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What Went Wrong 

Inside Track

Published February 4, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.

Our favorite presidential hopeful appears to be in free fall this week. But Ho-Ho says he's not going down without a fight. The last report was the Fat Lady was still in the powder room.

Howard Dean, after stinging defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, followed by the surprise departure of his second campaign manager Joe Trippi, now says it'll be a delegate fight all the way to the Boston convention.

Wishful thinking, eh?

The fact is, the Dean team is in serious trouble. The departure of Trippi last week demoralized the faithful. His replacement by Roy Neel, an old Al Gore crony and Capitol Hill telephone lobbyist, depressed them. Neel represents a culture shock for the hardcore Deaniacs.

Unlike Ho-Ho's previous two campaign managers, Neel is reluctant to talk to Seven Days. He declined a request this week for an interview. Tied up in meetings Monday and Tuesday we're told. Could it be Ho-Ho didn't enjoy last week's Inside Track?

Unlike Mr. Neel, Sen. John Kerry's campaign manager was happy to chat with Seven Days. Assuming Dr. Dean is still standing March 2, he and Kerry will face off in the Vermont Presidential Primary.

"I always knew John Kerry had what it takes to be the nominee," said Mary Beth Cahill. "I think he's doing the work necessary to put together a coalition of Democrats."

Mary Beth is the Kerry Cat's second campaign manager. When she signed on, Dean was the prohibitive frontrunner. Her horse appeared to be lame.

How quickly things can change, eh?

Ms. Cahill attributes Kerry's recent surge to "his enormous personal fortitude."

We can only wonder what Roy Neel would attribute Ho-Ho's recent slide to.

One thing is clear: Spirits are not very high inside the South Burlington HQ where the new campaign manager on the block presides.

Would you believe that when Dean told the campaign staff last Wednesday about Neel coming on board, he actually had no idea Trippi was about to depart?

Great lines of communication, eh?

First, Ho-Ho met privately in a "long meeting" with 15 to 20 "senior advisors." Then the entire staff -- about 70 strong -- was called into the conference room. Dean delivered the news "in his typical short, blunt and effective way," we're told. Dean told the faithful he had $3 million in cash on hand and was $3 million in debt.

Since the real Ho-Ho is "Mr. Fiscal Responsibility," he promptly announced that paychecks would be deferred for two weeks. Since the last checks came out January 15, that went over like a lead balloon.

It appears, though, that Mr. Neel got the message. He announced this week paychecks in Dean Land will be just a couple days late.

Anyway, Trippi was "hanging out in the hall" when Dean was delivering the bad news. When Ho-Ho finished, Joe strolled in and said a few nice words about Neel joining the team. Then Trippi dropped the bombshell. He announced to everyone, including Dean, that he was history.

How did Howard Dean not see this coming? Who the hell's in charge, anyway?

Well, Kate O'Connor is in charge. She is the slender waif who's been hanging on Ho-Ho's sleeve for more than a decade. You see her hovering in all the campaign clips. Don't let her appearance, or her writing on the Dean blog about chocolate-chip cookies and other sweet things, fool you. She's tough as nails and you do not want to cross her.

As one longtime campaign staffer put it, "Kate O'Connor is both the Governor's most loyal and trusted aide and also his greatest liability."

Kate, said our campaign source, "injects herself into any and all areas of the campaign where she thinks she needs to."

The source described O'Connor as "a personnel disaster… Countless times she has blocked all information coming to and from Howard."

Another problem at HQ, we're told, has been the growing ranks of the "senior advisor" staff.

"We've got so many of these guys walking around," said our source, "that there's no clear structure on who's in charge of what."


Meanwhile, Dean continues to take the hits from the unfair national press. When the national media opened fire from all sides back in October, Dean simply didn't have a press operation strong enough and quick enough to beat back the bogus, half-truth assaults on his Vermont record.

Instead, all the shots hit paydirt, from the absurd story about Dean helping Enron to Dean getting secret information about banks he held stock in. And guess what?

More are coming.

Washington Post writer R. Jeffrey Smith was in town last week. Among others, he interviewed Attorney General Bill Sorrell, State Sen. Vince Illuzzi and yours truly. Sorrell told us he met with Smith last Thursday morning.

"I was halfway through breakfast," said Sorrell, "when my hatchet-job red flag went up pretty fast and pretty high."

Smith inquired about reports of Ho-Ho having "a bad temper." That's the dirt that UVM Political Science prof Garrison Nelson has dished on Dean for years. It's always amazed yours truly that Garrison could spot from afar what those of us who covered him closely missed.

Sorrell told Smith he served five years as Ho-Ho's senior cabinet official and not once witnessed the heralded Dean temper. Not once.

Smith also had thoroughly researched the battles of a decade ago between then State Auditor Ed Flanagan and Gov. Dean. He even had copies of this column from those days.

Smith is a veteran journalist who covered national security issues for the Post for 10 years. He's been to Bosnia and throughout the Middle East. But there's something about applying that experience to Vermont-size state politics that gives one a queasy feeling.

