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January 22, 2004

Laugh it off. Tom Tomorrow has exactly the right advice for Howard Dean:
If I were in the Dean camp right now, I’d be trying to pull a little jiu-jitsu—turn that “yeaarrggh” thing around, make it a joke, embrace it. Open campaign rallies with that remix that’s floating around the ‘net. Hand out t-shirts to volunteers which just say “YEEAAARRRGGH” across the front. Maybe have Dean open speeches with some mildly self-deprecating joke: “I’ve taken a lot of kidding for my speech in Iowa—but if you think I was hollering then, wait till you get the bill for Bush’s spending spree!”

You can’t make it go away, but you can turn it around.

Just so. Along with a fifty-state organization and a pile of cash, one of Dean’s biggest assets is that he’s a rock star. Trying to recover from Iowa by going completely bland isn’t going to work, because charisma is inextricably linked with having actual personality quirks. Americans are fine with their Presidents having quirks; real leaders have strengths and weaknesses, at least in the stories you actually want to read and imagine yourself part of.

Americans do, however, want their charismatic leaders to show some humor about their own foibles. The guy who goes “yeaarrggh” under stress and then makes fun of himself the next day is a Good Egg and probably trustworthy. The guy who goes “yeaarrggh” and then is later all bland and softspoken like it never happened, on the other hand, is a bit scary. (Whether Dean is being treated fairly about this is a non-issue. Of course it’s unfair. Among other things, voters want to see how potential Presidents handle being treated unfairly.)

This sense of humor about one’s self can even be 100% synthetic. Richard Nixon was basically a bastard whose actual sense of humor was coarse at best, but a carefully-scripted imitation of wryly humorous self-regard was an important element of the “New Nixon” persona that won the 1968 election.

To reiterate, I lean to Dean, but in this election I’m something I’ve taken to calling a “gladiatorial Democrat.” I’m watching from the stands, and whichever one of the guys in this arena wins the prize, I’ll be for them against Bush. But the future of Dean is definitely one of the knife-edge subplots right at the moment. [12:25 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Laugh it off.:

Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 12:40 PM:

Your recent sidelight on Clinton's jokewriter makes this point neatly, with the bit about the egg-timer.

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 01:42 PM:

The problem I have with Dean is that The Scream is only one of several gaffes he's committed so far, and there's a long, long row left to hoe. You can only do so much damage control before the Republicans and the media make such gaffes the focus of the campaign. I don't like the odds of Dean being able to laugh off enough future gaffes to beat Bush, frankly.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 01:57 PM:

Dean's gaffes--like what, openly mocking a person he was putting to death, or revealing that he didn't know the details of his own party position, or causing an international incident by saying that North Korea had broken its agreements with the US?

Compared to those, Dean's gaffes look like trivial mistteps. Which, in fact, they are.

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 02:12 PM:

Dean’s gaffes—like what, openly mocking a person he was putting to death, or revealing that he didn’t know the details of his own party position, or causing an international incident by saying that North Korea had broken its agreements with the US?

You don't have to convince me that Bush is an ass, but Dean's only made it harder on himself by making gaffes like the Confederate flag comment, the pointed retort to that Iowa farmer (it only made him look mean-spirited, IMO), and the Bin Laden flap that he stumbled into. Beating Bush is hard enough without handing him such ammunition to distract voters with.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 02:51 PM:

Actually, I thought the Confederate-flag thing was a pretty canny move. He got to raise an issue that really needs to be raised, and in the process a whole bunch of Southern white voters got to hear that some Northern Democrats would actually like to compete for their votes. He took some heat for it, but he also got a bounce from all the people who then said "wait a minute, maybe he could have been more tactful but he's actually right."

Back-and-forthing about whether Dean can pull it out is kind of pointless; either he will or he won't, and while I like the guy, his future isn't Topic A for me. What I do recall is that a month ago Kerry was finished; twelve years ago, Clinton was finished; etc., etc. William Goldman said it about the entertainment industry, but it's true in politics too: "Nobody Knows Anything."

Travis Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 03:21 PM:

Ben Hammersley's Dangerous Precedent has links to a few tracks that put Dean's exclamation to music.

Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 03:52 PM:

I don't think the Confederate flag comment was a gaffe. It tells me that Dean is paying attention to swing voters and non-voters. Plenty of people are standard democract voters. But as last time proved, that's not enough (skipping over the Florida debacle). I'm glad someone is thinking ahead--and making new voters an issue.

