Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is one of the contenders for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination. Although he is less known than such competitors as John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and even Al Sharpton, Dean has excited the liberal base of the Democratic party with his record of fiscal responsibility, universal health care agenda, environmental record and emphasis on social justice. It also helps that he supports a more moderate, multilateral approach to foreign affairs and Iraq.

A former practicing physician, Dean was serving as lieutenant governor of Vermont when the incumbent governor died in 1991. Propelled into the governorship by circumstance, Dean held that post through 2002, when he announced he would not seek re-election.

His record includes allowing same-sex civil unions in Vermont, protection of public and private lands, public health care for all children in Vermont, and a balanced budget from 1991 onwards (Dean notes he’s balanced it through two Bush recessions and the economic boom of the Clinton years). Interestingly, he boasts that he has never signed a single piece of gun control legislation, which is an unusual position for a Democrat.

As a presidential candidate, Dean has demonstrated a surprising grasp of foreign affairs, despite news reports to the contrary. He sharply criticized the Bush administration for their unilateral efforts in Iraq, instead saying that Saddam Hussein should have been disarmed via the auspices of the United Nations. He believes that more attention should be placed on al Qaeda and North Korea, which Dean says pose a greater threat to the security of the United States than Iraq.

Beyond his criticisms of George W. Bush, Howard Dean focuses much of his attention on the weakened Demcoratic party establishment, or "The Washington Democrats" as he calls them. While part of the New Democrat movement ("The Republican Wing of the Democratic Party," as Dean calls them) of the 1990's spearheaded by Bill Clinton, Dean has moved away from the centrist Democratic Leadership Counsel and the Third Way, threatening to take the party back to its progressive roots. This understandably fills the Democratic party leaders with fear, though has helped to excite the Democratic grass roots. As Dean moves towards the 2004 primary season, it becomes apparent that his fight isn't just for the nomination, but also for the direction the party will take in the post-Clinton era.

As of February, 2004 John Kerry is the frontrunner for the nomination, and Dean is falling in the polls. Although he promises to stay in the race until the end, it seems unlikely Dean will get the nomination. It appears he is a victim of the same party establishment he's railed against since the beginning -- and candidate whose message was washed out by a confluence of media and party interests.


The case for Howard Dean

When I first heard about who was running in the next Presidential election -- Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Sharpton, etc. -- I was a bit ... alarmed. I immediately had memories of Walter Mondale’s attempt to take on Ronald Regan, or Michael Dukakis’ fight against Bush I. Overly weak Democrats without a chance against the incumbent (or sort-of-incumbent) titan, men incapable of appealing to the American masses.

Here’s a little secret -- I almost didn’t vote in the last election. I have never liked Al Gore, never respected how he was willing to compromise himself time and again so he could pander for votes. The career-politician sons of career-politicians are little better than the landed aristocracy of old, and although Al Gore is preferable to George W. Bush, they’re both fundamentally American gentry. I had planned to defect and vote Republican if John McCain was the nominee -- that’s how much I hate Al Gore. While I don’t agree with all of his policies, McCain was the best man for the job in 2000. More Teddy Roosevelt than Ronald Regan, McCain had the potential to be a great president. He offered a heroic contrast to Bush and the other Republican candidates -- and I think he would have been the right guy in office during 9/11. I’m sorry if I’m betraying my lifelong Democratic allegiance by saying this, but I waffled on voting for Al Gore for days. Ultimately, it was my even greater dislike for Bush II that led me to cast my vote. Not that it mattered in the end.

Looking at the embryonic Democratic candidates, I saw nothing that excited me. Do I go with the aristocratic and elitist John Kerry, upstart and “centrist” John Edwards, Republican-in-Democrat’s clothing Joe Lieberman, or the so-inoffensive-he’s-offensive Dick Gephardt? I’m not even going to mention Al Sharpton, a man who has never served in elected office and is completely unqualified to be President. Then I read a back page article in the Washington Post about a new candidate and my hopes completely changed.

