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Nominee Dean
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Forty-Five
by Brian S. Wise
9 December 2003Howard Dean

Howard Dean is 10 to 12 weeks away from wrapping up his party's nomination.  Then what?

Earlier this year I decided to dedicate one column, 750 words, to each of the nine (then ten, then nine) Democrats running for president.  The effort got as far as Howard Dean in July, when it was suggested that Dean “will not emerge from the process his party’s nominee, but he will come out a recognized leader of his party at a time when it will need more prominent leaders.  This allows him approximately four years to polish the act, at which time he will almost assuredly run a better campaign on his behalf, but ultimately a most powerful campaign as Senator Clinton’s vice-presidential nominee.”
Or not.  The series slowed down when the race started to get interesting (well, as interesting as it could be more than a year in advance), and in the interim Governor Dean has mobilized an internet support base even more impressive, in terms of numbers, donations and sheer fervor, than existed during the summer (if you can believe it); being that the Iowa caucus is basically a effort-driven popularity contest, it will take only the motivation of that base to allow Dean to win the event.  As for New Hampshire, Dean’s lead has widened to such a degree over John Kerry that opinion polls are becoming more and more irrelevant.  By the time voting concludes in South Carolina, Dean’s forward momentum may be too much for any other Democrat to withstand.  It would take a monumental, Gary Hart-like failing – far and beyond even the Confederate flag thing and the “Bush had foreknowledge of 9/11” nonsense – to trip him.  He would have the nomination sewn up. 
Then what?
Then the fun begins.  Because Howard Dean is a lot of things, even a lot of positive things: A great motivator for those with similar impulses and spirits, a fairly straight talker, a revolutionary fundraiser (for himself and now for other Democrats, as well).  But it’s one thing to bring together the Move On crowd, who seem to be perpetually amped and wired; it’s something altogether to convince a majority of Democrats (who, with Ralph Nader as evidence, seem more likely than Republicans to consider a third party candidate), a large percentage of undecided voters / moderates and more than a few Republicans that your message, of untested national ideas and theories, will work better on its first or second try than the guy people are more familiar with.
“But Bill Clinton did it.”  Sure, but Bill Clinton was many things Howard Dean isn’t: affable, imminently approachable, an expert spin artist and a remarkably accomplished liar (more than the average politician, I mean); at the end of the day, Clinton was a politician who stood along among his generation, whether we like it or not.  No part of Dean remotely suggests he is, or with coaching can become, a tenth of what Clinton was at the height of his seduction, which is why Republicans are so willing to cede him the nomination before even Iowa.  (The new National Review pleads, “PLEASE Nominate This Man.”)

Which is why referring to Dean as another “Teflon candidate” carries so little intellectual weight.  He’s certainly making odd mistakes in judgment that don’t seem to stick to him – e.g., the aforementioned Confederate flag and 9/11 incidents – but so far none of them have come in forums large enough (i.e., where enough people other than policy wonks and media types are watching) for real, justified hell to be raised.  There’s a huge difference between what is said in Iowa or New Hampshire in September 2003 and what can safely be said on national television next summer (at his convention, for example).  Let Dean run his Confederate rap there and in the general election he’ll be stomped like a hippie at Altamont.

And that could be what hurts him the most.  Howard Dean is a man of some temperament; no matter how he tries to deny it, anyone studying his face at moments of direct opposition can see he’s valiantly fighting to keep his composure.  Those are the sorts of problems that will eliminate themselves as the field narrows, and in terms of the people he needn’t see them for anymore than an hour at a time, if that’s what it takes.  But more than any other candidate, Dean is much more likely to say something dumb when forcibly backed into an ideological corner.  (Including Al Sharpton, whose sillier utterances are at least scripted and rehearsed.)  Which makes the next eleven months very, very interesting.

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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