I also think that Americans are tired of canned speakers, so I think it's possible to turn this around. Guess we'll see.

I like Dean, but I'll tell you. Anyone But Bush. If that means voting for Kerry, fine. If it means voting for a persimmon colored dancing weasel in a feather boa, also fine.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 04:14 PM:

What fucking crazy-ass planet do you have to come from to perceive someone exhorting his team to greater efforts enthusiastically shouting “Yeah!” as any kind of gaffe? Or, for that matter, as an expression of anger? Why is this getting spelled “Yeeaargh” when he was very clearly shouting “Yeah”? Why do I feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 04:29 PM:

All true, but as I observed, fair ain't the issue.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 04:36 PM:

I didn’t say anything about fairness, I’m just trying to figure out where David comes from, talking about this as a “gaffe” on Dean’s part, and why Tom Tomorrow appears to be buying into the GOP’s latest lie, even as he tries to work around it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 04:57 PM:

Jeez, Avram. Like I said, I don't think Dean's Iowa concession/revving up the troops speech was anything like the indication that Dean Is A Wild Crazy Man that some people are playing it as.

But I don't think that impression is entirely coming from "Republican lies," either. Stuff that works in person in one situation can later look really different on national TV. Dean already knew he had a problem with the "anger" meme. Of all the things Dean can do about it now, complaining that it's all a "lie" is probably not the most effective. I'm pretty sure Dean is pragmatic enough to know this.

I'm also pretty sure Tom Tomorrow wasn't "buying into" anything. This is exactly the direction that pragmatic discussions of political tactics always threaten to go -- Jesus Christ! Why do we have to deal with this shit? Can't people see that it's shit? You know something: you have to deal with it. That's why it's called politics, rather than ethics or justice.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 06:16 PM:

Um guys. I experienced that speech in person with my very own eyes and ears. I also heard the speech Tom Harkin did just before it. They used some of the same lines just about word for word. It was all meant to whip up the troops and was, I suspect, pretty carefully scripted. I think it was basically an act, a routine, that they had to do to raise the spirits of the workers and keep them up. Don't know if the Yeaaah at the end was scripted or not -- I was already on my way to the door as mass cheering and chanting do bad things to my nerves. I will mention also that Dean had very little voice left at that point and it was pretty much hoarse and gravelly. The sound may not have come out at all as he intended. Impossible to tell and, as our genial host points out, not important. What's important is dealing with the silliness the opposition are trying to throw at us in the proper manner. Fair isn't even orthogonal to the situation.

Elizabeth: " If it means voting for a persimmon colored dancing weasel in a feather boa, also fine."

That picture made me giggle a lot. I just bought a big fat purple feather boa -- perhaps I should have my picture made in that and a Dean t-shirt for my new icon...


sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 06:25 PM:

This story contains a quote indicating that Dean may be taking Tom's advice: "I have still not recovered my voice from my screeching in Iowa," Dean jokingly told a town hall meeting."

Jeremy Lyon ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 07:32 PM:

For an even more complete list of mixes, see this site.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 08:00 PM:

You know, I could get behind the persimmon-coloured dancing weasel, as long as the boa is in a complementary colour. It'd be a nice change of pace to know from the start our leader is...


(Actually, I'm leaning towards Dean, too, and if you've been paying attention -- and you probably haven't, I'm not that interesting -- that's a big statement coming from me, Ms. "I Vote Third-Party and LIKE IT".)

(Apropos of nothing -- my "remember this info" stuff is being remembered again, despite earlier problems. Yay.)

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 10:25 PM:

BTW, Dean is doing the Top 10 on Letterman tonight. I like this move.

Lis ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 10:45 PM:

Not only is he doing Letterman, but the top ten list is precisely poking fun at the rant.

10. Switch to decaf.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 10:53 PM:

So, does anyone else think Judy Dean is a fan?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 11:21 PM:

I certainly did! It was my first impression of her, the first time I saw a picture of her.

Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 12:15 AM:

The one thing I can say about Judy Dean is that a couple of people who attended my Burlington, VT, book signing last weekend know her as a local physician -- and speak highly of her as a great doctor who cares strongly about the patient and particularly about women patients. That goes a long way with me.

