Is This Really the Best We’ve Got?

by Dave Winer

Yesterday, along with fellow bloggers Dave
and Jessica
the Cyber Librarian
the Dowbrigade hit the campaign trail in
New Hampshire,
crashing events in Manchester featuring Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman.
After an engaging drive up to the Granite State, simultaneously discussing
and demonstrating Murphy’s Law, we walked in on a Dr. Dean town meeting
at some swanky executive meeting center in the middle of nowhere, on
the outskirts of Manchester.

Dean was discussing Bush’s photo-op Thanksgiving drop-in at Baghdad
airport, making a lame joke about fake turkeys.  There were about
150 people in the room; about a third of them appeared to be members
of the press
or out-of-state interlopers like us.  The remaining hundred, the
"real" people, were fairly diverse in age, sex, weight and hairstyle,
although there were no black, brown, hispanic or oriental faces to be
seen, by this observer at least.

The Doc was talking from a brightly-lit clear space in from of an enormous
American flag, facing about 80 executive-meeting-center type chairs,
stacking not folding, arranged in neat rows with an aisle down the middle.  The
rest of the rabble, including your intrepid reporter, lined the back
of the room.

Dean stood fairly still in the spotlight, moving his hands for emphasis,
pointing and gesturing, chopping air with tight, controlled karate chops,
but not moving the rest of his body much at all.  He wasn’t sweating,
but he looked tired, and not quite all there, as if part of his mind,
unneeded during the recitation of this standard stump speech, version
37A, was roaming unseen back roads of the political wilderness.

He was talking about Prisons, one of the few growth industries among
the economic turmoil of the recent past.  He described them as "the
most expensive and least effective form of social intervention". Catchy
phrase, no? He went on to mention a study he claimed showed that kindergarten
teachers can identify with a high degree of accuracy, the 5 kids in their
class most likely to end up in prison. Needless to day, this did not sit well with the

We suspect that what Dr. Dean was getting at was that with enlightened
governmental intervention and social support, those 5 kids could be helped
to AVOID incarceration. However, it is not far from there to identifying
pre-criminals and mandating therapy or coercive participation in pernicious programs BEFORE
any actual criminal acts are committed, a la Minority Report. Plus, we
strongly suspect that the Dowbrigade would have been one of the five
kids picked out by his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. West, God rest her soul.

Be that as it may, the rest of Dean’s stock speech was rather standard
Democratic themes; jobs, health care, separation of church and state,
and taking back Washington from Big Business. He closed with his "blockbuster"
line: "We have the power to take back the White House in 2004, and that
is what we are going to do." Followed by a somewhat tepid standing "O"
that looked more like a groups of tired but polite folk stretching their
legs after a long sermon than a spontaneous outburst of approval.

He took a few questions.  And immediately started to tap-dance
around the issues like a kangaroo in a mine field. A blogger asked what
he thought about the major media monopoly of the news, and whether he
supported "alternative" media (which the Dowbrigade understood to mean
"blogging", but we may have been reading in). In answer, Dean started out strong, agreeing
that the major media conglomerates had too much power, and that was why
he opposed the repeal of the FCC regulations limiting the number of outlets
in a particular market that can be owned by a single company or group.

But then he began to backtrack.  His eyes clouded over, as if an
alarm somewhere had gone off and a red light was flashing somewhere deep
in the politically reptilian part of his brain.  He had almost bitten
the hand that feeds him, the hand that could just as easily slap him
upside the head and leave him bruised and broken in the trash heap of
history with the Gary Harts and the Dan Quales, former golden boys who
had outlived their usefulness.

It is a fine and dangerous line a presidential candidate needs to walk
these days.  The only real issues that get the voters riled up –
health care, corporate power, homeland security and the media monopoly
– threaten the very institutions the candidates need to cozy up to in
order to even have a shot at the Big House. Dean is finding out, the
closer he gets to the prize, the more tenuous the footing, the more
dangerous the opposition.  And the more treacherous the allies.

Dr. Dean has reached the Pact-with-the-Devil stage of his political
ascension, and how he handles it will go a long way toward determining
the ultimate impact of his campaign, if not its objective success. But
aside from the relative merits of the many forms of Doom possible for the
Dean campaign, one thing struck us strongly as we watched the good doctor
listlessly strut his stuff in front of the stars and stripes.

