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
Now, there’s a battle cry! Left to his own devices, Kerry suffers from adverbial bloat — just one manifestation of a larger fog that sometimes creeps between him and his listeners. Questions on energy or the environment at various town halls over the past week often were answered with bureaucratese. Emotion, publicly displayed, can embarrass him. At a town meeting last Sunday in a fire station in Hampton, one woman haltingly told him about the reductions in Medicaid and food stamps that have left her having to choose between food and medication. In 1992, Bill Clinton encountered a woman with a similar dilemma at a town meeting at a Nashua senior center; he reached down and embraced the woman before rising — in both body and voice — to offer policy solutions to her problem. To a press corps still just getting to know Clinton, it was an early indication of his instinctual political capacities. No such revelations were forthcoming with Kerry; he immediately pivoted away from the woman to listeners on the other side of the firehouse and provided a perfectly sensible, if emotionally distant, policy answer.
That said, candidate Kerry is measurably less discursive, more focused and generally warmer than he was a year ago, and when he’s “on” — as he was Tuesday night, as he was in his 1996 debates against Republican William Weld in their senatorial contest — he’s terrific. Surrounded by his “band of brothers” with whom he’d served in Vietnam, demanding a government “that’s on your side,” dropping all adverbs, impassioned and direct, Kerry transformed himself into the most forceful and credible Democratic political leader since Clinton.
II. Dean: Curb Your Enthusiasm
In New Hampshire, the normally feisty Howard Dean lost his feist.
If Kerry has had to learn to emote a bit more, Dean came to New Hampshire under universal instructions to tone it down. The media, as is their wont, made far too much of Dean’s Iowa election-night yawp. That said, Dean’s talk managed to add to the doubt that already was dogging his candidacy. Without changing the words of his stump speech very much, he switched to a flat, conversational delivery. And with the new music, the lyrics suddenly didn’t work so well.
The new, subdued Dean was perhaps most in evidence at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s dinner last Saturday night in Nashua. The four major candidates, plus Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich, all delivered their stump speeches, and Dean’s was notable chiefly for the absence of applause. It wasn’t that people were upset or disagreed with what he said, and there were plenty of Dean supporters in the room. It was that he recited his applause lines as though they were footnotes. Wesley Clark, who followed him to the podium, made more noise in his first paragraph than Dean made in his entire speech.
Earlier that day, Dean addressed a rally of his supporters at Wentworth by the Sea — a little white jewel of a hotel, built a century earlier for the WASP elite of nearby Portsmouth, to which Deaniacs streamed to hear their man. As was the case at most rallies I attended this past week, the room was too small for the crowd, and many were placed in an adjacent room, where Dean’s voice was piped in.
Touting himself as the outsider, as the messenger of political reform, Dean also differentiated his positions on both Iraqi wars — Poppy’s and W’s — from Kerry’s. He spoke of taking the country back for average people, and the people in the overflow room suddenly cheered, breaking the stillness in the room where Dean himself was speaking. In the main room, the hushed quality of Dean’s voice had put the crowd on good behavior. Next door, unable to see their candidate straining to be well-mannered, the Deaniacs behaved as Deaniacs of old.
In keeping with the almost tutorial air of the rally, the main-room Deaniacs turned the question period into something like an NPR public-affairs game show. (At one point, Dean cited a recent survey showing that viewers of Fox News tended to misunderstand, well, damn near everything. When he mentioned that the same survey demonstrated that NPR listeners actually did know what was going on, the crowd applauded.) The first questioner asked Dean about the spread of AIDS in Uganda. The next asked him about the mishandling of Native American trust funds, and the third followed up with a query about Monsanto’s environmental practices. I was afraid that the next questioner would ask Dean to solve a quadratic equation.
On Election Day, Dean ran distinctly better among college graduates — he got 28 percent of their vote — than non–college grads, among whom he won just 20 percent support. Kerry experienced no such gap, pulling down 38 percent backing among graduates and 41 percent among non-grads. The exit polling showed that New Hampshire Democrats plainly opposed the war, and felt no safer after Saddam’s capture. Nonetheless, they voted for John Kerry. Whether full-throated or muzzled, Howard Dean did not strike them as a plausible victor in the November contest against Bush.