By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Dean laughs along with the crowd. “That’s when I realized,” he says, “that she’d been talking to her friends, the way you do when you’re looking to hire someone, and they’d been talking to their friends, and not surprisingly, they were mostly coming up with the names of other women. And that’s why we need affirmative action in this country. Human beings tend to be most comfortable with people like ourselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but when it comes to jobs and education, if there isn’t affirmative action, people will keep on choosing people just like themselves, and that cuts off a lot of opportunity — for society and for the people who don’t get picked.” What this situation makes necessary, he goes on, is a structured, compensatory effort at widening the pool — in Vermont it meant actively recruiting women to augment the submissions from largely white, male bar associations — until, over time, the other elements of “like us,” professional and educational and so forth, begin to click in.
By the time the question period is over — Iraq, Israel, energy conservation (Dean’s responses have in common a balanced, intermittently humor-laced realism, with an emphasis on taking human nature into account) — it is nearly 11 o’clock, but even in this early-to-bed town, people seem reluctant to leave. Rick Jacobs, the tall, owlishly bespectacled investment adviser, an out gay man who’s co-chair of Dean’s L.A. finance committee, trundles the candidate off while people stand around near the door, comparing notes and swapping cards. “He grew a lot in the last couple of hours,” says the height-preoccupied husband. “What he says, he backs up,” says a young woman. Even in the bright light of the hallway, faces seem more relaxed than they did when entering. This guy could be the one . . .
The most compelling, successful American politicians seem to encompass some basic contradictions. Clinton: Oxford, England, and Hope, Arkansas. JFK: Irish clubhouse and Harvard Yard. RFK: ruthless tactician and melancholy existentialist. Lyndon Johnson: master of manipulation and sentimental rube. Reagan: amiable blunderer with a will of iron. Franklin Roosevelt: patrician snob and sympathetic father figure. To the extent that Dean fits into this pattern, he is part Mike Dukakis–like technocrat and part Harry Truman–esque scrapper. His background in some sense prepared him for each aspect: He went to prep school (Andover, in Massachusetts) and Yale (where he was five years behind Kerry and three years behind Bush), but in the summers, while his father (a stockbroker Dean describes as being “totally unpretentious”) played golf at the tony Maidstone Club in Quogue, Long Island, Dean and his three younger brothers were enrolled in “the programs that all the local kids went to — you know, the town summer programs . . .” Additionally, he did a fair amount of bumming around in his early 20s — working, for instance, on a Florida ranch where he was the only English-speaker — although he didn’t roam as far as his brother Charlie, who was killed on a river in Laos in 1975, possibly while on a mission for the CIA. (Dean wears his brother’s belt buckle.) Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where, having decided that the investment life was not for him, Dean got his medical degree, and where he and his wife, Judith Steinberg, met and courted before moving to Vermont to open a joint practice, is in a poverty-dominated Bronx neighborhood, about as far from the ivory tower as you can get.
Playing the Bush blues: fans
in Philadelphia and Dean in Des Moines
Photo by Carol Reiger
Perhaps as a consequence, Dean seems comfortable with an unusually wide range of people, although, particularly with those in the politico-journalist cadre, he can be brusque and defensive, his presumptive Yalie self-assurance undercut by a certain pugnaciousness, as if he weren’t sure of being first in his class and had a corresponding need to show people up. (Or perhaps it’s the competitiveness engendered in a family of four brothers.) In some ways, he’s surprisingly unpolished: He says nonplused when he means nonchalant (“At one of the first events I went to after the Civil Unions Act, I was a little startled when a guy came up and told me, ‘I must say, Governor, you’re a very attractive man.’ By now, of course, I’m completely nonplused about it . . .”); isn’t up on the “Notes and Comment” section of The New Yorker — isn’t even aware of its existence; doesn’t read much of anything, he says, unless it’s directly campaign-related.
He hasn’t learned to disguise his smarts, either, as gracefully as, say, Bill Clinton does; he can often seem arrogant or peevish — especially in his television appearances. He hasn’t learned where to place his eyes on television, and he has a disconcerting habit, onscreen, of looking up and flashing a broad smile immediately after having made a barbed remark. His responses in debates tend to be peppered with statistics and acronyms — this is not necessarily off-putting, as it’s quite evident he knows what he’s talking about, even if the audience may not understand the references.
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