"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!
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.
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.