At the 1960 Republican convention, Barry Goldwater gave a rousing conservative oration that launched his successful campaign for the 1964 nomination. Ronald Reagan repeated this feat in 1976 when Gerald Ford, who had narrowly defeated Reagan for the nomination, called him to the stage to say a few words.
Tonight was Howard Dean’s opportunity to play the bloodied but unbowed ideological hero. The stage was set when he received a rousing welcome. But he responded by going through the motions in a flat performance that should make Hillary Clinton and John Edwards rest easy. Where Goldwater and Reagan had large portions of the crowd ready to march into hell, Dean generated about as much excitement, it seemed to me, as Tom Daschle did.
All that was left from the great crusade of 2003 was a bit of Dean’s trademark goofiness. As when he promised that “we will never again be ashamed to call ourselves Democrats — never, never, never.” Viewers, if any, must have been baffled by the notion that Democrats are shrinking violets, ashamed to say their name. What Dean really meant, of course, is that Democrats will no longer be afraid to be radical. But the very fact that he had to resort to code to say this demonstrated that the promise can’t be kept.
Dean then punctuated the silliness by listing states where Democrats would no longer be afraid to be called Democrats (Mississippi. . . Utah. . . Idaho. . .Texas). All that was missing was the SCREAM.
Dean concluded by saying that his campaign was never about him. This bit of false modesty wasn’t false. The Goldwater and Reagan campaigns were about an idea, and ideas depend on courageous, clear-eyed leaders. The Dean campaign was about an emotion — hatred of George Bush. For something that shallow, any vessel will do.
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has a different take on Dean’s speech. He figures that when the Dems lose, Dean’s defiant cry about not being ashamed to call themselves Democrats will resonate big time. Perhaps Hugh is right. The speech sure sounded like a clunker to me, but Hugh was there, and it may be that I’ve simply lost touch with the Democratic mindset.
ANOTHER PRECINCT REPORTS: Rich Lowry views Dean’s speech as I do. He attributes its flatness to personality vetting. “Some speakers have had their speeches vetted and adjusted by the Kerry team here. Dean is the first speaker to have his personality vetted and adjusted. So much of his appeal in the primaries, at least initially, was temperamental
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