Candidate Dean

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(Host) Howard Dean, we knew ya – or did we? Commentator Allen Gilbert enjoys having a box seat for a dynamic presidential campaign.

(Gilbert) We’re getting a chance to see, close-up, the making of a serious presidential candidate. It’s fascinating.

The candidate, of course, is our former governor, Howard Dean. In his campaign kick-off speech last month in Burlington, Dean was eloquent, committed, impassioned, principled, and direct. The enthusiasm of the crowd was palpable. Dean was able to communicate a sense of hope — hope that government can do good things, and that average citizens can make that happen. “You have the power,” he told the Burlington crowd over and over, to loud applause.

But I must admit that I’m scratching my head over Dean’s success. THIS is the Howard Dean we knew as our governor for nearly a dozen years?

I ask myself, THIS is the man whose campaign slogan one year was “Howard Dean — I just like him”?

THIS is the man who once said of the members of the Vermont Supreme Court, “Who do they think they are? God?” And who also said that most people charged with crimes are guilty?

THIS is the man who in the mid-1990s publicly criticized members of the state Environmental Board because the board had attached conditions to a permit for C&S Wholesale Grocers in Brattleboro — but then he lambasted Republican Senate members when they led a fight to dump some of the board members?

THIS is the man who gave tepid support to the nation’s most progressive education financing law, declaring it “good public policy but lousy politics”?

Dean himself advertises his changed stripes. At a fundraiser in Stowe this spring, he said, “The press thinks I’m a liberal. For better or worse, we know better.”

Political events slip away quickly in our memories, pushed aside by political realities.

I knew the tectonic plates of political memory had shifted when I recently heard a Dean conversion story. The person related how he had torn a “Howard Dean” bumper sticker off his car when, several years ago, Governor Dean declined to reappoint Robert Appel as defender general. Appel was a longtime, respected defender general. He did his job well — he and his office mounted many successful defenses of poor people charged with crimes. Appel’s dismissal stung Vermont liberals.

But now, several years later, the person who ripped the Governor Dean bumper sticker off his car confessed that he wants a “Howard Dean for President” bumper sticker. He’s rejoining Dean’s army.

One of the strongest traits of our character as Americans is to believe in transformations, in second chances. We believe in hope. But transformations sure can confuse things at times.

Of Howard Dean, we can say, We knew ya. But as I scratch my head bemused by Dean’s transformation, I’m thinking, We hardly knew ya.

I chuckle to myself and even feel a bit snookered by Dean’s chameleon tactics. But, well, that’s politics. I like what candidate Dean is saying. I wish him well as he runs for president. And, you’ve got to admit, this really is some show. And we’ve got box seats.

I’m Allen Gilbert.

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