Those Manly Candidates
By A.D. Freudenheim  

11 October 2004

Right about now, in the dog days of the presidential campaigns, the person I miss most in national politics is Howard Dean. I miss the integrity he showed throughout the primary campaign; I miss the creative methods he used to build his base of supporters and get his message out; I miss his fearlessness in tackling issues that make many Americans – of all political perspectives – cringe; and more than anything else, I miss his energy, vitality, and evident emotional commitment to winning the race. Even the intensity Dean displayed with his campaign-ending “scream” would be welcomed in light of the current competition, which pits an anti-intellectual dullard proxy candidate against an intellectual “sportsman” who seems to have gone through life with all the vigor of “Andrew Largeman.” Unlike the emotionally-blocked main character of the movie “Garden State,” however, I doubt John Kerry is on anti-depressants. He may just be that low-key.

With two presidential debates concluded, Senator Kerry has improved on his ability to invest himself personally; he had President Bush on the ropes now and then, and Kerry looked to be enjoying those moments. If only more of the shockingly-dull and heavily-redundant 90 minute segments had featured clearer victories – for someone. For his part, Bush looked and sounded as he always does: like the kid who really believes he is right – smirkingly, unwaveringly right – even when he cannot possibly defend his position because he does not know how. Kerry performed better than Al Gore, but the Senator still answers even the simplest and most direct questions with too many words, flowing sentences that do not make sense even when one wants them to, and all these words obscure any sense of passion or energy that Kerry might otherwise show. Although the media exceeded my expectations in the honesty of their post-debate coverage, the bottom line remains thus: it is hard to believe that anyone could find Bush’s evident stupidity – or Kerry’s lackluster attitude – appealing. The American presidential race is once again a choice between the better of two poor candidates, with dire consequences for the selection of either.

The vice presidential debate presented a different picture with similar results. Senator John Edwards appeared to be engaged not only with the issues affecting America now – economic, health care, and of course, the various war problems – but with the process of trying to explain the Bush administration’s lies to the American people. Where many of Kerry’s debate remarks sounded canned, as if they were just repetitions of core message points (as, indeed, they were), Edwards sounded as though he was responding to the information in front of him and to the remarks of Vice President Cheney. Cheney, by contrast, lost the value of his intelligence – there’s no doubt he’s smarter than his boss – by appearing at times bored or tired with the unpleasant nature of politics and with having to defend a record left open to attack. All part of the strategy to make him seem like a wise old man, obviously; but the Wise Old Men of an earlier era would never have pursued such doggedly dishonest policies as the ones laid out by the Cheney-Bush administration. Or at least, they would have been more clever at disguising their dishonesty.

Speaking of honesty: imagine if, in any of the three debates undertaken thus far, either candidate had responded to a question simply and directly – and done so consistently, for each and every question. Consider the consequences of sweeping aside the political etiquette of American debates and enabling a situation where a candidate’s rebuttal begins with “Notice, please, that my opponent did not answer the question,” followed by a clear and direct answer. This would not toss out the nuance of which Senator Kerry is (rightfully) so fond; it would simply place that nuance in a clearer context, one that does not allow complex answers to serve as hedges for real answers. Likewise, it would force a change in President Bush’s answers: instead of implying that he believes he has made no mistakes, he would have to answer a question about his errors by saying “I do not believe I have made any.” The biggest change of all might be required of American journalists, from whom a persistent follow-up to unanswered questions – until either an answer was secured or a candidate acknowledged that no answer would be forthcoming – would represent a shift back to hard news and away from celebrity reporting. This might represent a return to value for our so-called Fourth Estate, making them more like Toto pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz than ... wannabe Wizards themselves.

So, back to Howard Dean. It is always easy to point to the losing candidate and remark on how much better s/he might have been than the candidates in the final round. The arc of Howard Dean’s campaign owed too much to the media on both ends: built-up as a darling of the journalists, they turned on their own (as they so often do), and brought him down for showing exactly the qualities they said they admired: honesty, directness, a connection with “real” voters, and, of course, the energy and passion represented by his “scream”. Over the long-term, however, the Dean campaign – as the Nader campaign of 2000 before it – could mark the beginning of a new day of politics in America, if the American people choose to demand it. We are within our rights to ask for clear and honest answers, and to ask for such answers again, and again, and again, until we are satisfied. That we do not do so – and that our journalists do not, either – may be the greatest failing of American democracy. Again, as always, the results of American politics are up to us, the people.

  Copyright 2004, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.