What next for Dean?

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(Host) Commentator Jay Parini reflects on the Dean candidacy and what lies ahead.

(Parini) Despite his double-digit defeat in the New Hampshire primary last Tuesday, it appears that Howard Dean is going to continue his campaign into February 3, and beyond. I’m glad he’s not giving up because it helps to have him in the race. It has all along.

Governor Dean spoke up boldly and bravely against the Iraq War, and well before this was fashionable among the major contenders. His bluntness and passion (mistranslated by the media as “anger”) drew millions to his cause – and it was, indeed, more a cause than a campaign.

So what happened to derail Dean’s momentum?

The “electability factor” certainly played a part here. The electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire were, to a degree, frightened away from Dean by the media, who have always been wary of him. This feisty governor from a fringe state in the middle of nowhere played the game by different rules, raising money from small-time supporters on the internet. He clearly didn’t need the Democrat National Committee. In fact, he was downright rude at times about the media establishment, who began – with concentrated force – to attack him. The Washington Post ran a big anti-Dean editorial. David Brooks and others hammered away at Dean in The New York Times. Soon enough Gephart and the others piled on, launching fierce criticism just before the Iowa caucus.

Then came the primal, primary scream.

I was watching the speech on C-span, and didn’t give that yelp a second thought. It was the kind of thing one often hears at football games, and the like. I thought it was small potatoes, at least compared to George W. Bush’s repeated assaults on the English language. Then again, I’m an English professor, and every time Mr. Bush opens his mouth, my life span shortens by a minute or so.

It seemed that the media had been lying in wait for Dean for some time – given how they seized on the scream, playing it over and over, backwards and forwards. It sounded weirder and weirder. I myself began to wonder: is this guy stable enough to be president? Does he suffer from UIS – Uncontrollable Id Syndrome?

But I predict that when historians reply the tape, they’ll wonder what the fuss was all about.

I also think that – whatever happens in the coming weeks – historians will conclude that Howard Dean raised the right issues at the right time, and taught his fellow Democrats that standing up to the Bush Administration is the only way to go.

Howard Dean has brought energy into politics again, and introduced a generation of young people to the very possibility of politics as something interesting and worthwhile, even fun. He has changed the dynamics of this race in such a way that whoever debates President Bush in the fall on national television, we can expect plain talk and passion, and a vigorous challenge to the current administration, with its elitist and war-minded ways.

This is Jay Parini, in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer. He teaches at Middlebury College.

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