And yes, she sure strikes me as having fannish body language.

Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 02:12 AM:

Yeah, this post was in my head as I listened to NPR on the drive home. Dean did indeed make the joke about the Iowa scream. And when I got home, Hal showed me the Top Ten previews. On the whole, you could almost get the impression that someone in the Dean campaign is listening.

Andy ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 05:52 AM:

Well I think the really damaging thing about Dean's, erm, eruption was that it can be linked to a series of acts that don't paint him in a good political light. The larger issue that I don't really being seen raised in these comments is that Dean's campaign team screwed up Iowa bad and there isn't a ton of signs that he can turn this mismanagement around. Working around that ghastly yelp is fairly easy but the steps to make a better campaign are much harder.

janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 08:01 AM:

Andy has it right. The REAL story is not that scream (which I read as football fanaticism) but that Dean, who was SUCH a frontrunner, ended way in the back of the pack. Heads should be rolling on his team. Somebodies somewhere screwed up big time. And while it's easy to blame it on the candidate--remember the scream was AFTER the loss-- it also has to do with his organization. (This from someone who worked on the McGovern campaign, was town coordinator for the Father Robert Drinan's campaign, and married to the official photographer for Ed Koch's first run for NY congress.)


David W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 09:42 AM:

I don't think Dean's organization in Iowa can be blamed for his poor showing in Iowa. Dean's followers did the sort of things that should have been done and Trippi also ran plenty of ads, which I think undermines the argument that it was a last-minute ad blitz by Kerry and Edwards that did Dean in. What I think happened is that the turnout for the Democratic caucus was significantly higher than usual, and consequently there were far more moderate to even conservative Democrats in attendance. These folks gravitated more to Kerry and Edwards instead of Dean, as you might expect. Combined with Dean's slide in the polls with more likely caucus attendees (due to the obvious fact that other candidates, especially Gephardt, were focusing their attacks on Dean), it added up to a third place finish for him overall.

janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 09:54 AM:

The gossip I heard (and I talked to a friend who is a major pollster as well) was that the hordes of kids ringing doorbells were a turnoff to older voters. That the influx of young non-Iowans felt assaultive to many. (We had that same problem with McGovern volunteers--we were too enthusiastic and too little concerned with answering questions except with a kind of cocky we-know-best attitude.) So I think what was lacking in the Dean hordes was a kind of compassion and the ability to empathize with those they were trying to convert. A few careful training sessions could have helped.
The trouble with Believers is that they believe anyone who isn't on their side is somehow stupid or misguided or evil. (See the Bushites.)


David W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 10:18 AM:

Heh, here's what my sister told me about her caucus night in Muscatine, IA. She's one of three Edwards delegates from her precinct who are going to the Muscatine County Democratic convention, along with five Dean and three Kerry delegates:

"Yes, I am an Edwards delegate - we got the Kucinich, Gephardt, Clark and Lieberman voters to join us at the caucus. We had really obnoxious Dean people at our caucus and they outnumbered us and I think most people joined us because the Dean people were such jerks. They know nothing about politics, that's for sure. We beat out the Kerry people, but we wanted Kerry to do well also - we really would like to see Dean out of the race. He's such a political moron. The most rabid, rich Republican in town came to the 6th precinct caucus and stood for Dean - they know he's the easy one to beat - we had a lot of Republicans turn out to do that. (I do the same thing to them too.) I am really happy about Edwards. We were only hoping to displace Gephardt and make 3rd. To get second was way beyond our expectations and to see Dean get 18% - yippee!"

As they say, politics ain't beanbag... ;-)

Laurel Krahn ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 10:44 AM:

Folks who missed Dean on Letterman last night can watch a video clip at The Late Show website (in the "Dave TV" section, currently it's the "Big Show Highlight" from last night).

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 01:09 PM:

That's ... jaw-dropping. Right?

As an outsider, all I can say is that whenever I see an American start a sentence with "The first amendment does not confer the right to ..." I can smell the whiff of kerosene being poured on books. Truly scary.

Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 01:50 PM:

Better quickly point out that adamsj's link is to a humor piece in Tapped/the American Prospect, written by National Lampoon alum (and featured player in "This Is Spinal Tap") UK-born Tony Hendra.

