View Full Version : He's rude. He's obnoxious. He's Howard Dean.

10 Nov 03,, 05:44
Who Does Howard Dean Think He Is?
From the November 17, 2003 issue: Tall tales and righteous indignation on the campaign trail.
by David Tell
11/17/2003, Volume 009, Issue 10

EARLY ONE EVENING this past March I found myself struggling for balance in the den of a well-appointed, upper-middle-class home in suburban Bedford, New Hampshire, a half-dozen miles or so southwest of Manchester. I was worried about teetering over because not ten feet away from me Howard Dean had just walked in the door from his car outside, and most of the roughly 100 local Democrats who'd come by the house to get a look at him were also in the den, now jostling--very politely, of course--for position. To make matters worse, the crowd had me trapped directly in the hi-my-name-is handshake path Dean was making toward the kitchen. Mine looked to be the next such greeting. Better I should remain upright for it, I figured.

And better, I further figured, that I not introduce myself under false pretenses, though I wasn't wearing a press badge and could easily have passed for just another guest. So when, moments later, the man was indeed right in front of me, sticking out his paw and saying "Howard Dean," I fessed up--in meekish fashion, privately embarrassed that I hadn't any "serious reporter" questions to ask him--about who I was and where I worked.

Whereupon the former five-term governor of the state of Vermont stiffened backwards a step, screwed up his face, and ostentatiously wiped his palm on the thigh of his pants, like he'd just touched a patch of manure by mistake. "THE WEEKLY STANDARD," Dean repeated back to me with a tone of incredulity--and only the faintest hint of irony. "You mean that WEEKLY STANDARD?" I mumbled something and nodded yes. "I actually get THE WEEKLY STANDARD," he went on. "Yeccch."

It's a funny story, in retrospect, a point of pride even, in a reverse sort of way: How many of us, after all, can claim to have received an unprovoked, face-to-face, personal insult from a leading candidate for president of the United States? For that matter, even at the time, I never seriously thought that Dean intended his show of revulsion to be anything other than funny. He was joshing, I sensed, a conclusion I quickly tried my best to confirm, in order to reassure the several bystanders who were listening in, tittering nervously and obviously not getting the joke, fearing instead that they were witnessing an unpleasant scene: Why on earth was Gov. Dean treating a perfect stranger so rudely? I would arrange to have the governor relieved of his burdensome subscription first thing tomorrow, I offered, with an exaggerated smile. "No, no, no," he laughed, "it's all right"--breaking the tension, ending our encounter, and moving on to his destination, the kitchen.

Where Dean soon delivered a nifty, quite gripping 20-minute impromptu stump speech in which he described President Bush, Bush's administration and "right-wingers" generally, and the Republican party and its voters more generally still--all of them together, more or less interchangeably--as the moral equivalent of a patch of manure, people whose hands you'd shudder at shaking for real. This time Dean did not appear to be joshing one bit. And this time no one nervously tittered about it. Quite the contrary, his audience was transfixed. A hundred Bedford, New Hampshire, Democrats went home that night thinking Howard Dean was pretty damned good.

Even then, eight months ago, it was already one of the salient and most striking characteristics of the Dean campaign: The coruscating disdain he habitually expresses, not just for particular ideas he opposes or for the particular people who may fairly be associated with those ideas, but for whole, big chunks of the American population--to which Dean just as habitually ascribes an ill spirit of the deepest and darkest variety. Two months before I met him in New Hampshire, for example, Dean made an attention-grabbing appearance at a Washington, D.C., dinner hosted by the National Abortion Rights Action League, as that group was then still known. There are "many good people" who reject abortion "on moral grounds" and he could "respect them" for it, Dean said that night. "I do not respect the people who defend the throwing of bombs and murders of doctors, however. And some of those exist in our very administration, people who have not stood up against violence" because "they thought it would be better for their political careers if they didn't say too much about it." Otherwise, presumably, the Republican party might lose favor with its important constituency of bomb-throwers and murderers.

Then Dean told the NARAL dinner a little story:

As many of you know, I'm a doctor. I'm an internist, and I take care of all ages, pretty much five to 105. And one time I was sitting in my office--and it was not unusual for young kids to come and talk to me because I knew the whole family--and one time a young lady came into my office who was twelve years old and she thought she might be pregnant. And we did the tests and did the exam and she was pregnant. She didn't know what to do. And after I had talked to her for a while I came to the conclusion that the likely father of her child was her own father.
"You explain that to the American people who think that parental notification is a good idea," Dean concluded, hot-faced and jabbing his finger at the crowd. "I will veto parental notification!"

