The Blog

Here Comes Trouble

Howard Dean and Michael Moore join forces for an unforgettable afternoon of Bush-bashing and intra-party scheming. Forget Bush--can John Kerry survive these guys?

2:15 AM, Jul 28, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Boston

AT LEAST ROBERT BOROSAGE is honest with his audience. A thousand people have packed the grand ballroom at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, and the event organizers tell me the line outside of those who couldn't get in stretches for nearly a mile. The crowd has gathered for a "Take Back America" rally put on by the Campaign for America's Future.

The rally promises appearances by Howard Dean and Michael Moore, so you can see why the audience would groan when Borosage, a co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, opens by saying, "We've all been told in our instructions not to do any Bush bashing." Not to worry: The doctor is in.

When we last left Howard Dean, he was a shell of his former self. Shellacked by both John Edwards and John Kerry in the Democratic primaries, the man who had spent 18 months scaring the bejesus out of establishment Democrats had become a national laughingstock, thanks to his Iowa meltdown.

For months, Dean abandoned the red-faced, vein-popping histrionics which had won him a modest national following and became kinder, gentler, and creepier. With a strange smile grafted onto his face, and his eyebrows arched in perpetual fake amusement, he went from resembling Randy Savage to looking like the Joker. Maybe it was exhaustion or depression or just bad advice, but whatever the case, Dean wasn't himself.

Today, the good Dean is back; establishment Democrats should start worrying again.

Dean 3.1 has a new message: Getting progressives to run for office. His idea is that if progressives start running for school boards and town councils and dogcatcher, then eventually Democrats will have an organization that rivals Republicans. Dean himself is now actively involved in this crusade, announcing that he's been trying to help one progressive get elected to her library council. "I think the library is pretty important," he says, especially since we have "an administration where they like book burning better than reading books!"

YEAAARRRGHHA!

He returns to some of his old themes, attacking Fox News, claiming that America is "less safe" after capturing Saddam Hussein, and insisting that progressives need to contest the South, since eventually Southerners will stop voting on "guns, God, and gays."

But Dean stays away from specifics. "I'm not going to stand by making speeches about policies," he explains. "Because right now, for the next three and a half months, we've got to talk about politics." And not just Kerry-Edwards politics, mind you. Progressives need to "put our hearts and soul not just into the Kerry-Edwards campaign." John Kerry, he notes, "is only part of the solution."

You'll be unsurprised to learn that Howard Dean has the rest of the solution, which involves progressives--his people--entering races for elective office at all levels.

Dean claims that getting his army into office will eventually hurt Republicans, but before they can do that, of course, they'll have to wrest control of the Democratic party from more centrist, establishment politicians like--well, just to pick a name--John Kerry.

Having failed to take over the Democratic party with a frontal assault, Howard Dean is now trying a Trojan horse.

LIKE A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, Michael Moore never arrives on time. On Monday, Moore kept a gaggle of Veterans for Peace waiting at the North End for nearly an hour. Today, when it's his turn to speak following Howard Dean at Take Back America, he's nowhere to be seen. Roger Hickey, another co-director of the Campaign for America's Freedom, comes to the stage to stall. He calms the crowd by announcing that "Michael Moore is on his way!" but then begins shuffling the day's program, moving up later speakers to fill the gap.

Instead of Moore, we get speeches from John Wilson of the National Education Association, Carl Pope of the Sierra Club, and Robert Reich, the former secretary of Labor. In between speakers we're given little updates on Moore's whereabouts.

Almost an hour and half later, Hickey announces that "Michael Moore is in the house!" A cheer goes up. Hickey then gives Moore a long and generous introduction, which is followed by a great roar from the crowd. The ovation lasts a minute, then two minutes, and then begins to subside, with no sign of Moore. "Keep it going!" Hickey implores. Sensing that they may have committed a faux pas, the crowd redoubles its effort and continues clapping, adding a chant of "Mi-chael! Mi-chael!" The chant speeds up and then dissipates, while the applause lingers and people in the audience begin looking at one another uncomfortably. After a few minutes, the cheering dwindles, before ceasing altogether.