The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, January 26, 2004

The Dean enigma - as alive as he is

Now, I don't the horse-race here (others have it covered); but I note that the Diane Sawyer Frankenstein treatment on Howard Dean seems to be working in New Hampshire [1].

Which keeps alive, for practical purposes, the various question-marks over the man.

As well as The Yell [2], there was the question brought up here (discussed most recently on January 17) of Dean's strange account of his Damascene racial awakening as a Yale freshman.

And the Dr Judy question(s). Now, I've read the transcript, and seen the first ten minutes of the Sawyer interview streamed. Which is not enough to be anything but tentative on the matters arising.

But I'm left more puzzled than before. I need (I'm not suggesting that this stuff is not already in the public domain) to be walked through exactly how the pair functioned in Burlington whilst Dean was Governor.

For instance, being a local doctor would surely make Judy something of a personage in Burlington, regardless of her husband's job. Wouldn't she naturally be expected to take part in community life?

Yet the impression I get is that, her medical work aside, she was an invisible Trappist all that time. So far that the Sawyer interview was the first TV interview she'd ever given. There are, I see, several TV stations based in Burlington. And other media too, of course.

And that makes a whole lot of dead air to fill with local stuff that isn't high state politics (if Vermont even has such a thing). Flower shows, school events, theatrical performances - all that small town stuff. And Dr Judy never got to be interviewed.

And the relationship between them is a puzzle. There was their January 8 People interview (reprinted here), which, no doubt, was meant to be humanising but, even on a second reading, made me wince on several occasions; for instance,
: What drew your eye?

Howard: I don't know exactly. I was sitting next to a friend of mine and I just said, "That girl's adorable. Who is she?"

Judy: (laughing) That was a long time ago.

Howard: You're still adorable, dear.

Q: Could you see yourself presiding as hostess over a state dinner with world leaders and celebrities?

Judy: Well, I haven't really thought about it. I think I could probably do it — with a little help.

I assume she's playing dumb here [3] - and, with the lack of practice, overdoing it. (Dean, who has had practice, is no slouch when it comes to overdoing it either, be it said.)

There's (mildy) embarrassing personal stuff which comes over as (perhaps a tad more than) mildly embarrassing. But that was evidently all part of the reason for the piece.

But - if you're a doctor, practising on your own in a small town (population 39,000 in 2000), you surely need, quietly and methodically, to take command of situations. And, even these days, the fact of being a woman makes the authority question even trickier. A wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, even if married to the Governor, wouldn't last five minutes in the job.

On the personal side, the Sawyer interview was much of the same.

Now, all couples are different and this is stuff about their private life that the average American doctor, say, would not put out on network TV in a million years. But the Deans are inviting us to judge them in this bizarre way, and it's somehow hard to resist the invitation.

Most puzzling, perhaps, is Judy's views on Dean running for President. I haven't followed the soap-opera, and I'm sure the story is out there, but... She so obviously (to me) hates the very idea of him becoming President with a ferocious passion.

I suppose that becoming Governor wasn't that much of a family wrench at all: they kept living in Burlington, Howard would do the 40 miles down the road to Montpelier as necessary. But the Presidency is obviously completely different.

All the talk in the Sawyer interview about her having a medical practice in the White House - bet the Secret Service are just loving that prospect! - suggests that either she is in serious denial about the whole thing, or thinks he's a racing certainty to fail, or she's making the pretence to avoid looking like the little woman following her man in the baggage-train.

It's like a Mr Smith Goes To Washington where the Smith character is dragged kicking and screaming to the capital.

There's a TV movie quality to the dilemma: she loves him, he wants it, she can't stand it: should she take four (eight?) years of misery to give him what he wants? As if Aaron Sorkin's writing the script (medical First Lady connection oblige).

I don't get it. But if Dean wins in New Hampshire, perhaps I'll have another try at the puzzle.

  1. The Zogby poll for January 26 shows (if I'm reading it right) that a large proportion of Leaners are leaning for Dean. Including leaners, the gap with Kerry narrows from 7 points to 3 - must be within the margin of error.

  2. To adapt Crocodile Dundee, call that a yell? Shelby Foote's description of the Rebel Yell on Ken Burns' Civil War docco suggested a sound far more worthy of the name. If the old tale that a Southerner could whip ten Yankees was - a tad overegging it - when it comes to yelling, I suspect the Southrons might have the advantage.

  3. She went to several White House functions when Dean was Chairman of the Governors' Association, as I recall.

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