At first I saw him as an upstart man of the people who was trying to run as an outsider. I thought he was plucky and daring, and had a lot of energy and charisma. And I liked how, even then, he would unhesitatingly tell it like it is, or at least how he saw it.
Then as the campaign wore on, I started to feel that he had expressed some inconsistent positions for the sake of what was expedient. I began to think that maybe it was all just an act. I began looking at Kerry again, and then hoping hoping hoping that Clark would jump in. When he did, I was ecstatic.
Politics being what it is, the front-runner at the time (Dean) and the perceived threat (Clark) began to go at each other, as did many of their respective supporters. Unsurprisingly, this difficult environment continued to color my perceptions of Dean, invariably negatively. I decided he was using his grassroots support cynically and opportunistically, and that he was "just another politician" like anyone else.
After the primaries were over like a flash in the pan, I became impressed again with Dean's loyalty to the party, and how he really stepped up for Kerry. I laughed at the self-deprecating humor in his Yahoo Local ad, and I loved his book.
Then I read a telling interview with Dean -- and I wish I had it handy -- which utterly convinced me that he had NEVER been acting, that he had NEVER used his grassroots support cynically or opportunistically, that some of the negative things that I had perceived during the primaries was most likely the result of the inevitable crossed wires that happen during any campaign, especially one where the candidate and the campaign manager are often on different wavelengths.
That's when I realized I had been wrong about Dean. He wasn't the one who had changed; it was only my perceptions that had changed.
I now find Howard Dean to be a remarkably consistent person. For example, his position on the war has been rock-solid in terms of its consistency. He had always been an outspoken critic of the war, and he never would have voted to authorize the war and he certainly never would have invaded Iraq. But he has always taken the position that we must finish the incompetent job that Bush so immorally started. He has never taken the position that we need to pull out our troops immediately, because doing so would cause utter chaos and complete the abdication of personal responsibility that so elegantly symbolizes the Republicans. Howard Dean cares about the Iraqi people, and he cares about the standing of the United States in the international community. His eloquent comments just the other day in Australia bear strong testimony to this fact.
So I suppose I have to wonder why a sizable contingent on the left is now taking Dean to task, when they once viewed him as their bannerman against the war. My own personal theory is that back during the primaries, Dean represented the outsider, which is exactly how many on the left feel, so very often. They could relate to Dean. Dean was the cool indie band, the one who sang songs with passion and fire and no one was going to shut him up. His lyrics were powerful, but his melodies were even more powerful, so maybe some folks didn't listen to the lyrics as carefully as they could have. If they had, they would have heard the exact same words he's using today.
And today he's no longer the symbol of the outsider. He's the ultimate symbol of the insider: the Chair of the DNC. The outsiders on the left who once supported him have become wary of him, because he no longer represents the same thing to those outsiders. This is despite the fact that Dean ran for DNC Chair on a theme of changing the system, with an explicit message of being an outsider, and with the support of so many grassroots outsiders who had never had a voice in the arcane processes of the Democratic National Convention.
Now we have one. Howard Dean is our voice, our representative, at the DNC. We have succeeded in our quest with a margin of victory so overwhelming it still takes my breath away. And now that we got what we wanted, it kills me to think that we might be sabotaging ourselves, just because perceptions may have changed.
Howard Dean hasn't changed. The lyrics are still the same, if you listen closely enough. The melodies are still passionate and powerful, and the singer will still speak truth to power. The only thing that's changed is the method of delivery. Whereas Dean was once selling CDs out of the trunk of his car, now he has a big label behind him, with slick jewel cases and cover art and top notch production values.
We should be glad that he now has the platform to reach an even broader audience, because people who are exposed to his music will be richer for it. We shouldn't look at him like a sell-out just because he's made it to the top on his own merit and the strength of his support. We shouldn't feel that just because he's no longer our little secret, he has somehow forgotten about the fans who catapulted him to fame and glory in the first place.
And most importantly, his music is still amazing. All you have to do is listen to the lyrics, and you'll know it.
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