It's been almost a week since Howard Dean's cuckoo post-caucus bluff. Lacking cable television, I missed the inital reports of his "flip-out," but the next morning, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the ITT staff's hilarious reenactments and creeped-out responses (perhaps best exemplefied by our art director's question: "Do we want this man anywhere near the red telephone?"). And I doubled over in laughter when I came across Doug Ireland's description of Dean, in a TomPaine.com article, as a "mental patient on crystal meth."
But when I realized my reactions and conclusions were virtually identical with everyone else's across the mass media spectrum (on both left and right), up rose that inevitable feeling of self-doubt that dawns whenever I begin to suspect that I am holding an unexamined bias or herd-mentality opinion. I wondered if there was anything missing from the mass media's coverage of Dean's bizarre act and, lo and behold, it was the same thing consistently missing from all mass media coverage: Context.
So let's examine it. Unlike Gephardt, who was so thoroughly trounced that even the tiniest specks of hope were obliterated, Dean had just suffered a major, if not quite catastrophic, defeat. His concession speech came after a long and stress-filled day of last minute campaigning and stump speeches, and he was speaking at a precise moment to a precise audience. Now pause to consider this audience. They were not you and myself, sitting comfortably at home watching television. A large majority of them were campaign workers (young, college-age) who had voluntarily (voluntarily!) moved to Iowa (IOWA!) for several months to canvas and campaign and in general get the word out about their candidate. They had done this work in miserable weather for virtually no reward outside of a few lines with which to pad their resumes. And they had done this work extremely well - had in fact played a large part in propelling their candidate into the status of a frontrunner.
But now their work was done and all of those hours of effort in freezing temperatures now appeared to have been done for nothing. It is probably safe to assume they were somewhat deflated, and it is probably safe to assume Dean sensed this. And knowing that what drew these people to his campaign was his enthusiasm and spirit of defiance, Dean gave it to them one last time. In spades.
Did Dean overcompensate? Yes. Was he uncool? Certainly. Did he go insane? Perhaps. But were Dean's growls and rebel yells any more uncool and insane than uprooting yourself to spend months in a bleak landscape of dying cornfields and icy tractors, freezing your ass off while hassling complete strangers to take notice, get involved, participate in an electoral process that with each passing year gives you less and less of a tangible reason for doing so?*
Democracy is neither cool nor entirely rational, and it gains much of its strength from the irrational exuberance personified by those campaign workers who, for no personal gain, devoted months of their lives to a candidate they believed in. This type of pointless (and profitless) excitement doesn't mesh too well with capitalism, and even less so with a television audience so coolly rational that they can watch bombs paid for by their tax dollars dismember the arms, legs and lives of Iraqi and Afghani children, and then do nothing besides change the channel.
I'm no Dean supporter, but when it comes to taking defeat quietly, I'm rolling with him and Dylan Thomas. Rage against the dying of the light, friends. Or in the words of Howard Dean:
*(This excludes the $300 tax gift munificently bestowed upon us by Lord Bush…which reminds me, why are his tax cuts for the rich no longer referred to as "trickle down" economics? I can think of no more apt a phrase for a policy that so often feels as if Bush were urinating down his pantleg while mashing our heads into the ground with a silver-spurred cowboy boot.)