Since that article, I can safely say that I am 100% behind Governor Howard Dean of Vermont. This is a guy who says what he thinks -- who criticizes the Bush administration without considering the repercussions in a general election. Who believes in universal health care for all Americans, for an America that engages in multilateral diplomacy rather than unilateral brute force. What’s more, he’s for a balanced budget and government spending that does not exceed the nation’s tax revenue -- something he’s done successfully in Vermont since the first Bush recession.

Unlike the other guys who -- quite frankly -- look like weasels, Dean looks Presidential. He’s smart, articulate and direct. He opposed to the American invasion of Iraq without the support of the UN. The only other candidate who’ll give you an honest answer about the war is Joe Lieberman, who I just hope someday wakes up and realizes he’s in the wrong party and gets the hell out. If anyone in the 2004 lineup deserves to inherit John McCain’s mantle as the “straight shooter” candidate it’s Dean -- even though he can sometimes put his foot in his mouth (as in an early 2003 "Meet the Press" appearance).

In a speech to the DNC on February 21, 2003, Dean says:

What I want to know . . . is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the President's unilateral attack on Iraq?

What I want to know . . . is why are Democratic leaders supporting tax cuts? The question is not how big the tax cut should be -- the question should be: Can we afford a tax cut at all with the largest deficit in the history of the country?

”What I want to know . . . is why we're fighting in Congress about the Patient's Bill of Rights when the Democratic Party ought to be standing up for health care for every man, woman and child in this country?

What I want to know . . . is why our folks are voting for the President's No Child Left Behind bill that leaves every child behind, every teacher behind, every school board behind and every property tax payer behind?

I am Howard Dean. And I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

All I can say is -- thank god this guy’s running. And finally the real race has begun.

In the autumn of 2003, Howard Dean emerged from obscurity to become the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Most pundits perceived him as a shoo-in to run against George W. Bush... until Saddam Hussein was captured late in the year.

Dean emerged not through any real strengths of his own: there were better speakers, better policy minds, and more seasoned politicians running against him. What Dean had was a simple combination of good campaign management, good publicity, and an inflammatory anti-war message that was popularly condensed down to the phrase "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take any more!"

The Vermont governor picked up hundreds of thousands of die-hard supporters with this message, which was broadcast by his campaign across the internet, through mainstream print media, and eventually even through conservative broadcast outlets who were more amused than amazed. Karl Rove, Bush's chief policy advisor, chuckled at the Dean campaign and remarked that he would love to run against Dean, mocking the doctor's candidacy and implying that a Bush-Dean race would be a landslide for Bush.

Many in the Democratic Party continue to echo this sentiment. While Dean succeeded in rousing the hearts of progressives who had been averse to "politics as usual" for a long time, he has never succeeded so far in converting the party elite. After Saddam was pulled out of his hiding hole, Dean's rhetoric became even less popularly acceptable than ever.

Dean critics can find much to dislike about the campaign's Democratic superstar:

  • He has made many, many boneheaded remarks in the course of his campaign. Most famously, he said that he wanted to be the candidate for "guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks," which angered African-American groups and probably also offended many guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks. (Counterpoint: He will never be able to equal the number of boneheaded remarks that George W. Bush has made. Additional counterpoint, courtesy of eliserh: Dean will never get as many Confederate flag guys as Bush will.)
  • He has an attitude problem. Supporters say that he's "cocky." Detractors say that he's "brash" or even "arrogant."
  • He has less political experience than any of his competitors, with the possible exception of Al Sharpton.
  • His actual message, which is one of the most centrist in the entire field, has been drowned in a popular conception that he is the Ultra-Liberal reincarnation of George McGovern.
  • He has a sneer permanently bent into his face.
But likewise, Dean still has a number of strengths. The most major of these is his top-notch campaign staff in Burlington, Vermont, which have also netted him one of the largest campaign war chests in the Democratic race. As a doctor, he can claim a smidgen of extra credibility that his competitors lack, especially when tackling the complex issue of health care reform. He also has the most mobilized supporter base, which seems to resemble a coast-to-coast volunteer army at times.

