Politics & Policy

The Two Faces of Howard Dean

His convention speech wasn't the real show.

Speaking to the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, former Vermont governor Howard Dean delivered a subdued and lackluster address that bore little resemblance to the fiery speeches that once made him the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. But just a few hours earlier, in an appearance before a left-wing organizing group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dean was his old self, nearly reprising the yelling, vein-popping “I have a scream” speech that helped lead to his downfall after the Iowa caucuses.

Among other things, Dean told a forum sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future that Democrats should not call President Bush a fascist for the duration of the convention. He accused the Bush administration of “book burning.” He vigorously defended Teresa Heinz Kerry’s telling a reporter to “shove it.” And he defiantly repeated some of the most controversial statements of his campaign.

Perhaps ironically, Dean began his speech with a low-key, joking reference to the Iowa debacle. After he was introduced, and supporters began to chant, “Howard, Howard, Howard,” Dean smiled and said, “You know what comes next?” He then went into a self-parodying riff: “We’re gonna win in Michigan, we’re gonna win in California, we’re gonna win in Illinois….”

But after that beginning, Dean reverted to the Dean of old. He praised his supporters for pioneering practices like “meet-ups” during the campaign. He praised his campaign’s reliance on small contributions. And when it came to the things his campaign did wrong, he said, “There were a few little slip-ups. You can’t call the president a fascist. You’re not supposed to do that this week, anyway.” The audience loved it, as they did when he said the Bush administration is “an administration where they like book burning better than reading books.”

Dean also praised Teresa Heinz Kerry’s decision to tell a reporter to “shove it” when asked a question she did not like. “So Teresa Heinz Kerry told the reporter to shove it,” Dean said. “How many of you guys would like to tell a reporter to shove it?” The crowd cheered. Dean added, “You know what? Kerry’s going to win the election just because of his wife. She [is] fantastic. Isn’t she great? Isn’t she great?”

Dean also devoted substantial time to defending some of the most controversial statements he made during the campaign. For example, last December he was roundly criticized for claiming that the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq had not made America any safer. On Tuesday, Dean emphatically said he was right. “Less safe since Saddam Hussein was captured,” he said. “Less safe. Less safe.”

During the campaign Dean was also criticized for saying that white southern voters base their decisions on “guns, God, and gays.” On Tuesday, he said it all again. “Sooner or later, the voters are going to get tired of voting on guns, God, and gays, and start voting on education [and] health care,” Dean said, adding that “progressive” politicians will triumph in the South “after those voters in Mississippi get tired of voting for those right wingers.”

Finally, Dean closed with one of those impassioned, shouting, run-on paragraphs that used to rouse crowds so effectively during the best days of his candidacy. He told the audience that they should stop being afraid of being Democrats and then–this time not joking–echoed that infamous Iowa speech. “We’re going to go to Mississippi,” Dean said, “and Alabama, and Idaho, and….”

All that was missing was the scream that ended the Iowa speech–and Dean’s candidacy. This time, in Cambridge, as in Iowa, Dean’s fans loved it. They could not have known, but they were hearing him say all the things that, reined in by the Kerry campaign and Democratic officials, he would not be able to say Tuesday night at the convention.


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