Laughing at Dean
The media think Howard Dean is done. So do some New Hampshire Democrats.
9:40 AM, Jan 22, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
Manchester, New Hampshire
Anyhow, as I say, I was standing there in that YMCA, reminding my friends that November was a long ways off, and the American political landscape remained closely divided, and Democrats were united against Bush, and things could get even stickier in Iraq, and Howard Dean was a mighty talented and canny guy, and whatnot--so, sure, I still thought he could get himself elected. I got all the way to the end of this spiel and nobody started laughing at me. But when I was done, I couldn't help noticing that several unquestionably distinguished pillars of American journalism--among the most politically sophisticated people in the world--were looking at me like I'd just admitted I was a heroin addict or something.
Which wouldn't always dissuade me, necessarily. I've been known to dig in my heels about such stuff. And I've tried to do it this time, too. But it just won't work. I'm ready to surrender.
SO, OKAY, NO: Howard Dean cannot beat George W. Bush in a head-to-head general-election match-up for the White House. What's more, Howard Dean will not get a chance to lose that race, because he cannot win his party's nomination in the first place. Not any more; Dean's blown it. As a matter of fact, if I had to bet, I'd say it's likely Dean will finish fourth in the primary here on Tuesday, behind John Kerry and then, in some order, John Edwards and Wes Clark. That's how badly Dean's blown it.
Back when I was hypothetically campaigning for him at the Des Moines YMCA, Dean was running 25 points ahead of Kerry in the New Hampshire tracking polls. In last night's telephone surveys--results that won't be fully reflected in publicly distributed tallies until sometime this weekend, since the tracking polls are tabulated as 48- or 72-hour averages--Dean was running 5 to 10 points behind Kerry. That's a 30-plus-point swing in two and a half weeks. There's never been a New Hampshire primary-poll avalanche even remotely like the speed and scope of this one--except perhaps what happened to Bill Clinton after the Gennifer Flowers business in 1992. But Gennifer Flowers was survivable; Clinton could claim the story was a lie, that he was being smeared. How is Howard Dean going to pull off a trick like that in the present instance? Videotape's been broadcast all over the country showing a contorted-faced Dean hollering his way through a list of states and then whooping like a deranged homeless person. A vast right-wing conspiracy? I don't think so.
THAT YMCA POW-WOW I've already mentioned involved press-table chatter before a speech by Senator John Edwards. Last night I heard him deliver an almost word-for-word rendition of the same speech, his current standard stumper, to a packed house at a local V.F.W. post about an hour east of here in Portsmouth. I don't go for this speech, myself, because it's mythopoetic, fairytale crudity practically from start to finish--"I say NO to children going to bed hungry!"--and I know that Edwards knows as much, because he's as smart as they come, but he goes ahead and does it anyway, Mr. Pappy-Was-A-Millworker populist, which seems to me an expression of contempt for his audiences. Trouble is--for me, I suppose, certainly not for Edwards--that his audiences unfailingly eat it up.