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Doctor Dean quacks up

Mike Marchand | Sunday, January 25, 2004

It must be tough to be Howard Dean. From the looks of things, even Howard Dean is having a hard time being Howard Dean.Last Monday, in the Iowa caucus, he was beaten soundly, by 20 and 14 points by John Kerry and John Edwards, respectively, two guys whose campaigns were roadkill as little as four weeks ago. Up until the Hawkeye State, Dean had never lost an election in his 20-year political career. Initially, he seemed like he was handling his defeat well, smiling and waving an American flag before supporters in Des Moines.”If you had told us one year ago that we were going to come in third in Iowa,” Dean said, “we would have given anything for that.” This is quite true: Dean’s revolutionary campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.He then went on: “Not only are we going to New Hampshire … .” At this point, the little Jiminey Cricket inside Howard’s head should have thrown the kill switch and made him stop. But the fervor of the crowd increased, and he lost himself in the moment: “We’re going to South Carolina, and Oklahoma, and Arizona, and North Dakota, and New Mexico …” and he listed just about every other state in the Union, two Canadian provinces and American Samoa.Shortly thereafter, Dean came completely uncorked: “And then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House!” And then he let loose with … well, nobody’s quite sure what exactly it was, but it made dogs cover their ears and sheep in Dubuque bleat inconsolably. Clever wordsmiths noticed that the Iowa caucus was held on Martin Luther King Day and therefore called Dean’s outburst the “I Have A Scream” speech. It’s a fun little pun, and I hate splitting synonymic hairs, but that was most definitely not a scream. It was … a yelp, really, a miniature little shriek that sounds like something someone would blurt when momentarily frightened at a haunted house on Halloween.Other, far more generous observers thought that it was some sort of cathartic therapy, a venting of the energy that had amassed from shouting out states like a rock star who’s trying to pry applause out of a crowd. But it was less Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” and more like, to be honest, Yosemite Sam experiencing an orgasm. And with that in mind, as I scan a thesaurus, I think I’ve found the precise word to describe Dean’s “Yaahhhh!”: an ejaculation. (I’m not lying. Look it up.)If I may say so myself, it’s perfect: it was at the end of the night and came following a rapid buildup to a climactic release. And the next day, he regretted that it ever happened. Psychoanalysts of all stripes have made instant diagnoses of the speech (“He really lost it,” “Over the top … childlike”), but it’s hard to believe none of them considered this more Freudian angle.And, like a sexual expression, it’s all over the Internet. Quirky amateur musicians have set it to music, meaning Dean, who’s an idol to thousands of hip young people who normally don’t vote, is quite possibly the first politician whose words (and other utterances) have been transformed into a dance remix. One Web site’s version was downloaded so often that they pulled it due to bandwidth constraints.Some analysts think that Dean’s candidacy spontaneously combusted with the … uh, eruption. Depending on which New Hampshire tracking poll you favor, he has lost between one-third and one-half of his support since Iowa Night. But that’s more likely due to the damage “Mad How” wrought upon himself before Iowa (“The capture of Saddam has not made America safer”) and the deeper context of his visceral howl.Voters may be a fickle bunch, but nobody’s going to turn away from a candidate because he made a gurgling noise, no matter how ridiculous it sounded or how much it’s mocked on TV. Dean’s losing support because of the impression – which he himself has admitted – that he’s impulsive, or as Dean put it, “I lead with my heart and not my head.” This is a decidedly unpresidential characteristic.So Dean’s fire and passion, which are what helped him lead the Democratic pack, may prove to be his undoing. According to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, only half of New Hampshire Democrats think he has “the kind of personality that a president should have.” Forty-six percent think he does not.Dean has already slipped behind Kerry in New Hampshire, where the primary takes place Tuesday. If he falls to third behind Wesley Clark, who’s an even flakier candidate than Dean is, then you might as well stick a fork in him.But not too hard; he’s prone to wail.

Mike Marchand, class of 2001, is the proud author of “the single most obnoxious thing ever committed to print by any pundit ever” and the winner of a contest by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn. For correctly guessing who would be the first Democratic presidential candidate to withdraw (Carol Moseley-Braun), he received a signed copy of Steyn’s book, which he already owns. Contact him at Marchand.3@ alumni.nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.