What Britney Spears could teach Howard Dean

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(Host) Commentator Dianne Lynch reflects on celebrity, the media and Howard Dean.

(Lynch) Former Governor Howard Dean is the current media favorite in the Democratic presidential race. News reports over the past few days suggest that he’s considering refusing federal matching funds – but not until he has a lock on the nomination.

A lock on the nomination? Dean and his camp should probably be paying less attention to their own press releases and more attention to another recent news story, the one that says that two-thirds of Americans still can’t name a single Democratic candidate. Not one.

That’s bad news for all nine of the Democratic hopefuls, but it’s really bad news for Doctor Dean. Because the sad truth of this media moment is that Howard has already overstayed his 15 minutes of fame. And if the voters don’t know his name today, he’ll be nothing but a faint media memory by November 2004.

I know, I know – I like the guy, too. But really: We’re the folks who know him best. And did YOU expect to see him on the covers of Time and Newsweek? Did you expect to turn on the Letterman Show to hear the Top Ten Signs You’re in Love with Howard Dean? Me, either.

So what’s the deal? How is it that this guy with the listed home phone number and the gee-whiz presentation style is suddenly being contemplated as presidential timber?

Is it – as the Dean camp suggests – the miraculous uprising of the common people, reclaiming their power and reasserting their democratic ideals? You wish. (Me, too.)

But what it’s really about is the media. What it’s really about is that it’s been a pretty grim summer, news-wise. We’ve seen the war in Iraq deteriorate from a quick and easy victory into an $87 billion fiasco. We’ve seen Bush’s long-promised tax checks arrive in the mail without the jumpstart to the economy that was supposed to accompany them. We’ve seen our cultural icons – from Martha Stewart to Kobe Bryant – reduced to mere humans, perhaps guilty as charged.

And into all of that gloom and doom marched Howard Dean, the people’s candidate, the Internet guy, the anti-Bush.

Now that’s a story – that’s even headlines. And it’s enough to transform an unknown Vermonter into a political Cinderella. But fairytales don’t last – and neither does celebrity. Take it from George McGovern, Ross Perot, and John McCain. Better yet, take it from Britney Spears, a younger, blonder flash-in-the-pan who has a few things to teach Howard Dean and his camp.

Like Britney, Howard’s the season’s media darling not because he’s the most talented guy out there. And not because his experience has prepared him to be president. (Okay, so he balanced a budget. But we’re talking Vermont here. We’re talking 600,000 people; that’s less than the population of Baltimore.)

Here’s the mediated truth, plain and simple: Like Britney, Howard’s in the spotlight, not because he’s a statesman – but because he’s a story. And just like Britney, it’ll take a liplock with Madonna to keep him there.

This is Dianne Lynch from Richmond.

Commentator Dianne Lynch is a writer who teaches journalism and mass communication at Saint Michael’s College.

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