These lines generated wild applause, but the anecdote was peculiar. A few weeks later, tipped off by a rival campaign that there might be something fishy about Dean's 12-year-old girl story, Jake Tapper of the online magazine Salon asked for clarification and got a terse concession from the governor that he'd omitted what one might think a crucial detail: "All I'm going to tell you is that her father was not the father of her child, it was more complicated than that. But it was adjudicated and someone was severely punished." Around this same time, Jill Lawrence of USA Today inquired of Dean whether he didn't think the fatherhood question especially relevant in a parable about parental notification, and Dean got so upset that he threatened to call her editor.

Finally, a few months later, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Tim Russert subjected Dean to an extended grilling about the Incest That Never Was, and Dean hemmed and hawed his way through what effectively stands to this day as his official explanation: It "didn't make any difference" who was eventually identified as the responsible party. "Of course, we reported the whole situation--turned out the person who had sexually abused her was convicted. Fine." Meantime, though, before the right culprit was caught, Dean thought that her father had impregnated the girl. And "under a parental notification law I would have then been required to report that to her family," thus exposing his patient to a risk of retribution. The "judicial bypass" routinely included in parental notification regimes would not have availed him, Dean argued: "There have been judges that say, 'Under no circumstances will I provide certification that this girl should have an abortion.'"

This account of things must have struck most observers as plausible, because there's no record anyone's queried him much about it since. Nevertheless, the story remains a puzzlement. During Vermont's 2001-2002 state legislative session, Dean cited the same 12-year-old girl in support of his threat to veto a parental notification bill that was then before the House of Representatives. Which prompted the bill's chief sponsor, Peg Flory, Republican chairwoman of the Vermont House Judiciary committee, to become alarmed over the possibility that there might be incest victims in the state, minor children, whose abuse was going unreported to anybody. This because, as the governor then was telling the 12-year-old's tale, he had not reported her abuse to the authorities.

On February 5, 2001, Dean gave an interview to this effect on a Burlington radio talk show hosted by a man named Mark Johnson. The show was taped, and a transcript was made, and the key section of that transcript, for present purposes, is available for review on a pro-life Internet clearinghouse called LifeNews.com, which not too many political reporters look at, apparently. The transcript reads, in part, as follows (with ellipses indicating not omissions, I'm told, but pauses and crosstalk):

JOHNSON: When you discuss this issue, raise this issue, of when you were a doctor you had a girl come into your office you thought might have been impregnated by her father.
DEAN: Right.

JOHNSON: Right, okay. Why, under the current law, would you not have to report that to the authorities?

DEAN: (Sighing.) Hum, I don't know. I mean, I don't know if I do or not. . . . Those laws were passed long after I left medical practice as far as I know. . . . I am not even sure if doctors are covered, ahhh, for those kinds of instances.

JOHNSON: Really?

DEAN: I don't really know. I mean, I don't know the law.

JOHNSON: I mean, the school nurse has to, a teacher has to . . .

DEAN: Well, maybe I did, maybe I broke the law, I don't have any idea, I don't even remember exactly when that was. I know it was when I was in the legislature.

JOHNSON: Okay, well today there are laws on the books that require people to report abuse.

DEAN: Right, there is . . .

It goes on this way a bit, with a great many ahhs and umms and momentary silences from the governor, but the suggestion is clear throughout: Sometime during the calendar years 1983-1986, inclusive, while he was serving in the legislature but still practicing medicine, Howard Dean treated a 12-year-old girl whom he suspected had been made pregnant by her father. And yet he did not report this horror, a serious crime, to relevant child welfare or police units, as basic decency would surely have required--and, as it happens, then-current Vermont state law very much did require.

Peg Flory remembers making inquiries to Vermont state agencies about how many suspected abuses like the one Dean was describing had ever been referred to them. "We couldn't find any," she told me last week, though she stresses that her research was never "about Gov. Dean's story particularly." My own research has been particular to Gov. Dean's story, though I wouldn't pretend to call it definitive: a few days' worth of phone calls to Vermont and computer sweeps through newspaper and court-record databases. But so far, at least, I haven't found anything, either--no documentary reference to, or human being who recalls, a statutory rape conviction, during the years in question, involving an adult man victimizing a 12-year-old girl.

