(HOST) The national news media usually portray former Vermont Governor Howard Dean in caricature. But this morning, VPR commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us about a new magazine profile that goes beyond the cliches.
(DUNSMORE) In today’s celebrity culture, once you’ve become famous for something, that’s how you are remembered. In Howard Dean’s case, the event that defined him was the “scream speech” – his pep talk to his supporters in Iowa after he had blown a huge lead in the first round of the presidential primaries. Forever after, Dean’s image in the national media – whether it was with the ser- ious political analysts or in the supermarket tabloids – was that of an angry man, prone to saying outrageous things.
And so, when I saw the title of Sunday’s Washington Post Maga- zine cover story, “Return of the Angry Man”, I expected more of the same. And as it began, this profile of the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee was as expected. There were recent quotes of Dean calling Republicans “plunderers” and “brain dead.” Some of his old campaign performances were revisited, as in the line, “I want my country back! I don’t want to listen to fun- damentalist preachers anymore!” And then, of course, we got the requisite Republican critics such as former National Committee Chairman Rich Bond, who variously calls Dean a “looney left redundancy” a “disaster” and a “joke”, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Dean is “a true death wish” for the Democrats.
But then, writer Sally Jenkins shifts gears and, in extensive detail, gives us a nuanced picture of Dean the man: his roots, his history and how he’s doing in his new job – a job his predecessor calls “a human fire hydrant” (bearing in mind what dogs traditionally do to fire hydrants). Here’s a sampling of the profile:
One might expect the chairman of the DNC to travel first class – Dean flies coach. He rides the New York subway and the Wash- ington Metro and generally refuses limo services. Dean is not a liberal. He’s an old-fashioned Yankee fiscal conservative with moderate social values. The Democratic Party in most “red” states is in disarray. He’s trying to change that by paying frequent visits, offering funding and urging young people to run for office even when their chances are slim. He’s trying to get the party to develop its own message and not be defined by its opponents as simply pro-gay abortionists. He thinks National Security is the number one political issue. His fund-raising is running behind the Republican’s, but ahead of previous Democratic efforts. While a number of his party’s big names are unhappy with his rhetoric, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says, “I think the job he is doing is remarkably positive.”
The next two elections will tell us how successful Dean has been. And even then, if the Democrats improve their standing, he won’t get much of the credit – but he’ll get lots of the blame if they don’t. It really is a lousy job. But somebody has to do it. And, according to The Washington Post, so far, Dean is doing it rather well.
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.