A Conservative For the Deans

It’s always hard to separate our personal evaluation of a political figure from our ideological view – we tend to like those with whom we agree or support, stressing their good qualities, and the reverse with those with whom we disagree.  So, since I’m supporting Howard Dean for president, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I like his personal qualities as well.  But this is a case where I like him as much for his personal qualities as for his anti-war stand.

To me, he’s the Barry Goldwater of our time – that rare politician who speaks his mind honestly and passionately, without regard for the polls and the political technicians, and often too bluntly or clumsily for his own good.  That doesn’t make either of those two men the ideal politician or presidential candidate, but it sure endears them to me on a personal level.  It is rare to find a politician who is not scripted.  As a right-wing libertarian, I disagree with Dean on virtually every issue, including war (I go further than he does), but I would feel safer with him in the White House than with any of the standard-issue politicians in either party.  He could be counted on to repeatedly make the “mistake” of leveling with me and the rest of us, rather than lying and concealing.  It’s in his nature.  He hasn’t been reconfigured by living or working in Washington, DC.

Which brings us to that “awful” thing he did in his concession speech in Iowa.  Am I the only person in America who can’t comprehend what was wrong with it?  It was a pep rally with his followers, for goodness sake, and he was letting them know they weren’t going to accept this as a defeat and how much he appreciated what they had gone through together.  It wasn’t a tirade of a mad man, it was a real man caught up in the moment, and bonding with his mostly young and very enthusiastic and idealistic fans.  As a native Texan, I even liked the whoop at the end.  Heck, we whoop more than that at the contra dances I go to every weekend.

Is this what it comes down to – that we accept a president who lies us into war for his hidden agendas, and who harms the American people in countless other ways, because he piously mouths all these platitudes about God and country, and turn against a man who refuses to give a concession speech (which is what the press wanted) and turns it into a pep rally?

We apparently have reached a (downward) stage in American political life where an open show of emotions is forbidden.  The one thing I liked about Truman was his emotional honesty; he could never become president today because of that.  We (or at least the press, which tells us what to think) want only obsessive politicians, like Kerry.  Emotional honesty is “unpresidential.”  We want state “gravitas.”

Have we, as a people, become so scripted and controlled ourselves, that we actually want that in our politicians?  After all, we have gone through decades of conditioning by the television moguls –  we laugh when they tell us to laugh, with their sound tracks.  We don’t laugh, and certainly don’t laugh hysterically, just because it really hits us as funny.  And have we become so conditioned by bland suburban “values,” not to mention political correctness, which really comes down to – in the end – “don’t do anything that will make people think you are different”?

Which brings me to the matter of Judy Dean.  Last night I watched Diane Sawyer’s Primetime interview of her and her husband, the first time ever that she’s been on television, and I fell in love with her.  She’s as human as her husband.  Not a mannequin for her husband, like Mamie or Jackie or Laura (and especially Hillary).  These are two people very private people (very New Englandish in a Calvin Coolidge sort of way, and he’s one of my heros), who really pay attention to family first rather than preach about it.

She explains that she has a private medical practice that she loves, that she doesn’t have a partner so she can’t easily turn her patients over to someone else, that she can rearrange her Thursday schedule (and thus appear on this interview) because she’s not seeing patients that day.  He explains that he doesn’t feel a need to use her as a prop. They aren’t consumed by consumerism; they aren’t into giving big gifts because they have what they need, so she’s not embarrassed that he gave her a rhododendron for her last birthday.  For her birthday they usually celebrate – get this! – with a family bike ride!

And they don't watch television. She doesn’t want the kids to be distracted and influenced by it.  (She says this to one of TV’s top interviewers, who looks totally nonplussed and obviously doesn’t know what to make of this strange woman – I loved that moment!)  I can’t think of any industry in America (even the movies) that has changed America more dramatically in the directions conservatives say they dislike intensely, than television.  Yet, how many conservative families do you know where the TV is the babysitter?

This couple is too conservative for the conservatives.  Most of today’s conservatives are Babbitts, just like their liberal opposites, concerned with keeping up with the Joneses and what the Joneses think of them.  This couple knows who they are, and they don’t need the approval of anyone else.

Bottom line:  I would love to know Judy and Howard Dean personally, and I can’t think of any other political family today about whom I could say that.

January 24, 2004


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