Which, as I say, is a puzzlement. It beggars the imagination, unless you're prepared to leap for a truly awful judgment of the man, that Dean would actually have failed to report such a rape. So why, then, would he have positively invited that awful judgment by falsely confessing such a failure on that Burlington radio broadcast in February 2001? And why, if that confession wasn't false, would he now risk exposure as a fabulist by switching gears and contending the case was successfully prosecuted? And why, if the case was real, would a parental notification law have required him to contact the girl's family to begin with--since he was only her primary physician, and not an abortion provider from whom she was seeking surgery?

Nothing about this story makes sense.

In his delightful new behind-the-scenes book about the early days of the current presidential campaign, "One-Car Caravan," Walter Shapiro reports that he was "stunned" when he learned, as Dean acknowledged to him, that "the father wasn't the father." And from experiences like these, Shapiro further reports, he at some point decided that Dean has a "preference for powerful narrative over the literal truth." Except that the literal truth of the case at hand cannot be assumed, I don't believe. From the case at hand I believe we can safely conclude, at this point, only that Dean has a preference for powerful narrative, period. Powerful narrative designed to teach a lesson--for instance, that people who favor parental notification restrictions on abortion are monsters, the sorts of people prepared to countenance a father's rape of his 12-year-old daughter and the pregnancy that results therefrom.

If I read the polls correctly, that's 70 percent of the American public Howard Dean was talking about at the NARAL dinner. And back in the spring, having watched him up close, with all his undeniable intelligence and talent and guile on full display, I could not help but think that he was doing it on purpose, quite self-consciously--and that he would therefore know and wish and be able to stop talking this way when the time came. Soon enough a world beyond the Democratic party's hard-core grassroots would begin paying attention. So soon enough, Howard Dean would put away his categorical denunciations of the wayward tens of millions and fashion, in their place, a broader appeal.

But I may have been wrong about that.

THE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN has these days become a noticeably bitter enterprise. And to a disproportionate extent, Howard Dean is both the object of that bitterness and its source. Sore feelings about him run very high in rival camps and elite Democratic circles generally. And Dean seems none too happy, either.

He is famously irritable with reporters. I recently watched him outright refuse to answer a question from ABC's Mark Halperin about entitlement reform, and then cut Halperin dead: "We're not gonna get into that stuff. Anybody else?" Dean is now openly grumping about the endless series of full-slate, joint appearances he's forced to make with his competitors: "Every time at the end of these debates I wish I never had to do another one." And, lately under increasing and heated assault from those competitors, Dean appears wobblier and less certain of his tactics than in the past--one minute issuing public, plaintive pleas for relief, and the next concocting savage pay-back rejoinders. In a single news cycle on October 28, after the Gephardt campaign had renewed its criticism of Dean for taking "the Republican position" on Medicare, Dean first fairly begged for mercy: "I think Dick has got to stop this. He has got to put his gun back in his holster. . . . One of us is going to be the next president and Dick has got to tone this down." Then, a few hours later, Dean authorized his top strategist, Joe Trippi, to raise the volume to a roar--by launching an incendiary (and apparently baseless) accusation that Gephardt campaign operatives in Des Moines had physically roughed up a Dean aide and called the young man a "******."

But the worst trouble by far that Dean has run into this fall, needless to say, involves race relations. There was, for starters, his September 9 boast, during a debate at Baltimore's Morgan State University, that "I'm the only white politician that ever talks about race in front of white audiences." It simply wasn't true, as all the other candidates indignantly pointed out. And the first of them to do so, ominously enough, was the Rev. Al Sharpton, always eager to play the spoiler, who'd already been needling Dean for weeks, and was on national television mocking the frontrunner's "only white politician" remark just minutes after the Morgan State debate was done.

Three weeks later, in what was purportedly a fit of outraged vanity over Dean's endorsement by Jesse Jackson Jr., Sharpton reached for the Doomsday bomb, accusing Dean--at a Democratic National Committee meeting, no less--of promoting an "anti-black agenda." Dean's past "opposition to affirmative action," "current support for the death penalty," and "historic support of the NRA's agenda," Sharpton promised, "will not sell in communities of color in this country."

It was legendary race-baiter Al Sharpton talking, granted. But his bill of particulars was not inaccurate, exactly. Dean did once say that he thought preference programs for hiring and admissions should be based not on race, but on class. Dean has abandoned his past opposition to the death penalty--and has yet to produce a truly coherent rationale for his change of mind. And Dean was, until very recently, the proud possessor of a consistent 100 percent rating from the NRA. None of which stuff will do him very much good once the campaign heads into its first, big, post-New Hampshire contest: South Carolina, where half or more of the Democratic primary electorate is black.