Smith and this writer spoke for an hour or more at the Statehouse Friday. Clearly he was en route to frying Dean's rump in the decade-old Ed Flanagan grease. The fact that Fast Eddie and Ho-Ho have since patched things up -- Flanagan has donated $1000 to Dean's campaign -- was not going to enter Mr. Smith's equation.

What else could one truly expect from a newspaper that's completely missed the last three years of corruption and lies in the White House? A newspaper that's such a self-promoting champion of the press as a government watchdog that it supported Bush's blank-check Iraq resolution?

We didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Mr. Smith shared with us his shocking discovery that Dr. Dean owned IBM stock while serving as governor!

Mr. Smith of the Washington Post said it with the steely-eyed look of a journalist who just won a Pulitzer.

Yours truly felt like we'd just met our first space alien.

Owned IBM stock, did he? Quick, the firing squad! Forget the fact that there's no law or rule against it.

Ah, but everyone knows Vermont is such a powerful force in the global economy that a governor of the powerful Green Mountains can easily manipulate the price of Big Blue's stock to his personal financial advantage, eh?

The fact is, if members of the Washington press corps had been half as vigilant -- heck, 10 percent as vigilant -- in their coverage of a certain former Texas governor and his outrageous behavior since moving into the White House, the profession of journalism would be more respected.

First the national media laughed at Dean. A Washington outsider, he didn't have a chance.

But Dean had a message that sold, and he flew to the top of the polls as the people-chosen opposition leader.

The national media was caught with their professional-journalism pants down.

They sure have gotten more than even, eh?

Support the Troops -- The cat's out of the bag this week. The mainstream media has finally accepted the fact that President George W. Bush lied to the American people about the reasons for going to war. It's not just the antiwar lefties anymore, folks.

Now everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows there was no evidence Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

No evidence he was linked to Osama bin Laden and his band of right-wing, al Qaeda religious fanatics who took down the World Trade Center.

No evidence Hussein's Iraq was an imminent threat to our freedom-loving country.

No evidence to justify our loss of personal freedom under the new Orwellian Patriot Act.

Instead, the evidence is we've got another liar in the White House. Unfortunately, the lies this time deal with a matter far more grave than fellatio outside of marriage. This president's lies, like those of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon before him, have directly caused the needless deaths of brave Americans in uniform.

All three presidents told us they sent our troops to war in order to protect us. In the 1960s we were told it was to protect us from the surging international tide of godless communism. They told us there was an infallible geographical "Domino Theory" in place.

If Ho Chi Minh's Viet Cong took South Vietnam, other dominoes like the Philippines would fall to the Commies. It would only be a matter of time before they'd hit the beaches of Southern California. Stopping them in the rice paddies of the Mekong delta was our only hope for survival.

President Bush has spun the exact same yarn, only the names and maps have been changed to protect the guilty.

Just like in the 1960s, the American media has played along, swallowing every single White House lie-hook, line and sinker.

At the moment, the only difference between Iraq and Vietnam is the scale. One wonders what magic number the U.S. death toll in Iraq must reach before it strikes a nerve in the American heartland?

One of the standard antiwar rally chants of the 1960s, we recall, was "End the War in Vietnam, Bring the Troops Home!"

Simple and direct.

After the bloodbath of 1968, in which about 15,000 U.S. soldiers came home in boxes, Vietnam veterans themselves started to join those peace marches by the thousands. They'd learned the hard way that saving Vietnam from the Vietnamese had no connection to the safety of the United States of America.

Governments lie.

Now it's deja vu all over again.

Time to really support the troops.

Obviously, one way is to speak out against the Bush administration's now-discredited policy that needlessly places our troops in harm's way so far from home. Maybe if enough citizens speak out, even a president who doesn't watch the news or read the papers might hear something?

Another way is to reach out and personally touch our troops one by one.

According to Lt. Veronica Saffo at the Vermont National Guard, Vermont soldiers in the current battle zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bosnia would dearly appreciate care packages from home. Shoebox-size would be perfect. It's a way to keep them in touch with reality. Include things like Tom's of Maine toothpaste, local newspapers, Lake Champlain Choc-olates, she said. And Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

And, Lt. Saffo pointed out, you won't be paying the postage to Baghdad. Local postage will do. The Army will make sure they swiftly reach their destinations.

Currently 60 Vermont Guard soldiers are in Afghanistan training the locals in mountain infantry skills. Another 10 are in Kuwait driving supply trucks. About 15 more are in Bosnia flying two helicopter air ambulances.

And 200 more are at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, undergoing final training before becoming military policeman in Iraq, the land of the roadside bomb.

And Seven Days has learned that the Guard's 86th armored brigade has been alerted of a possible call-up by summer.

Thanks, George.

In addition to Vermont Guard troops, Lt. Saffo said, care packages can also be mailed to Vermonters serving in the regular forces who are already stationed in the war zone. Give her a call at 338-3246. She'll be happy to provide details.

To presidents and kings, soldiers don't have faces and families. They're pawns in a mad chess game of power. Let's never forget their place in our Ver-mont family.

One doesn't have to support the war to support the warrior.

That's one we learned in the 1960s, too.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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