- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Those popping eyes, that guttural squawk: Howard Dean’s bombastic farewell address to his troops after placing third in the Iowa caucuses has raised questions about his electability, though some suggest Mr. Dean simply is a passionate politician.

“If he wanted to create a moment no one would ever forget, he succeeded,” said Christine Iverson of the Republican National Committee yesterday.

Was it the rant of a nut case or the proclamation of a feisty leader? The Dean din was subject to interpretation among critics and supporters alike.

“It was like watching Dean’s appendix rupture on national TV,” public-relations counselor Eric Dezenhall told CNN yesterday.

Fox News observed that Mr. Dean might do well with the World Wrestling Federation.

The Vermont Democrat who would be president was called “a prairie dog on speed” by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and deemed angry, temperamental, frenzied and volatile in various press reports.

In the aftermath, Mr. Dean initially said he meant to deliver “a little bit of fun” to his supporters, but quickly revised his spin.

“I’m going to give a different kind of speech,” Mr. Dean told campaign workers on his arrival in New Hampshire yesterday. “Those of you who came here intending to be lifted by a lot of red-meat rhetoric are going to be a little disappointed.”

Still, print and broadcast media made great sport speculating on what led to his ill-timed floor show Monday night.

Both the New York Times and the Associated Press cited the fact that Mr. Dean’s loss in the Iowa primary was his first political defeat in 22 years — thus besmirching a “charmed political life,” according to the Times.

Some pundits felt the Dean disarray was because of an unfriendly press, plummeting approval numbers and, according to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “the failure of his family to come out and campaign for him.”

Something obviously snapped inside Mr. Dean when he stepped before a roiling throng of “Deaniacs” and delivered a tirade deemed combative, screaming, snarling, maniacal and enraged in various press reports.

It came at a price.

“The television presidency, which has been in place since John F. Kennedy’s time, has conditioned us to expect poise, gravitas and understatement from our leaders — not flamboyance, childlike enthusiasm or agitation,” noted Bruce Buchanan, a presidential historian at the University of Texas.

We have a reasonably clear idea of who’s “electable,” Mr. Buchanan said.

“People get uncomfortable if they perceive a leader is out of control. The only president who really got away with it was Teddy Roosevelt,” he said.

“Iowa Democrats decided Howard Dean was simply too angry, too liberal and too gaffe-prone too incendiary to be seen as presidential,” the Des Moines Register noted yesterday.

But loyalists saw the speechifying as untrammeled Dean-hood — the opening volley of a spirited campaign.

“The governor was on fire at Dean headquarters in Des Moines, and the energy we all saw on TV coming out of Iowa is spilling over into Manchester. This is what we’ve been working so hard for. Now is the time to fight,” stated an online message from Academics for Dean, a California-based group.

Mr. Dean might not be yelling. But he remains combative.

“Let’s go get them,” Mr. Dean told supporters yesterday. “We have hardly begun to fight. … New Hampshire has a great tradition of supporting the underdog.”

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