In the Iowa caucus of January 19, 2004, Dean came in a distant third behind John Edwards and John Kerry. It remains to be seen whether he can survive until Election Day.

February update: Okay, stick a fork in 'im. "Today my candidacy may come to an end—but our campaign for change is not over?" What bollocks.

May update: I am now employed by his finance director. Hopefully, this writeup will never fall under said employer's eyes.

July update: I overheard a phone conversation between Howard Dean and Betty Castor a couple of weeks ago. Dean used the word "schmuck" a couple of times. Gotta respect that.

The Howard Dean / John Dean Meme

A meme is a self replicating piece of information or in this case, unintentional mis-information. The Howard Dean / John Dean meme refers to the many, unexplained instances in which political commentators refer to 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean as "John Dean". In all cases so far, this appears to be an completely unintended reference to the embittered former Whitehouse Counsel to President Nixon of Watergate fame.

No, I'm not kidding, and no, it's not an isolated slip of the tougue. The meme is becoming fairly widespread, at least in the memepool1 of politics. Consider:

  • "Sen. Harkin didn't seem especially close to the Vermont governor. At the 2002 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner here, he twice called the Democrat John Dean (as Martin Sheen did in a speech here last week)." -- 'Myth needed', by Maureen Dowd, The Rutland (Vermont)Herald, January 18, 2004, http://rutlandherald.com/hdean/77535, accessed Feb. 4, 2004. Actually, it wasn't just any Martin Sheen speech, it was the actor's formal endorsement speech for Howard Dean. Talk about living in the past!

  • "One of my references to Dean originally said John Dean instead of Howard Dean. I keep doing that, for reasons unknown to me. It isn't about comparisons between the two. It is probably that I started to pay attention to politics not too long before Watergate, and I can't think of a Dean other than John Dean. Talk about showing my age." -- Atlantic Blog entry for January 14, 2004 by William Sjostrom, http://www.atlanticblog.com/archives/001351.html, accessed Feb. 4, 2004.

  • I personally saw and heard the PBS Newshour's top political commentators, Mark Shields and David Brooks, each say "John Dean" when they clearly meant Howard, during their one of their on-air commentaries during late January, 2004. The Newshour's normally excellent online transcripts appear to have been 'cleaned up' so I can't be more specific.

You can see this meme's remarkable ability to spread from host to host, while resisting the collective mental immune response, in a discussion of the 2003 New Hampshire Democratic primary on CNN's American Morning, air date January 28, 2004. The subjects of the interview, Democratic consultant Victor Kamber and former Republican National Committee (RNC) communications director Cliff May, replicate the meme an incredible three times, in spite of self-correction and correction from the anchor who is named Hemmer:

MAY: ...So, he's got a lot of explaining to do. As the front-runner now, somebody needs to attack him. It won't be Edwards. It may by John Dean, because -- John Dean. It may be Howard Dean, because unless Howard Dean attacks him, I don't see how Howard Dean gets his lead back.

HEMMER: In this campaign so far, that's been the biggest slip of the tongue, by the way.

MAY: I know.

HEMMER: John Dean instead of Howard Dean. You hear it from everyone. Victor, how do you size it up right now? Bearing in mind, we're not trying to get too out far in front of this issue at this point.

KAMBER: Well, I think in many ways Cliff said it, and you said it, Bill, and Kelly said it, too. Howard -- or John Dean is -- John Kerry is...

HEMMER: There you go again.

{A couple of paragraphs go by, then}

KAMBER: I was amazed last night at the pundits and all of the press who seem to think it's over, that Howard Dean has no chance. I think that's wrong. I think this is still an open race with one front- runner clearly, and that is John Dean -- John Kerry.

HEMMER: Cliff, do you see it the same way?

http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0401/28/ltm.16.html, accessed Feb. 4, 2004.
Note how the meme attempted to mutate so it could infect John Kerry, but it apparently didn't take. This is creepy, no?2 The interview concludes without any more hot meme action.