This was not a giant striding onto the political stage, by any stretch of
the imagination. This was a sincere but sad and sorry little man, tilting
at windmills and earnestly exhorting his classmates to vote for him like
nerdy sophomore
running for student council. The unfortunate fact is that neither Dean, nor any of the other hacks and
shucksters we have seen, in person or on screen, is in the least bit inspirational.

What is wrong with a system that produced a cast of characters as drab
and dubious as this one? Is it possible that the most powerful and productive
nation in the history of the human race on this planet can find no one better
than this to lead us through these troubled times?

Now, we are not pining for impossible fantasy figures like Cincinnatus
here. But I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears orators
who can light fires behind the eyes of multitudes, who can create a leap
of faith, of soul, of inspiration that is all about the best of politics;
the ability of inspirational leaders to take a group, a people, a nation,
and raise it up to accomplish things that it would not have even imagined
possible without that leader.

When the Dowbrigade was 7 years old, his father took him to hear his
first presidential candidate speak. And when John Kennedy gave a speech, he
sent chills up and down the spines of his
listeners, even a 7-year-old who could understand only a fraction of his words. People went crazy, like it was the Beatles. Are people too cool
for that these days, or have our candidates been watered down, emasculated
by fear of the media and of offending special interests?

One of the most inspirational politicians and public speakers we have
ever had the pleasure of watching work was Alan Garcia, head of the APRA
party and President of Peru from 1985 to 1990.  Six-five and darkly
handsome, Garcia had a charisma and personal magnetism which was mesmerizing
and almost
  We have been in a number of rooms with him, smaller than the room in
which we saw Dr. Dean last night, and from the moment he entered, every eye
was on him. He seemed to radiate energy and light, as though he were constantly
surrounded by a thousand tiny spotlights which illuminated his every move.
When he got up to speak in public it was with an ernest and exuberant oratorical
style that caught his listeners up in a cascade of words and ideas. Waves
of energy would race through the crowd as the strode across the stage, gesturing,
exhorting, inspiring.  Of course, he was defeated in disgrace at the
next elections and has since been almost universally reviled as one of the
most inept and corrupt Presidents of this century, but hey, nobody’s perfect,
and the guy is still one heck of a public speaker.

This current crop of wannabees couldn’t get a shiver out of the collective
spines in the seats if they forced everyone to sit on icecicles when they
came in. There was definitely a buzz around the candidate when Dean ended
his speech, but it was more like a too-many-cups-of-caffine buzz than the
way you hear the helicopters and see things with celestial clarity after
a good hit of Bolivian coke.

The crowd was politely impressed, and approving, and probably most of
them will vote for Dean in the primary on January 27.  But the Dowbrigade
doubts that there was anyone there, even the hard-core Dean operatives in
attendance, who would be willing to give their lives for the cause. Is that
so crazy, typical Dowbrigade hyperbole, lamenting the absence of fatalistic
fanaticism in our political campaigns? Maybe so, but we are shopping
for a president to lead us into battle with a shitload of people who want
to wipe us off the face of the earth, and who are ready to lay down their
lives to do so.  It would be nice to have a leader who can inspire a
little fanaticism of our own.

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17 Responses to Is This Really the Best We’ve Got?

  1. Shimon Rura says:

    Does Howard Dean really exist? I am beginning to think he is the first figment of collective internet imagination to run for president. His internet presences–weblogs and a friendster account–are maintained by twentysomething volunteers. Perhaps this same hip group has found a way to animate the flesh of a stodgy, moderate democrat to reflect their shared insecurity, anger, and confusion?

    (Just a thought. Of course even a confused robot would make a better president than Bush…)

  2. j says:

    Well, Shimon, Michael, Dave, and I saw him, so he must exist, right? And we’ve blogged about him and everyone knows bloggers don’t lie, right? ; )

    Wasn’t there a movie about people inventing a political candidate?

  3. xian says:

    they killed Kennedy

  4. Josh Prowse says:

    The most articulate and inspiring politician of our time is Tony Blair. And, policy-wise, he’s rather inept. Better to have an inarticulate policy-wonk like Prime Minister Paul Martin. He may not dazzle you. He has to _work_ at his speeches. But it’s somehow a bit more honest – and ultimately endearing. All celebrate medicority!

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  16. Kara says:

    Maybe, to look a bit more relaxed he should have read some books first to make his ‘Karate chops’ look more relaxed!?



  17. Karate Del says:

    I think he should give up karate and focus on politics – or maybe not:)

Comments are closed.