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 05:50 PM:

Consider me reassured ... but thoroughly taken in by it. The tone is all too familiar.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 07:24 PM:

David W. has it pretty much right. We tried hard on the training, Jane, we really did, but there were too many trainees and not enough trainers. See my blog for details.



adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 10:09 PM:

The American Prospect is one of my favorite humor magazines, between this, Tom Tomorrow, and this piece by Robert Reich.

Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:00 AM:

Re the dancing weasel: I've been thinking something similar about the rockin' Rev, since TV showed Al Sharpton doing his James Brown dancing impression.

As for the rebel yell bit, yes the media and Dean's enemies are making way too much of it, but what bothered me was the resemblence to Bush in cowboy mode. We've had all the cowboyism we can take in this country. Dragging out his doctor wife onto the campaign trail also seems like a pretty desperate measure. What next, give her helmet hair?

I'm still undecided how I'll vote in the AZ primaries. Everyone's behavior in NH may give me a clue. (Only 3 candidates are running ads here. Clark's "inspiring" music makes me want to puke, but maybe the old vets will buy it.)

Though I'm anything but an activist type, it's interesting to hear from those who are.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 12:02 PM:

"As for the rebel yell bit, yes the media and Dean’s enemies are making way too much of it, but what bothered me was the resemblence to Bush in cowboy mode. We’ve had all the cowboyism we can take in this country."

I don't get this at all. George W. Bush isn't a cowboy, he's a dude--a phoney who puts on cowboy airs. Real cowboys, i.e. working ranch folks, are as liable as anyone to have views that you or I would agree with, so I'm pretty reluctant to use the word as some kind of label for The Enemy.

If you mean that our politics suffers from an excess of showy masculine aggressiveness, again, I'm not sure I agree there either. Several reviewers of the Paul O'Neill book have observed that one thing that emerges from it is a picture of George W. Bush's remarkable passivity; he seems to get pushed around to very great degree by his immediate staff, to the extent that policy is constantly being made by the operations of bureaucratic warfare. Meanwhile, it's hard not to think that we all might be a bit better off if various Democratic Congressional leaders had been a bit more alpha-male don't-fuck-with-me aggressive over the last three years.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 12:10 PM:

Faren: Did you watch the interview with the Deans and Diane Sawyer? I thought Mrs. Dean made it pretty clear that though he'd asked her, it was her decision to do it or not. Also, nobody is going to give that woman helmet hair. She wouldn't even let them put makeup on her for the tv show.


Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2004, 10:58 AM:

On Bush: I mean the "Bring 'em on!" character. Maybe he only exists in soundbites. For a funny take on his space asperations, see the latest "Tom the Dancing Bug" cartoon: http://www.uclick.com/client/wpc/td/

On Dean's wife: Sorry. I stand corrected.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2004, 12:09 PM:

There are times when I look at the landscape and wonder who spun the Wheel of If. I finally got around to listening to that Dean speech, and I heard a happy, busy, tired man trying to make himself heard over a rather too boisterous but also happy crowd. My gang of friends will say things like "Woot!" and "Woo hoo!"; he said "Yee-hah!" Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. It would not have occurred to me to find anything to cringe about with regard to it, and I'm just flat-out wondering why anyone sees anything weird or awkward about it.

I mean, okay, sure, I can see why Republican partisans will profess a problem with it, but there's a certain species of partisan (on all sides, including mine, darn it) for whom anything at all done by another side except slavish capitulation and ignominous death is a problem. I don't see why anyone who's not that sort of a partisan should take not or care, and the available record makes it perfectly clear that such folks would seize on anything at all. It's not the yee-hah, that is, it's the fact of not surrendering that's grounds for offense for those folks. Since I'm looking for someone to vote for instead of trying to protect the current president at all costs, I'm not buying into that agenda...and I fail to see any other grounds for concern.

This is a manufactured event of the purest sort. Guy Debord would be pleased, in an ironic sort of way.

BSD ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2004, 12:24 AM:

I'm a Kerry man, myself, but Dean's energy at that concession, and his surety that this was not the end, was quite inspiring. It's one thing that I feel Kerry sometimes lacks -- heis an incredible speaker, a remarkable debater, and a truly great guy, but it seems that he lacks the fire Dean has (even in his Movement days, those from that era report, he was not known for fire).

And, to be sure, the site whewre I found and downloaded a bunch of Dean remixes is run by a Dean supporter, and has a Dean donation button.