Why has the Howard/John Meme florished thus far? According to Slate's December 10, 2003 'Explainer' column, http://slate.msn.com/id/2092369/, accessed Feb 4, 2004, Howard Dean is not related by blood to John Dean. Nor is he related to Deborah Gore Dean, ex Vice President Al Gore's cousin who was convicted in a Reagan-era influence peddling scandal. But, Ms. Gore Dean's mother, Mary Gore Dean, was the "longtime companion" of another Watergate John, John Mitchell. The image consultant who re-invented the respected Dr. Judith Steinberg into "The Incomparable Judy Steinberg Dean" only adds to this fun tangent.

The point was, actual genetic or legal kinship seems too convoluted an evolution to explain this meme. John and Howard may not have shaken hands, even! A more likely transmission vector has to do with pre-conscious cognition. Since the busy mind prefers pattern-matching heuristics over the rigor of rote memory, the mind creates a John Dean. What is the pattern that is triggered? Of the ten official Democratic party candidates, two (John Kerry and John Edward) are named John. Further re-enforcement comes from the re-emergence into the bitstream of two more Johns: Senator John McCain, who's been commenting here and there on the election, and even the actual John Dean, who wrote "More vicious than Tricky Dick", an October 3, 2003 Op-Ed on Salon.com slamming President Bush, available at http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2003/10/03/dean/index.html, accessed Feb. 4, 2004.

Will the Howard/John Meme persist in the memepool? Epidemiologists tell us that the more virulent pathogens sometimes "burn out" when they kill their hosts more quickly than they can spread to new hosts. But so far no-one's been fired for confusing the two, and political commentators spawn like crazed rabbits, so I don't think that will be what kills it. This meme may meet its biggest challenge when the primary Petri dish meets the incinerator of the national Democratic convention.3

Good luck little meme!


Notes

1. Originally, this writeup used the made-up word "memome" in place of the made-up word "memepool". I edited it to use "memepool" because it rolls off the tounge (and the page) much more smoothly, and also because while both are made-up, "memepool" seems to be catching on, at least here on E2 and in the fans of memetics.

2. Perhaps the failure of the meme to spread to John Kerry is indirect evidence that a John Kerry / Bob Kerrey meme is already occupying that niche. Or perhaps I've gotten carried away.

3. On February 18, 2004, Howard Dean officially announced the end of his candidacy. But, because of his huge influence on the Democratic Party, you can be certain people will continue talking about him for quite a while. On February 20, C-SPAN's Brian Lamb called Howard Dean "John Dean" while interviewing a guest, and the PBS Newshour's Mark Shields did the same while discussing the nomination race. It's far too soon to declare this meme extinct.

"We would have given anything"

2004. I remember it well. It's not over yet, but already I feel sad to see it go. I want you to imagine that it is January 19, 2004 again, and Howard Dean is hot. He is in the race to become the presidential candidate for North America's Democratic Party, and he is the favourite. Unlike the other candidates he is not strange, and he has not had a controversial military career. Al Gore, the ex-vice president, says that Howard Dean is his main man. Wired magazine has written glowingly about Howard's successful internet fund-raising. People on the internet admire Howard Dead; new people, dynamic people, the kind of people Wired likes to write about. The only chink in Dean's armour is the perception that he lacks experience, and that he is an angry, nervous bully. In early January he shouted down a heckler at a town meeting, and there were persistent media rumours that he could not handle pressure. They said he had frozen up whilst dealing with a particularly distressing case during his career as a doctor, and that he had taken anti-anxiety drugs. By his own admission he "hyperventilated" on learning that he had become governor of Vermont.

