By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But the truth is that even after Dean himself calls me the following week, and apologizes for being so elusive, and works out a tentative schedule, and mollifies me as only a direct call from a candidate can do, I still feel less sanguine about his chances than I did a month before. The notion of community that seemed so overwhelmingly powerful, such a unifying, encompassing theme for all the elements of his campaign . . . our responsibility to one another . . . seems to have gotten eclipsed in the welter of detail about policy in Iraq and policy about taxes and health care. It’s not that it no longer seems applicable — far from it — but as an explicit theme, a summing-up, it appears to have disappeared deep into the background. I’m discussing Dean’s campaign with a friend in New York, and out of nowhere he says it, too. “He has to start talking about community — if he doesn’t do that, I don’t think he has a chance to take this thing further.” In my head, a phrase starts circulating: “the beloved community . . .,” though I can’t remember where it’s from.
Dean’s official candidacy announcement is scheduled for Monday, June 23, in the Burlington, Vermont, town square. Rallies to see taped versions of the announcement have been set up all across the country, and the one in L.A. is scheduled for 5 o’clock in the afternoon, in the Plaza de Los Angeles at Olvera Street. I’ve agreed to drive down with my cousin Olivia, a 29-year-old artist, and her friend Leila, a screenwriter. Both of them are quite excited about the plan — they’ve been Dean supporters for a couple of months — and I don’t want to dampen their spirits, so I don’t mention my misgivings when we arrange things on the phone. I’ve been witheringly snide since January to anyone who’s skeptical about the possibility of Dean getting the nomination — nobody’s prouder of their political instincts than the people who predicted Clinton’s rise as early as 1986, of whom I’m one — so my own ego is feeling a little bruised; and then on Sunday comes Dean’s infamous Meet the Press interview, which I watch with sinking stomach, and by Monday I can barely drag myself into Olivia’s car.
On the ride downtown there are the usual traffic jams and the usual worries about being late and the usual mutual assurances that nothing starts on time. When we get near the plaza, we see on it a scattering of maybe 70 people, with a large, white screen teetering in their midst. It seems apparent that either we’ve been right about start times or that my perceptions about a certain ebb in the campaign are painfully correct. But by the time we’ve parked and walked over, the crowd has swelled to at least 300, and more people are arriving by the moment. And with barely a Westsider in sight, this is, in fact, a crowd that calls up the notion of community: There are people of all colors and all modes of dress and all ages — not just adorable toddlers of the sort set loose to be admired for 15 minutes on Westside fund-raiser lawns, but actual real-life children making noise and behaving badly, as well as some people who are truly old, i.e., over 70, and not especially well-groomed. And there are lots and lots of people in their 20s and early 30s (“You know what I got Jessica for her birthday? A Howard Dean bong . . .”), a number of whom are manning the sign-in tables (every new arrival is firmly handed a name tag), as well as the campaign merchandise tables, which sport, among other things, some really superb T-shirts with an old-fashioned-looking Bayer aspirin bottle silk-screened on the front — Dean’s name substituting for Bayer on the label, in the Bayer typeface — and the phrase “The Doctor Is In” floating around it. Olivia and Leila each buy one of these right away.
A young woman sings a beautiful a cappella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and there are some announcements, and then, not unexpectedly, someone comes onstage to announce that the organizers are still waiting for the video to be delivered, and then there’s a very long period of vamping, maybe 45 minutes’ worth, with the representatives of various Dean groups making their way up to the mike. And here is the revelation: There are so many of them! Randy Economy, of the Dean bastion in Cerritos, is there, and someone from Santa Clarita is talking up a big house party — wine and pizza, $25 a head, with a conference call from Dean — that’s going to take place in Valencia the following weekend, and Jason Brown, the Tom Bradley look-alike who heads Pasadena/Glendale for Dean, talks about events they’re planning. And there are Bruins for Dean, exhorting the troops to attend the rally at the upcoming UCLA environmental forum (“Other candidates will be there, so it’s really important that we show up and be a presence”), and a guy who introduces himself as the representative of the Cal State Long Beach Disaffected Students for Dean. Someone reports that Dean was the only candidate with a booth at the West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade, and that 500 people signed up there for the campaign’s e-mail list, and someone else recruits volunteers to set up tables anywhere people gather in groups: Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Promenade, flea markets, farmers’ markets.