Vermont and the Real Dean

by Andrew Hanauer | 3/4/04 6:00am

The voters of the Democratic presidential primaries consist of three groups of people: those who really know Howard Dean, those who know Howard Dean through the media and those who want you to know the Howard Dean of their creation.

Those who know Howard Dean the best sent him to a resounding victory in his home state on Tuesday, despite the fact that he dropped out of the race two weeks earlier. In Vermont, exit polls revealed that Dean won men, women, white people, white people (it's Vermont, after all), young people, old people, poor people, rich people, college graduates, non-college graduates, union households, Democrats, independents, liberals, moderates, Protestants, Catholics, atheists, supporters of free trade, opponents of free trade, the suburbs, small towns and rural areas.

Those who know Howard Dean through what they've learned from television know only half-truths and innuendos. They know Dean seems angry, and that he went crazy after he lost Iowa. They don't know that every major television station has apologized for their coverage of the Iowa speech. They know Dean is too liberal. They don't know that Dean was a centrist governor and a fiscal conservative. They know Kerry seems more electable. They don't know that Kerry's poll numbers will never be higher than they are now. The one thing they do know is that they want, in the words of Howard Dean, to "give George Bush a one-way bus ticket back to Crawford, Texas."

Then there is group number three.

Back in December, when the media, the GOP, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry were figuring out new and inventive ways to brutalize Dean, a conservative group known as the Club For Growth ran a particularly memorable advertisement in Iowa. The ad featured an elderly "Iowan" couple reading the newspaper and commenting thoughtfully that they felt that "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont -- where it belongs."

When I first heard about this ad, I wondered if it was true. So I forwarded the quotation to a close friend of mine who grew up in Vermont. The results? She reads The New York Times and has one body piercing. She likes movies, but wasn't sure if that counted as "Hollywood-loving." She dislikes sushi and lattes, drives a Ford, has never expanded government herself and can't remember the last time she raised somebody's taxes. All in all, two out of eight.

Freak Show? Hardly.

And Vermonters decided to send the Club for Growth a message on Tuesday:

There is nothing weird or absurd about providing health insurance to children. When Dr. Dean left office, 96 percent of all Vermont children had health insurance, and 99 percent were eligible.

There is nothing weird or absurd about fiscal sanity. George Bush is racking up record deficits in Washington, proving that he is not actually conservative; we already knew he wasn't compassionate. But Dean balanced the budget 11 years in a row, even though Vermont is the only state in the country that does not require such action.

There is nothing weird or absurd about investing in small children and their families. Dean oversaw a program in which every new Vermont mother is visited in the hospital by a social worker. Each mother is asked if she would like a home visit, and 91 percent say yes. They get job training skills, parenting skills, nutritional information and programs to keep fathers interested in their children in the case of single mothers. Under that freak show manager Dean, the child abuse rate dropped 43 percent, and the child sexual abuse rate dropped 70 percent.

Many decades ago, a hard-fought Senate race in Florida ended in victory for the challenger. Rumor has it that when asked why he thought he won, the victor declared: "I think everybody who knows my opponent voted for me, and everybody who knows me voted for my opponent. I think the poor son of a bitch just knew more people."

Sadly, not enough people knew Howard Dean.

But the people who really know him spoke with clarity on Tuesday night.

"Thank you," they said.