Everywhere I go I hear people saying how much they hate George Bush. It could very well be the company I keep-my morning coffee group where we argue a lot of politics skews way Democratic. My wife has an anti-Bush bumper sticker on the family wagon. Maybe Bush’s critics have a point. The guy mangles his sentences, ain’t too bright, has us way over our heads in Iraq.
Yet whatever gets said, I can’t bring myself to hate George Bush. In fact, Bush seems like a pretty relaxed hombre to me, a regular old boy who’s always throwing out one-liners, a guy who’s comfortable in his own skin. Thus far-and people can argue this, but I’ll stand my ground-he’s been honest. You can dislike George Bush’s tax policies and his anti-environmental policies and his jingoismbut hate the guy? It doesn’t work for me.
Howard Dean, on the other hand, is someone I am growing to hate.
Confessing my growing hatred-and it really is a visceral contempt that the guy arouses in me-is not something I discuss easily. I have covered campaigns for two decades, and I keep a TV in my office so that in election season I can watch CNN’s Inside Politics all afternoon. One of my fundamental laws is a respect for anyone who puts his name on a ballot and subjects himself to the abject humiliation that goes with being a candidate. I sincerely believe that most politicians get in the game to try to make our world a better place, and they pay a huge price for it. I respect them for it, even love them for it. I know I could not do it myself.
But when it comes to Howard Dean, all personal logic flies out the window. I’m not talking about his positions on the issues. I’m talking about his character, what he exudes, and what appears to lie within him. The man churns up emotions of such antipathy in me that I’m even a little bit startled by them. When his name gets mentioned at cocktail parties, the bile stirs from somewhere near my feet and rushes upward.
I’ve got a pretty fine grip on why he’s such a pathetic excuse for a presidential candidate, and I’ll get to that. But it bears mentioning that the first response he triggered in me, when I started listening to the presidential candidates, was of charging into a black hole devoid of charm, humor, charisma or feeling. Kind of like, well, meeting the busy doctor who’s got a lot of other patients on his mind. Words spew out of his mouth, but bedside manner is not part of the package.
Howard Dean-and I judge him as do the vast majority of other voters, based only on what I read in print and see on television-does not appear interested in others. Maybe it’s Yankee rectitude, a natural inclination towards reserve. But it comes across as smugness-a sense of such utter satisfaction with oneself that others needn’t bother to apply. Even the simple act of shaking hands appears alien to him. Watch him wander into a crowd sometime on television. He holds his arm straight out, keeping himself well removed from others, as if warding off germs. A piece the other day described George Bush’s personal warmthhis interest in reporters, his nicknames for them, his banter. Compare this to Howard Dean, who knows no reporters’ names, never chats, never smirks. Even Dean’s smile is crooked, which speaks volumes. Sometimes you wonder what’s fueling the attempt.
More importantly, his ability to deliver a speech is the worst of any presidential candidate in my lifetime. There is no beginning, middle or end to a Howard Dean speech. There are simply words, uttered without passion or soul, which appear as if out of thin air. There is no rhythm, style or cadence to his phrasing. Most critically, there is no story. There is no anecdote. There is no human example, as if people are merely statistical elements and not living, breathing souls. When Dean is at the podium, he might as well be phoning in a prescription.
Howard Dean says he got involved in politics because of a dispute about a bike path in his home state of Vermont. Now, I like to ride bikes. I like bike paths. But I also like presidents, and how they come to their calling. When I combine bike paths with potential presidents, I see a bourgeois, white-bread, upper-crust, rich New Englander who was brought into contact with the body politic because he wanted to ride his two-wheeler through a pretty part of town. Howard Dean, you get the sense, did not come to the dance after some great insight into the plight of the human condition. He was not intrigued by the clash of races, the barriers of class, those who hold faith in a God and those who do not, the marvelous mutability of the nation as immigrants continue to leap borders and arrive here. He started with riding down a bike path. Now he’s upped the ante with a run for president, and he’s just uttering the formalities.
What really ticks me off-and now we’re at the nub of my gripe-is that when he opens his occluded trap and starts talking about the South, his unearned entitlement just shows. This is a man who grew up on Park Avenue, went to boarding school, angered his family by eschewing a Wall Street career, became a doctor (which is admirable, I confess), and was elected a conservative governor of the most liberal state in the country where there are no African Americans or Hispanics, just old hippies harvesting syrup and weaving blankets. George Bush got out of Yale and became a redneck in the oil patch, which you have to say was a real life experience. Howard Dean got out of Yale and set about building bike paths for the people. It was a hobby existence set in the middle of lovely hills.
When it comes to the real lives people lead in the South, I don’t think Howard Dean feels, knows, understands or remotely approaches the truth about anything we do here. When asked whether he could appeal to Southerners, he said no problemhe was going to speak to the guys who have Confederate flags waving from the backs of pickup trucks. Come again?
Asked later about appealing to Southerners, he said he would soon discuss his faith in Jesus Christ. He said-and this is no lie-that he knows a lot more about religion than most people are aware. An inquiring reporter then asked him to name his favorite book in the Bible, and he said Job, in the New Testament. Actually, it’s the Old Testament, but no matter. We were already on to the imposter before he started making such a public spectacle of himself. The arrogance amazes.
Say what you will about Bill Clinton, the man loved people. At some level, what drew Clinton to others ultimately drew them to him. When you love people, you inspire, give hope, lead. From El Paso to Northern Virginia, most average folks are feeling no spark, no lift, and no love from Howard Dean. They sense an obsequious, arrogant Yankee talking at them about what he purports to be. He is not talking to the people of the South, to working people with hunting permits, to swing voters, to black people, to men and women of faith. He is a man of passion who has none, a man of the people who really doesn’t care much for people, a common, grass-roots, Internet-based candidate who actually believes he is above us.
I will stop now. But speaking as a Southerner, something about Howard Dean bothers me very, very deeply. I know I am not alone.