Who does Howard Dean think he is? No disrespect to our idyllic neighbor across the river, but his state is small, uneventful and not terribly representative of American demographics. So who does he think he's fooling? He positions himself as an NRA-backed champion of states' rights, but don't worry -- he's no right-wing crusader! He soars to prominence through his opposition to the Iraq war, but don't worry -- he's no vigil-holding pacifist! Dr. Dean has eviscerated politics to the point that pundits don't even really know what they're looking at anymore.
In response, Republicans just flat-out ignore him, lumping the scrappy ex-Governor in with what they defensively view as a desperate and largely disgraceful cadre of candidates. Thank God, there's such a capable incumbent! No better off, many Democrats can't see far enough through the fog of self-aggrandizement to notice their barbs are only dragging each other down. Thank Gaia, Kucinich is still in it for the long haul! Meanwhile, with the seconds until Iowa and New Hampshire politicking away, Dean, the dark horseman of New Democratic revelation rises above the fray, soaring toward the Valhalla of positive press. Well, more accurately he's hosting a dinner party at an assisted living facility in Nashua. Nevertheless, Dean owes his current position to a superweapon as potent as it is trite: substance.
Agree with his specific-issue policies or not, Dean's people-powered Gestalt is, in and of itself, the ultimate trump card in today's game of political pinochle. With it, the good doctor is out to simultaneously smart bomb the current paradigm with a plan to rebuild it before the dust even settles. This ideological synthesis of Abbie Hoffman with Frank Lloyd Wright has begun to result in a sort of dealignment -- rather than re-centering the current voter base around a single-issue, Dean uses his fiery orations to demand all aspects of his country back and send his panicking opponents digging for dirt. One thing is true: luck and luxury mark not only Dr. Dean's upbringing but his current stance as well. As a governor, he's had impressive results, without the pesky hypocrisy of his Senatorial challengers and their ever-inconvenient voting records. Not to dismiss the other excellent campaigns, but really they're wasting all of our time. Their daily hot-off-the-press releases can only point to isolated semi-inconsistencies because Dean's overall message is simply unassailable. Will the governor of a minute, northern state be able to connect with all regions of the nation? Will he have the foresight to surround himself with brilliant advisers to help drive policy? He's already proven as much before the caucuses.
Moreover, Dean has validated the inclusion of little-"h" honesty (i.e. the kind that means something) in a campaign at all. He speaks off-the-cuff and as a result, stumbles as often as he is bone-chillingly awesome. "Whoa," you think to yourself, "this dude really cares." Dean is banking on this connection in more ways than one, as he treats people like they're actually rational and intelligent. We're not electing him, he implies, so much as we are voting for ourselves. He trusts his future constituents to run his local campaign branches, never interfering; yet never failing to lend a well-funded hand. In perhaps the first ever campaign that impacts America regardless of victory, Dean Corps organizes local community service projects, even here in Hanover. Political engagement may be the proud norm at Dartmouth (apathy is so pass), but in much of America, people are opening their minds and checkbooks for the first time in decades. Sure, Dean has his share of starry-eyed neophytes, but his campaign is founded on thinkers of a variety of views. Preposterous as it might seem, I actually agree with some of President Bush's policies -- even with the stated reasons for the war. That said, I will vote him out of office with great relish, mostly on account of how he's carried himself throughout all his decisions, good and bad. Our greatest leaders have succeeded historically by projecting their total aura above the sum of its parts, and this is how the Dean is going to join their ranks.
A future Dean Doctrine would be characterized by not only doing what's right, but having the moxie to do it with style. Rather than claim his favorite song is Springsteen's "No Surrender," Dean simply doesn't. As you read this, his campaign is aggressively spreading his message in Bush's hometown of Crawford, Texas, because it's not only about electoral votes -- it's about ideas. By posting a picture of himself eating a turkey sandwich on his weblog, Dean out-fundraised Vice President Cheney's $2,000-a-plate luncheon that very day, popping the bloated plutocracy in an effort to prove the Democrats have a more formidable contender than Mr. Generic. This kind of thinking stands in stark contrast to the general weather-the-storm strategy of the Democratic Party over the years. Old Guard Democrats, many of whom are current contenders, pride themselves on their legendary skill at treading water. They have been so busy trying to keep afloat their hallowed, and admittedly fantastic social programs of the New Deal and the Great Society that they have rarely, if ever, pushed for new ideas out of fear they would never gain favor. By not wanting to rock the boat, they have failed, as we have seen, to rock the vote. It should come as no surprise that people become disillusioned. Thankfully, Governor Dean has done more than anyone in recent memory to divorce cynicism from politics, explaining that the power to change the country is in our hands, not his. "When I get done with this campaign," he says, "I don't know if I'm going to win or lose, but everybody in America will know what I stood for." Luckily, we already do. So vote. Rock it if you prefer, but otherwise just mark it down. And vote for yourself. (Your name is Howard Dean.)