Dean is Angry Even When He’s Smiling!

ABC’s The Note is about the only media outlet I’ve seen that seems to get that Dean’s shouting on Monday night was done with a huge grin, with excitement, with joy. It occurs to me that if Dean had been a surprise 3rd-place finisher (i.e., he’d been trailing Kerry, Edwards and Gephardt in the polls), this would have been seen as a hugely positive speech.

While I question the wisdom of Dean’s choosing to speak in this fashion to a national audience, if you put it in that different context, the whole myth of “Dean’s anger” shows up as the threadbare, braindead media trope that it truly is. The media should be ashamed — they’ve killed the candidate who is responsible for changing the terms of the debate for all the candidates. If the Democratic nominee wins in November, even if it’s not Dean, it will be Dean who is responsible for having turned all the mainstream candidates from fearful, afraid-of-Bush campaigns into fired-up organizations that understand they have to go after Bush on every single issue.

If Bush is turned out of office, it’s because of Howard Dean.

Another Example of Dean Getting Gored

I had personally been bothered by the incident where Dean attacked a citizen speaker and told him to sit down, but I’d only seen Dean’s angry response — I did not know what he was responding to. Now I know. It turns out the man Dean was responding to was a Republican heckler and that the audience cheered when Dean told him to sit down and shut up. But all we saw on the newscasts was Dean yelling at the guy — both the context (the reason Dean was provoked) and the reaction (the cheering crowd) were omitted. That’s item 1. Item 2 comes from the same story, which points out that Clark did exactly the same thing, but that hasn’t been in the news media.

Can anyone conclude that the media’s treatment of identical situations constitutes fairness in reporting? Can anyone dispute that Dean is not getting a fair shake? Instead, the media fits every incident into the party-line story about the candidate (“Dean is angry”). Since “Clark is angry” is not their version of the Clark story, his anger goes unreported.

And lost in even my own analysis is the question of whether anger is justified or not. Anger is bad in the media shorthand, where they don’t really care about substance, just about appearances.

How can we ever take back our political system when there’s an operator in the middle of every transaction with an agenda who has no accountability or standards, except to promote themselves?

The Media Whores Just Don’t Get It

William Saletan at almost seems to get it in regard to the culpability of the media in ruining good candidates with unfair coverage. In his Iowa Caucus blog he writes:

3. Dean was Gored. Want to know how Al Gore lost the presidency in October 2000? You just saw it: a relentless focus on one candidate’s record and comments. That’s understandable (and I participated in it), because Dean seemed to be on his way to the nomination, just as Gore seemed to be on his way to the presidency in October 2000. You always scrutinize most carefully the person who, barring intervention, is likely to win. The catch is that you’re the intervention. Some of the criticism of Dean was way over the line. (The next pundit who scolds Dean’s wife for not campaigning should have to sleep on the couch for a year.)

If he’d stopped right there, it would have been the indictment that the media deserve. Unfortunately, he draws entirely the wrong moral:

But some of it was well-earned by Dean. Moral: When the camera’s on you, shape up

In other words, it’s not the media’s fault for intervening in the political process, it’s the candidate’s fault for making the mistakes that give the media the opening.

I am reminded of a meeting the officers of the Oberlin College Lesbian and Gay Union had with then-new college president, S. Frederick Starr, in 1984. Among other items on our agenda, we expressed our concern at some recent anti-gay incidents in the Oberlin community (a recent off-campus gay bashing of a student, an effigy burning, complaints about the Gay Union’s annual conference occuring on the same dates as a parents’ weekend) and asked what Starr felt should be done in the future. His response was to say that if we didn’t want public attention we shouldn’t be so visible. In other words, it was our fault when we were attacked, since we made ourselves vulnerable through visibility. And he had nothing to say about the culpability of the attackers.

It was morally bankrupt in 1984, and it’s just as odious 20 years later.

The Dean=Gore Media Trope

Well, I’ve been saying it for a long time, but now it’s being said by others: the media are doing to Dean what they did to Gore in 2000, reporting their canned story instead of facts. Salon has an article by Eric Boehlert today on The Media vs. Howard Dean, and it’s a stemwinder.

I’m actually troubled by a number of things about Dean’s responses to accusations of inconsistency. I am not entirely satisfied with the way he has handled any of the quibbles over his record (and they are quibbles — the same consistency is not being required of the other candidates).

For instance, I don’t think he handled the Confederate flag controversy as well as he should, though in that case, he was stabbed in the back by those who should have supported him. As has been widely reported, he originally delivered the remark to a minority audience in early 2003, who applauded him. When he delivered it again, and the media pit bulls grabbed hold of it, his original audience did not defend him, instead choosing to get all bent out of shape about Confederate flags. Free clue: he wasn’t supporting the Confederate flag — he was talking about people who do so and making an important point about how much those with whom we disagree might very well share economic interests. But Dean has not made this point and instead of showing that he could turn the flap into an opportunity to explore the whole issue, he caved and apologized. Perhaps he was just cutting his losses. In any event, he did do a better job explaining the issue in later debates without referring to the Confederate flag, so perhaps this was OK, after all.

The other main issue that bothers me is the middle-class tax cut. Dean proposes rolling back the entire Bush tax plan, which when it came to a vote actually included a number of middle-class tax cuts incorporated into the bill by Democrats. Other candidates want to retain these tax cuts (which average $300 or $1400 per year, depending on which candidate is talking). I can see an argument for both. Dean’s case is that retaining the tax cut won’t come close to restoring the net loss in services and benefits to middle class taxpayers that were necessary to pay for the huge tax cuts. Dean’s point is that the net gain to the middle class of rolling back the entire Bush tax plan as passed will be far greater than the meager benefits of the Democratic-sponsored middle-class tax cut. But he’s not making this case as forcefully as necessary. Yes, he’s making the argument, but he’s not closing the deal, he’s not drawing out the implications of the details — he seems to think that sticking with a rundown of all the things that cost more because of Bush’s global budget is sufficient, without closing the circle and making the point that it’s all connected, that you can’t look at one without the other.

It seems to me that currently the momentum is with John Edwards, who is not a terrible candidate (he’ll be a great candidate in 2008, I think). Edwards’ best talking point is the idea the Bush economic program is shifting the burden of financing government from capital to labor. By this, Edwards really means that the tax system is being made less progressive, shifting much of the tax burden from the wealthy (capital) to the worker (labor), as well as shifting the benefits the government provides more and more to the wealthy. It’s an excellent point, exactly correct.

And it’s the point Dean should be making when asked about his plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts in their entirety.

Rush’s Protector, the ACLU

NPR reports that the ACLU is going to bat for Rush Limbaugh, filing an amicus brief in the case against the unsealing of Rush’s medical records for the purpose of determining if Rush went “doctor shopping” to get OxyContin.