Moreover, even had Al Sharpton never said a word--even had Dean not uttered his fabulous gaffe last week about the Confederate flag, which we will come back to in a moment--the former governor of Vermont would still be operating with a structural, race-related disadvantage. His campaign has won a larger body of regular, reliable, and financially generous supporters than any other in the field to date. And it remains the case that very, very few of those supporters are African American.

There was a candidates' debate in Detroit on October 26, and at 5:30 that afternoon, I showed up at a sunken concrete plaza on the city's downtown riverfront for the scheduled opening of a pre-event Dean rally. This time I was wearing a press badge. Which immediately attracted a small knot of rallygoers who wanted to complain about how campaign volunteers were leaning on them to throw away their handmade anti-Bush signs and carry nice, blue, professionally printed "Dean for America" placards instead.

The volunteers in question then rushed to explain themselves: "We just want a more homogenous look," one of them told me. And that's what they wound up getting, though the signs didn't have anything to do with it in the end. There were something like 200 people at the Dean rally by the time I headed off to get ready for the debate itself. And all but four of them were white--in the middle of an urban jurisdiction whose population is 82 percent black. Stories like these are legion. Not too long ago, a personal appearance by Dean, advertised by his aides as an opportunity "to connect with black voters," drew an almost all-white crowd--at an African Methodist Episcopal Church.

This may well prove a temporary phenomenon, but it is an interesting one. Not so much for why it's arisen. And not so much for the campaign's persistent but awkward and so far unsuccessful efforts to make it go away. "[T]he way you organize in the African-American community is different from the way you organize in the white community," Dean has been known to muse aloud--to a panel of African-American journalists, who must have been amazed to hear it. "You gotta go to the leadership," he told them. "You gotta go to the churches, community leadership."

The whiteness of Dean's movement is interesting more than anything else for the reaction it's inspired in the candidate himself: his repeated, explicit insistence that it oughtn't be happening, that he doesn't deserve it, that it inaccurately reflects what he's about and who he is, even. Though it has caused him nothing but grief, Dean has pointedly refused to back down from that claim to be the "only white politician" who speaks candid racial truths to other white people. At the end of a long, testy, and embarrassing exchange about the matter on ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos asked him the obvious question: "Now, why not just say, you know, 'Maybe I shouldn't have said it that way?'" And Dean shot back: "Because I think I'm right."

And it's apparent that Dean thinks he's right, that he believes himself unusually well-qualified to serve as ambassador of racial understanding to the rest of white America, because, as he told Salon's Jake Tapper, "I have in some ways a special relationship with the African-American community"--on account of "my college career." Which is to say: "I had two African-American roommates" during freshman year.

This, too, has become a leitmotif in the Dean campaign. He says it over and over and over again. He says it to black churchmen whom he's attempting to court. He says it to white reporters when he's trying to convince them that such courtships will bear fruit. And it is a very easy tic to make fun of, to be sure: "I have more than a passing familiarity with the African-American community"; "I did a lot of things on the ground" during the civil rights movement; "I was rooming with two African Americans." For nine months. At Yale.

One cringes.

But at the same time one makes a very grave mistake if one supposes that Howard Dean is anything other than sincere about all this. Race relations clearly matter to him. A lot.

DEAN IS RENOWNED FOR HIS PRICKLINESS, and is especially prickly about his family background: The handsome home on the duck pond in East Hampton. The sprawling eleventh-story apartment on Park Avenue in New York. The household help, the boarding school in Rhode Island, the trust fund. Dean hates to be reminded of such stage-setting nonsense. "Where I come from is a lot different than where most people think I come from," Dean griped when George Stephanopoulos asked why he so rarely discussed his childhood. For one thing, Dean offered by way of rebuttal to what "most people think," nobody ever talks about "who I spent my time with during the civil rights movement," a reference, yet again, to his freshman-year roommates. The logic of which reference may seem to be elusive: Why should having black friends at Yale necessarily be so radically at odds with a proper understanding of the life Howard Dean led beforehand?

But there is a logic to it. In less guarded moments, our Howard Dean, "Little Howard" as it devolves he was known in the family, has been somewhat more forthcoming about one aspect of his upbringing: the part played in it by his father, "Big Howard" Dean. "My father was just an enormous personality and there was always a part of me that wanted to please him." Big Howard was a "gargantuan figure," Little Howard has recalled, though he has sometimes done so in slightly more evocative and poignant terms: "I was uninclined to confront my father." Who, from the look of things, took a more than ordinary delight, at least occasionally, in pushing his family around--pretty hard. The Boston Globe reports that Big Howard "once gift-wrapped a dead cat, jiggling it as if alive, and handed it to a relative as a birthday present." Har-dee-har-har.

