End of a Park Avenue Populist

I’d say “good riddance,” but it looks like Howard Dean will be sticking around for a while. Dean couldn’t even bow out with grace, choosing to “suspend” his campaign and leave his name on the ballot so his neo-Naderite supporters can still have someone to vote for.

The Dean campaign was a case study in cynical politics propelled by double-talk and division. Let us examine the ways…

Seeking the anti-war vote, Dean grabbed the spotlight by rapping his rivals for voting for the Iraq war, when he in fact supported a nearly identical resolution. Chasing union endorsements, Dean repudiated NAFTA, curtly correcting reporters who described him as a “strong supporter” even though pre-candidate Dean labeled himself with those very same words. Seeking seniors, Dean hewed to the Party line on entitlements, even though as governor he had supported “absolutely” raising the retirement age for Social Security and cutting $270 billion from Medicare. And finally, the centrist, bipartisan governor suddenly began to channel Ralph Nader, tarring virtually anyone with an opposing viewpoint as Bush-Liteā„¢ and a closet Republican.

Dean grew up on Park Avenue, but became a born-again populist sometime in 2003. He campaigned in urban areas against backdrops of campaign-commissioned graffitti. He showed up at an NAACP meeting decked out in kente cloth. And when he visited Iowa farmers, the New York doctor preached about how “We rural people must not be discounted in Washington D.C, as we are by the current administration.”

Dean was the ultimate chameleon candidate: First a well-to-do, Park Avenue preppie, then then a ruthlessly centrist governor, and finally a populist firebrand.

I suppose that, in politics, such artful self-contradiction is a virtue, but I would defy any of his supporters to tell me which Howard Dean was real.

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