So, January 19th, and Howard Dean is expected to do well in Iowa's "caucuses". I cannot pretend to be an expert on the American political system; suffice it to say that the Democrat who wins the most caucuses becomes Champion of the Democrats, and wins the right to enter the ring and fight the Champion of the Republicans, although both the Democrats and the Republicans are in favour of democratic republicanism. Dean has been attracting front-page articles since as far back as August of 2003, and he is the front-runner. Nobody knows much about John Kerry or John Edwards, Wesley Clark is highly thought of but hard to like, and the others - Alfred Sharpton, Exidor, Michael Portillo - are weirdo freaks. Howard Dean is the youngest and most handsome of the lot, and he has raised a lot of money over the internet, and as noted above he is seen as the first natural internet-era politician, albeit that the internet is much larger and more diffuse than just Iowa. Internet people form a demographic group greatly admired by the press for its combination of zany novelty, cutting-edge slickness, and its perceived youthfulness and affluence. One day there will be no "internet people", just as there are no longer any "radio people" or "car people".

But the best-laid plans of mice and men often result in a dead mouse and a sorrowful man, and so it is with Howard Dean. On the 19th of January he is beaten. In fact he comes in third, behind John Kerry and John Edwards in that order. It is a major shock. Third is terrible. It sounds like turd. Bronze is brown, like a turd. Kerry and Edwards polled roughly a third of the vote each; Dean returned roughly a fifth. It was not the absolute end for Howard Dean. He came second in the next caucus, after which his campaign was written off by the press, because there had been so much hype and so many expectations. And there was another factor. A speech he delivered to his disappointed supporters at Iowa. The speech was mostly unremarkable, save for a miniature climax quite near the beginning. Dean began by stating that, a year ago, he had not even expected to come as high as third; and that he would carry on to the next primary, and the next. The speech continued:

"Not only are we going to New Hampshire ...
we're going to South Carolina, and Oklahoma, and Arizona, and North Dakota, and New Mexico!
And we're going to California, and Texas, and New York!
And we're going to South Dakota, and Oregon, and Washington, and Michigan!
And then we're going to Washington DC to take back the White House!
LYAAAAH!
"

The speech carried on, but this is the bit everybody heard, again and again, as it was repeated many times on the television and the radio. Audio and video clips were passed around the internet. The television footage showed Dean pointing his arms and gesturing at the crowd, although it did not show the crowd itself. The audio footage came directly from Dean's microphone, rather than from a microphone in the hall. The effect of both sound and vision was to give the impression that Dean was ranting into empty space, pointing and raving at no-one. Dean's body language was of someone uncomfortable with cutting loose, someone unused to delivering a rousing speech. It was an uncharacteristically raucous performance from an ordinarily brooding, seething candidate.

Listening to the tape it is clear that things start to fall apart as Dean reaches New Mexico. The crowd noise picks up, and Dean is straining to make California heard. Things reach a second peak on Michigan, which he forces out. Without adequate pause for breath, he cannot properly say Washington DC without slurring, and the emphasis he places on White House is all wrong. Rather than coming to a triumphant end, he accelerates into a brick wall, followed shortly by a non-verbal cry which resembles the final explosion of a dying star. LYAAAAaaaa!, that is what it sounds like, as if Dean was rehearsing a cover version of Napalm Death's 'You Suffer'. It is hard not to think of a horror film, in which a minor character is transformed against his will into a monster; or of a man who enjoys being tied up and beaten by a woman, and in his slightly-too-tight shirt Dean does look of this persuasion, not that there is anything wrong with paying a woman money to beat you.

At this point several things must be borne in mind. Firstly, as noted above, Dean delivered his speech to a room filled with roughly 3,500 supporters, people who genuinely wanted Dean to win and who were saddened at his defeat. I am not American and I was slightly saddened by his defeat; Howard Dean is undeniably charismatic, whether you love him or hate him. The supporters were not shy about their appreciation, and Dean had to speak up in order to be heard, notwithstanding that he was speaking into a microphone. Indeed Dean seemed to forget that he had a microphone, and his delivery became more and more forceful as he went on. This was a mistake. Professional politicians do not shout. Instead, they raise their voice. Ronald Reagan was famous for this, for his quiet delivery. John F. Kennedy raised his voice to declare that he was a Berliner, and Martin Luther King was not backwards about claiming to have a dream, but in both cases Kennedy and King were in control. They had practiced in front of a mirror. Their voices and faces and fists were locked up, tight. With his unrehearsed exuberance, Howard Dean was reminiscent of Neil Kinnock, last-but-one leader of Britain's socialist Old Labour Party. On the eve of the 1992 General Election, Kinnock had addressed a rally of gleeful Labour supporters, declaring in jubilant tones that they were "all right". Kinnock was convinced that Labour had won the election. The polls were on his side. But they were wrong.