And according to a Dean family friend--the Globe story adds, not incidentally--Big Howard "made no bones" whatsoever about the low opinion he had for black people. Little Howard's African-American Yale College roommates--whom he'd gone out of his way to request from the school's housing office--were formally barred from Big Howard's home.

It isn't possible to pull off a straight-up, simple dime-store psychology job on the trajectory of no-longer-Little Howard Dean's adulthood. Life is complicated. African-American roommates or not, the evidence is incontrovertible--he allows as much--that Dean was actually quite miserable his freshman year at Yale, and almost dropped out, only to be talked into returning by his father. But misery is not the emotional aftertaste the experience has left him. "I had known people of different kinds before," he told Time magazine back in August, "but I had never lived with people that were so different and it was wonderful." Wonderful is not the sort of word Dean nowadays uses to describe East Hampton and Park Avenue, which he seems loath to talk about at all, in fact. "I had two African-American roommates at college," however--whom he will talk about forever, and from contact with whom he clearly believes he acquired some rarefied insight into a better, nobler, correcter way to think and live. Howard Dean says he would like to have conversation about this stuff with other white folks. I, for one, am inclined to believe him.

I am also inclined--it's only a theory--to think Dean the kind of man, by dint of his transformative racial experience, who's attracted to big, dialectical, black-and-white notions, if you'll pardon the expression, about the world's moral-political landscape generally, and about the people who populate it. So of course, if I'm right, Howard Dean would proclaim an intention to canvass for votes among working-class white southerners who didn't go to Yale, and don't know any better, and therefore tend to vote for Republicans. (Some of whom did go to Yale but are nevertheless happy to see 12-year-old girls give birth to their father's children.) Dean would like to have a conversation with working-class white southerners about this Republican problem. And in a moment of laziness--meaning no offense by it, really--of course Dean would refer to his desired conversation partners as "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Which is exactly what he hopes they'll no longer be once he's done with them.

At one point during the debate in Detroit, a red-faced Dean announced that so long as he believes it's the right thing to do, he'll "say what I think, and I don't care if 70 percent of the people in this country disagree with me." It's a style that has worked spectacularly well for him so far. He moves from strength to strength--last week deciding that he had a rich enough campaign treasury to reject millions of dollars in free federal matching funds, this week slated to receive crucial endorsements from two giant union internationals.

Still, though, 70 percent of the people in this country is an awful lot of people to get red in the face about if you want to be elected president, isn't it?

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.


10 Nov 03,, 07:16
What a rude arogant bastard.

He's defenitly going to win the south with his blue blood New England elitest touch. :roll

10 Nov 03,, 22:46
Originally posted by Gio
He's defenitly going to win the south with his blue blood New England elitest touch. :roll
ROTFL! Yep, I'm sure of it! :)

It appears the guy likes to make up stories, or he supports child rape, one of the two.

10 Nov 03,, 23:41
Gotta love thoose liberal wenies that want to strip of us our rights.

I hope he gets elected:roll

11 Nov 03,, 02:47
It would please me greatly to use Mr. Dean as kindling for my next bon-fire.

Think anyone would be terribly upset if i did?

11 Nov 03,, 03:38
There are really only three conclusions you can draw from the pregnant twelve-year-old story:

He is lying about the whole thing, and it never happened.
He has wildly exaggerated the tale to the point the it is unrecognizable. In which case, he is using this sad situation to his political advantage. Disgusting to say the least.
Or worst still. He telling the truth, which is, apparently, that the girl came to his office said she was pregnant, and Dean decided to give to girl an abortion and send her back to be abused again. What did he want? Repeat business? Itís just sickening.

11 Nov 03,, 14:23
Originally posted by M21Sniper
Think anyone would be terribly upset if i did? Probly so snipe. There are people in this world that get offended because of the kind of car some people drive, some jackass would be horribly upset to lose a "world savior" (yes that was hard to type with all the laughing) like dean...snicker

11 Nov 03,, 15:42
Originally posted by M21Sniper
It would please me greatly to use Mr. Dean as kindling for my next bon-fire.

Think anyone would be terribly upset if i did?

I would, but only because it would ruin the taste of my marshmellows.