pinching, Rocke-feller Republican masquerading as a Democrat.
The mere mention of Sen. Rivers' name during Dean's weekly press conferences would cause the governor to clench his hands, tighten his neck and stiffen his spine. That was Dean 1, the fiscal conservative.
Dean 2, the presidential candidate, is working in a very different arena with different demands. Revitalizing the limp and lifeless Democratic Party requires running to the left in the primary.
"Dean doesn't mince his words," said Ma Rivers. "I say we helped make the guy. He's a product of Vermont. We should be proud," said Dean's former nemesis. Ms. Rivers said she hadn't sent the Dean for America campaign a check yet, "but I'm thinking about it."
Getting attacked by the DLC's Bush-Lite team ignited Dean's supporters coast-to-coast and gave the Vermont candidate another great ride in the national press. U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords and President Bill Clinton rushed to his defense, providing useful reality checks. Thousands of angry emails were sent to DLC headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The other hit on Howard arrived in Sunday's Globe. The headline on Yvonne Abraham's story was "Dean Not Very Civil -- Some in Vt. Say."
The hook for the Globe story was a remark Dean made during his feud with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry a few weeks back. Kerry attacked Dean for suggesting the U.S. won't always be the dominant world military power. Through a campaign hit-man, Kerry suggested Dean was unfit to serve as president.
"I think the rules in Massachusetts for down-and-dirty politics are different than it is in many other states," Dean told The New York Times (which owns the Boston Globe.)
Hey, if you criticize the Commonwealth, the Boston Globe will get you for it. Ms. Abraham's joke of a news story cited three Vermonters to back up the point that Ho-Ho isn't a nice person. That he can be as nasty as any pol from the Bay State.
Deanbasher #1 was none other than our favorite UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson. "Gary, Gary, Gary" and yours truly go way back. And anybody who knows Garrison knows he despises Howard Dean. Always has and always will.
Back in the early 1980s, when Dean was a nobody and Garrison was a somebody, Dean made the mistake of not kissing Garrison's, uh, ring. Seeking his advice. Treating him like a political guru.
"Governor Dean has been one of the least civil people around," said Nelson to the Globe. "Howard Dean is not a Vermonter. He's from New York. He does not have a Vermont style, and he prides himself on that. He's less civil than previous Vermont politicans.''
Garrison must have Ho-Ho confused with Bernie Sanders, eh?
The next Vermonter to whack Dr. Dean was Skip Vallee, millionaire gasoline merchant and Vermont's Republican national committeeman. Gaso-line Vallee told the Globe the 2000 governor's race between Dean and his belle of the ball Ruth Dwyer was "the nastiest election cycle we ever saw."
Yeah, it was, Skip, but the nastiness was all coming from your side, remember? Why do you think your gal is known as Ruthless Ruth?
Deanbasher 3 was none other than Ruthless Ruth herself.
"In the Vermont tradition, it used to be people would stand for election. People knew who you were,'' Dwyer told the Globe. "Howard was from somewhere else; he came in and had a very professional organization.''
Ruth, by the way, came in from Ohio and New York. The Globe failed to mention that the sweet lady's harsh, right-wing views might have played a role in her two thumping defeats.
Perhaps the honchos at the Boston Globe think nobody in Vermont reads their fiction?
In Seattle last week, Ho-Ho asked the standing-room-only crowd for a show of hands. "How many of you have not been politically active before?"
Half the audience raised their hands.
"You see," said Dean, "that's why we're going to win!