People Powered Meltdown
Kerry wins, Edwards gains ground and everyone is talking about Dean.
Let's clear one thing up first. Don't listen to cries of Deanophiles. The media did not make Dean lose. The media did not conjure up the Angry Young Man image (Angry Middle-Aged Man?). It's not the media's fault that every time I would see a photo of Dean, this Billy Joel song popped in my head:
There's a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend, he refuses to crawl,
He's always at home with his back to the wall.
And he's proud of his scars and the battles he's lost,
And he struggles and bleeds as he hangs on the cross-
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.
Dean created his own image. The press only played on it. And the more the press played on it, the more animated Dean became and the more groupie-like his fans became.
Normally, it takes an AYM a couple of years to go through all the stages we saw Dean run through last night. From passionate to righteous to mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, right into full blown meltdown. All in a matter of hours.
With only the first step in a long, long journey to November taken, Dean has already veered from his path and is going to have to struggle to catch up to Edwards and Kerry. The race is on and Dean has stumbled at the gate. Insert more cliches and metaphors here.
The grass roots/internet movement that has been the hallmark of Dean's campaign turned out last night to be a man-behind-the-curtain scenario. It looked much bigger, stronger and fearsome than it really was. Perhaps his supporters in Iowa were more vocal. Perhaps they knew how to play the press better than the camps of the other candidates. Whatever the reason, Dean's posse came off bigger than life in the weeks leading up to Iowa. And when push came to shove, it turned out not to be about image or a tour bus full of orange hats or a blog. It was about electability.
Sure, Dean has been great for the media. He's a cartoon character with a million expressions. He's the cult of personality all shoved into one package. He's People Powered Howard and he's going to prove that the little guy does make a difference. He shoots lasers with his eyes and speaks in tongues. All that is well and good - it gives one the impression of power and leadership, it plays great on tv and it creates a lasting image - but it doesn't get you the votes. In the end, the people of Iowa decided they wanted to elect a president, not a personality. And most Iowans are probably breathing a sigh of relief today.
Dean's very public meltdown last night will be the subject of jokes, cartoons and a million articles and blog posts today. But don't be fooled by that Linda Blair imitation he did last night. If Dean does not get the Democratic nomination, it will be because of a combination of things; the pandering to the far left, the arrogant visit to the MLK ceremony yesterday, the "we're not any safer" mantra and, in a way, the cult status he has garnered. He is a victim of his own hype right now; the fandom that his followers have created has become a smoke and mirror act and in an odd twist, Dean himself has fallen for the trick.
The whole People Powered Howard thing reminds me very much of the movie Tommy. You remember that song at the end?
Right behind you I see the millions.
On you I see the glory.
From you I get opinions.
From you I get the story.
Listening to you I get the music.
Gazing at you I get the heat.
Following you I climb the mountain.
I get excitement at your feet!
That's replaced the "Angry Young Man" lyrics in my head. Dean's followers have created the fan frenzy and Dean is having a little problem living up that god-like image they've given him. I wonder how many of them cringed when Dean did his voice-changing, red-faced, wild-eyed, evangelical minister impression last night? All he needed was a folding chair and a wrestling wring and he'd be Hulk Hogan, putting on a show for the kids.
So how much of Dean is carnival barker and how much is the real deal? Will his followers climb that mountain with him or will they stay a few feet away and watch him warily? Will he tone down his act and stop shooting daggers out of his eyes? Will the People Powered Howard tour bus drive him to success or forget to put on the brakes and crash and burn at the bottom of the mountain?
All these questions and more may or may not be answered in New Hampshire, the next installment of the continuing saga of On the Road With Howard Dean. Brought to you by the makers of Zoloft(c) - for a kinder, gentler you.