Morning in America

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(Host) As you may know, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is running for the presidency of the United States. More and more pundits have begun to explore the possibility that Dean might go all the way leading commentator Philip Baruth to do his own mental exploring.

(Baruth) My alarm goes off, and I sit up in bed. It’s Monday, March 24, 2005, and it’s a cold one. Cold but clear. Say what you want about the dangers of global warming, but in a way it was easier to get out of bed before Howard Dean became the 44th president of the United States and cut all of our greenhouse gas emissions in half. In the two and a half months since Dean took the oath, average temperatures have fallen by about three degrees, and scientists say that’s just where they should be. But knowing that the world’s climate is back on track doesn’t make the floor any less cold, or bring the coffee pot any nearer.

But I get up finally, and I pad to the television, switch it on. The lead story is upbeat: negotiations with North Korea and Iran, which have been ongoing since January 20, the day of Dean’s inaugural, have now borne some pretty spectacular fruit. North Korea and Iran have agreed to scrap their nuclear programs in exchange for some heating oil and a retraction of ex-President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. They had been holding out for more than a simple retraction – they wanted it changed to “Axis of Excellence” for marketing purposes – but Dean hung tough. And the Iranians and the North Koreans know that when Howard Dean says no to something, whether it’s Powerball in Vermont or uranium enrichment in Pyongyang, that means no.

I start the coffee, and I can’t resist looking in on my sleeping child. Her sleep is deep and untroubled. I’m struck again by the change in her since January, the way she seems stronger and straighter. Her grades in school have nudged up. Our dentist says her teeth seem more resistant to plaque now, and gingivitis. And she’s not alone: with Doctor Dinosaur now nationwide, kids everywhere are sleeping easier and scoring higher on their college entrance exams.

I sit down at my kitchen table with my coffee, and I can’t help but remember the Dean campaign’s master-stroke, the thing that turned it all around. They sent Howard Dean to the same Michigan proving ground where Michael Dukakis took his infamous tank ride in 1988, and they put the very same helmet on him, the one that made Dukakis look like Rocky the Flying Squirrel. The Bush 2004 campaign couldn’t believe their luck, and they rushed out an attack ad of Dean looking like Rocky the Squirrel in the tank, just like Papa Bush did in ’88.

But this time, the Dean for America campaign was ready for them. They produced their own ad of Dean in the tank, but with a single line of text: “Okay, so you’d rather have Bullwinkle?”

It worked. Dean squeaked out a victory, and here I sit on a cold March morning, knowing that Vermont values have now remade America in the state’s image. I have to shovel the walk in a minute, but I’m not worried – it only ever seems to snow the fluffy kind these days, the kind that looks pretty and doesn’t ever seem to weigh anything.

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

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