Perhaps the only politician in recent years to turn uncontrollable rage into a positive attribute was Adolf Hitler, but Hitler existed in a different time and place. Hitler existed before Hitler existed, if you see what I mean. Howard Dean did not have Hitler's political genius nor did he have a private army of murderous thugs, notwithstanding Dean's ill-judged pre-election comments to the effect that he was trying to broaden his appeal to people who enjoyed draping Confederate flags over their cars. If Dean had paused for a second after New Mexico, and drawn breath, none of this would have happened. One second, one breath, is all it would have taken. He would probably have still lost to John Kerry, and after his abrasive campaign it was unlikely that Kerry was going to pick him to be vice-president-to-be. But it would not have been so bad. Perhaps, when he re-merges, Dean will acknowledge his mistake, and base his campaign on contrition and new-found maturity.

Right then and there, on the spot, Dean's speech was a success. The crowd was buoyant and he did not give the impression of despondent failure. He looked dorky, but this might have passed. However, the Dean scream - "I have a scream", as it was dubbed, being delivered on Martin Luther King day - became a potent media meme. It was repeated hundreds of times over the next week on network television and cable news, and on the radio, where it was particularly disturbing. Shorn of visuals and context the speech became sinister and ominous. It reminded people of Martin Sheen's slimy president in David Cronenberg's film of Stephen King's The Dead Zone. It reinforced the media's perception that Dean was a nervous hot-head, and gave writers a hook for countless negative articles about Dean's third=turd place.

The speech became fodder for comedians and audio editors, although the vast majority of supposed remixes of Dean's speech consisted of existing songs with the speech appended to the beginning, or played repeatedly in the background. There were few creative, artistic or satirical instances of the speech, certainly none to match Chris Morris' infamous Bushwhacked, or the works of the EBN. Perhaps because Dean was perceived as a left-wing anti-war campaigner, the predominantly socialist artistic community tried to ignore the Dean meme, as indeed have the people in the space above. You cannot ignore this. I mock your hero.

Dean withdrew from the presidential race on February 18th, although he would continue to stand in the caucuses. He achieved his only victory, in Vermont, on March 2nd. He did not win in South Carolina or Oklahoma or Arizona or North Dakota or New Mexico or California or Texas or New York. Or for that matter South Dakota or Oregon or Washington or Michigan.

Dean is still relatively young. He may one day take back the White House. But it will not be from the man he expected to fight.

Sources:
I am greatly inspired by a childhood memory, of a dialogue between a human being and PARRY, an computerised conversation simulator that pretended to be paranoid. It was a bit like ELIZA, but paranoid.

A recent news story reveals that scientists with electrodes are planning to "measure the mental desires of monkeys". The reason this appeals to me is that desire is not something I associate with monkeys; animalistic lust, perhaps, but not desire. When I think of 'desire' I think of a man in a velvet dressing gown, talking to James Bond about his desire to control the world's supply of lasers. Desire is a complex thing. One has a desire for power - or a lust for power, perhaps, but the reason why Patton: Lust for Glory works as a title is because lust stands out as being unusual, it is something which monkeys experience rather than five-star generals such as Patton - and Jesus had desire, you see, he had a transcendental desire, a love, rather than a lust.

What do monkeys desire, rather than merely want or lust for or need? What do they desire, with their minds, rather than their bodies? Do animals distinguish between their minds and their bodies? Patton was an animal, a successful one in the sense that he killed many more animals than killed him. That is how God will measure the success of a man; by his kill-total, and by the manner of his death. The most successful man will be one who enslaves all women and kills all men, and then kills himself at the moment of his triumph. God will smile on that man, and then God himself will cease to be.

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