Imagining the BBC’s take on Dean

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(Host) With Howard Dean the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, it begins to look more and more likely that Vermonters will soon experience what Massachusetts went through in 1988: seeing themselves and the place they live caricatured by the global media. Commentator Philip Baruth imagines a broadcast by the BBC World Service, searching for the source of Dean’s legendary anger.

(Baruth, impersonating a BBC news reader)
You’re listening to the BBC World Service. It’s now just 10:30 GMT, and we turn to the American Presidential race. One-time Vermont Governor Howard Dean has been mounting a tour-de-force campaign, but questions about his volatile temper continue to dog his operation. For a look at the origins of Howard Dean’s anger, we turn to the BBC’s man in the States, Nigel Niwilliger:

(Baruth, as Niwilliger) Howard Dean has the most money, the highest poll numbers, and an army of Internet warriors – but critics charge that beneath his sunny smile and rolled shirt-sleeves lies…a simmering cauldron of anger. We visited Dean’s hometown to try to trace that legendary bile to its source.

On the surface, Burlington is a tranquil, picture-postcard village, with a bustling outdoor marketplace and a knock-out view of the local lake. People seem friendly and smile as they pass you on the street. But just beneath the maple syrup and the New England courtesies and the Woody Jackson cows lies…a simmering cauldron of anger.

When my crew and I arrived this morning, we had an almost impossible job parking our BBC mini-van. The streets were packed with holiday shoppers. Given no other option, our cameraman temporarily parked the van in a loading zone in front of a local restaurant. But before we could lock up and go in search of a decent cup of tea, the manager poked his head out of the restaurant door and told us we’d have to vamoose. “Sorry, boys, you’ll have to move your van,” the man said, “I have delivery trucks coming all day.” Then he pointed to a sign beside the van which read, No Parking/Loading Zone. Needless to say, although the man was smiling, we quickly moved on. None of us fancied getting into a rubbishing match with an angry Burlingtonian.

Some of the worst aggression in town is passive aggression. Ask your average merchant here if he can shut his shop down for a few hours to accommodate the film crew, and he’s likely to say, “No thanks — I think I’ll take a rain check.” Despite the courtesy, it doesn’t take long to hear in the Yankee accent a distinct undertone of rage.

With nowhere to park and no base from which to film, we were forced to accost people on the street. In answer to the question, “Are you angry with President Bush,” Myra Piedmont, a 46-year-old mother of two, gave a typical reaction. “Well,” she said, “I guess you might say I’m a bit ticked off.”

In short, Howard Dean’s explosive temper seems only a logical outgrowth of the almost ubiquitous rage of the average resident of his own hometown. Where this anger originates none can say, but it does seem to be catching — putting together this report has left more than one of us here in the crew feeling just that little bit peeved.

(Baruth as BBC news reader) Well, it sounds a bit of a bilious place, Nigel. I hope you’re all keeping your heads down. From the States we turn to something a bit on the lighter side: the nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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