Judging by Howard Dean’s “Blog for America,” his front-line supporters are petulant, foolish, mean-spirited and, well, creepy.
In the last two weeks, the Scene has received dozens of letters in support of Howard Dean after editor Bruce Dobie penned a blistering column on why he “couldn’t stand” the Democratic candidate for president. The fiery backlash seemed emblematic of the former Vermont governor’s feisty grassroots support. But there’s a paper tiger here. If you read the Web log on the candidate’s site, you’ll see that his supporters make it a point to flood the media with letters, being careful to hide any official affiliations and to appear instead as average voters. The result-newspapers full of sycophantic pro-Dean lettersis a mirage. Here’s an entry in Dean’s blog posted the morning after Dean’s underwhelming performance in New Hampshire:
“Don’t just post it here, write letters to your local papers!!! The Dean campaign won’t have to attack Kerry if you do that job for them! We’ve got more than enough info to ensure that Kerry gets slammed on way or another. USE IT!
Everyone here, NO EXCEPTIONS, needs to keep writing letters to your local paper until you get one published. Even if another local Deaniac gets one published, you should still keep writing. Write that you’re peeved at the paper for not exposing the truth. They’re more likely to publish letters that directly challenge them than ordinary issue letters.
The only thing to be careful about is don’t associate yourself directly with the Dean campaign. Say you support Dean because he is all that Kerry isn’t, but if you’re in a local group, don’t mention that connection.”
In other words, lie your ass off. And while you’re at it, bash the hell out of Kerry.
Dean’s supporters aren’t exactly employing new techniques. The Christian Coalition, in its early days, urged its members to quietly infiltrate secular organizations, like school boards, before unveiling far right agendas. It’s just that the religious right got tarred and feathered, while Deaniacs are typically just viewed as young, exuberant and passionate.
I tried to read as much of Dean’s Blog for America as I could to see if anybody disapproved of the above entry, but I didn’t pick up any dissent. Instead, people expressed support for the tactics it extolled. Other entries were equally telling: One guy bragged about Dean’s anti-gun control record. That’s hardly something you’d expect a liberal to crow about. But if there’s one prevailing theme on Dean’s site, it’s about winning, not ideas. We expect that bottom-line approach from operatives, consultants, some journalists and angry conservativesnot from Dean’s supposedly idealistic base.
Another entry pointed out that it’s Kerry, not Dean, who is “unelectable.” After all, Kerry is a “big Boston-based New England liberal.” Whatever happened to Dean’s one-time winning line, “I’m from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party”?
Then there’s the entry that while Kerry might be a war hero (he risked his life to save someone else’s), he ultimately protested the Vietnam War, which, all of the sudden, is a cardinal sin among the Dean crowd. “Kerry’s anti-Vietnamism will counter his ‘war hero’ status in the South. It’s one thing to say that Vietnam was wrong, it’s another thing to French kiss Jane Fonda.” (Notice the quotes around “war hero,” as though Kerry doesn’t deserve the designation.)
We could quote more, but check it out for yourself at blogforamerica.com. None of it resembles what Nation writer David Corn naively called a campaign of “reform-minded citizens who wanted to bring public-interest democracy to Washington.” It’s more like a Star Trek fan club debating where to hold their next convention.
Few candidates look good if you judge them by the actions of their most fervent supporters. But the problem with Dean is that all he has are fervent supporters. Normal, working people whose lives are too full to spend two weeks campaigning in the snow don’t seem to be warming up to him.
Or maybe his groupies are to blame. Dean, who has a unique, bold, even courageous message, is hostage to the very movement he created. Which, unfortunately for him, is really irritating.
E-mail Pulle at email@example.com.