In the comments to my post from earlier today Ananna asked me, in not quite the same words, what my beef was with Howard Dean and the Deaniacs and why I’ve taken a few swipes at them in the last couple weeks. It’s a fair question, so I thought I’d take some time to answer it. I should note that my views are just mine and that Amp and bean could have entirely different opinions of Dean and his followers, so don’t smear Alas as a whole because of my views. (Incidentally, with apologies to Dave Barry, Howard Dean and the Deaniacs would be a great name for a band.)
Part One: My Problem with Dean
First of all, I should make it clear that Dean would never have been my favorite candidate unless his platform were significantly different, but neither would he have been my last pick. On a policy level Dean is too conservative for my tastes, but he’s not significantly more or less conservative than any of his major rivals in the primary. This lack of attachment on an ideological level means that, to me, the only difference between the major Democratic candidates is their personality and presentation. It’s on this level, the personal, that my problem with Dean originates.
I’ve watched or listened to many, but not all, of the primary debates and I’ve listened to some of Dean’s speeches and watched some of Dean’s interviews and my impression has always been the same: that he’s arrogant and tactless, neither of which is a trait that I think is a good thing for a world leader to have. I feel that I need to make it clear that I don’t think that Dean is “too angry” or the dreaded U-word, “unelectable,” but that he displays traits that I don’t think it’s in the nation’s best interests for the President to have especially at a time when the United States is going to have to work very hard at rebuilding international relationships. To be frank, we already have an arrogant, tactless President and this has not gone well. And no, to state another disclaimer, I don’t think that Dean is Bush-lite or a closet Republican just because I made a comparison between his demeanor and Bush’s demeanor.
So why do I think he’s arrogant and tactless? One, he routinely talks down to members of the press when being interviewed (at least on television, I haven’t noticed this propensity in print). I have the same amount of distaste for the press corps as a lot of people do, but when Dean treats the press poorly it shows he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care a.) how to deal with people he doesn’t like, or b.) that people are actively developing their relationship to him based on how they see him treating other people, the press being the most common “other people” that the populace will see him interacting with. Since I don’t think that Dean is an idiot (in fact I think he’s quite the opposite) I can’t help but think that he doesn’t care what people think of him, this being the definition of arrogance. Again, this isn’t the attitude I want the President to have when trying to repair the international relations damage that Bush has wrought.
Another way in which I feel that Dean’s arrogance manifests itself is in his speaking style. When giving a speech Dean doesn’t frame his positions or himself in a way that would appeal to someone who doesn’t already agree with him. He gives a laundry list of assertions, apparently assuming that anyone listening agrees with him and already thinks that he should be the President. This plays well to people who see this sort of thing as being confidence, but to others, like myself, it looks as though Dean can’t be bothered to say why his particular take on a policy is better than one of his rivals, or why people who find him too conservative should pick him instead of Clark, Edwards, or Kerry.
One could argue that he accomplishes the task of saying why he’s better than other candidates by way of his attacks on those candidates, but that’s where his tactlessness trips him up. Regardless of how Dean issues an attack (although the rhetorical bludgeon appears to be his weapon of choice), he doesn’t respond well to them, at least not in a debate or interview setting. He tends to sputter, say the equivalent of “Yeah, well…”, and bring back out the bludgeon. He hits back hard, but he does this gracelessly, establishing for himself no moral position from which to critique. If he were able to respond to their attacks with more tact, by which I mean answering the accusation while pointing out his rival’s flaws, he would appear to be making a reasoned stance instead of merely slinging mud because he wants the nomination.
Also, he has a boring name and looks German. (For those of you playing the home game: that was a lame joke.)
Part Two: My Problem with Deaniacs
Ananna wanted to know why I and others had singled out Deaniacs for the object of my ire rather than spreading the dislike to include Clarkies, Kucinicheads, Moseley-Braunites, Sharptonians, and Kerry Kids. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it comes down to two things: volume, and signal-to-noise ratios. There are a lot of Deaniacs in the blogsphere talking a lot of crap at a very high volume. You don’t see very many Sharpton supporters in the comment threads of message boards saying that anyone who doesn’t support their candidate in the primaries is either a Republican or an idiot. By contrast, I see a lot of Dean supporters (this is not a bad thing) who are saying that people who vote for Kerry or Edwards are simply too stupid to see that by doing so they’re leading this country into a hell of gulags and one minute hates (this is a bad thing). To make it clear, though: a Sharpton supporter or Kucinich supporter or Kerry supporter or Edwards supporter who says the same thing gets me just as irritated as a Dean supporter who says it. Actually, that’s why I stopped reading the comment threads at the Daily Kos; I got tired of the endless “the General can piss further than your Doctor” and “the Doctor eats your candidate for lunch” and “the [General/Doctor] is more electable than your loser” crap that took the place over when Clark announced.
Telling other people that they’re scum because they don’t share your convictions about a candidate is shitty. People disagree. People can honestly make an intelligent judgment based on the evidence available to them that disagrees with judgments you yourself have made. The Deaniacs who understand this are okay with me, and I’m happy to discuss candidates and issues with them. The Deaniacs who don’t understand this, and so posit that Kerry’s only winning because of a Republican/Diebold scheme to re-elect Bush, have none of my respect. I don’t like blind partisanship and there seems to be a highly partisan Dean party within the larger Democratic party in a way that there isn’t a Kerry party or an Edwards party. Those were the people I was commenting on in the post that Ananna responded to.
A recap and a few points…
I don’t like Dean because I feel that he has presented himself as a type of person that I feel is not suited for the Presidency. I don’t like some Deaniacs because they seem to have forgotten that people can disagree with them and that non-Dean Democrats are on their side (or were prior to being called fools). I don’t think that these partisan Deaniacs are representative of everyone who supports Howard Dean.
Also, and this bears making clear, I think that Dean was an invaluable part of this primary season, and I think that his campaign has been an impressive indication of the way that things really could be. Dean has done more to shape the agenda and presentation of the Democratic party than any other single person in the country (with the notable exception of George W. Bush) and for that, for his arrogance and tactlessness, the primary and the party is better off. Because of the innovations that Dean’s campaign introduced, elections are better off. I think that Dean is a great candidate for the primary, I just don’t think he’s a great candidate for the general election. I suspect, though, that he’s just about worn out his usefulness and has certainly worn out his welcome.
To clear a few things up, just in case: I don’t really like any of the candidates and don’t know who I’ll be pulling the lever for when the Colorado primary hits in April. I’d be happiest with an Edwards or a Kerry nomination, but only because I find them less distasteful than others (although Kerry is losing my sympathies). It is my sincere belief, though, that any of the candidates could clean Bush’s clock in the general election.
And yes, if Dean is nominated I’ll happily vote for him. I may not think he’d make a great President, but he’d be better than what we have now.