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Jewish World Review Jan. 20, 2004 / 26 Teves, 5764

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

The gumdrop kid | DES MOINES — If Howard Deans looks like he has been taking some lumps recently, it may not be politics, it may be his suit.

Dean wears the same suit day after day on the road, because he travels only with one suit. If he brought along a second suit, he says, he would have to carry a suit bag and he will not carry a suit bag.

Since the suits are not that great looking to begin with — Dean says his clothes "ferment" in his closet at home — his staff has one imperative: Protect the fabric.

After a tarmac event in Little Rock, barbecue was served, a wind came up and half-filled paper plates of food began flying through the air. Dean's staff immediately surrounded him, holding up file folders, papers, posters, anything to keep the food from landing on him. "On the Dean campaign, saving the suit is Job One," a staffer said.

But what happens if his suit does get stained and he still has six days to go before he returns home? "In that case, I will be wearing a suit with a stain," Dean says.

Even clean, however, the suits often look a little lumpy. The pockets bulge and not with notes or policy papers. The candidate likes to hide cookies in there. He has a formidable sweet tooth (his personal pledge to lose 12 lbs over the holidays appears to have had all the success of an unfunded mandate) and though he claims that his favorite food is strawberry milkshakes, his secret vice is gumdrops.

When he was governor of Vermont, the reception desk outside his ceremonial office in the capitol had a small drawer in which Dean hid is private gumdrop stash. He would go out to greet visiting dignitaries, slide open the drawer and pop a few in his mouth. One day, to his horror, he found the drawer empty. To the amazement of everyone, the governor stood there dipping his finger in the left-over sugar crystals and then licking them off.

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His other obsession these days is quarters. Some suggest his entire campaign for president is a ruse to collect the new "State Quarters" from each of the 50 states. To date, he has every one that has been released except Arkansas. (The last quarter won't be released until 2008, when Dean will be either running for re-election or licking sugar off his fingers in obscurity.) He never collected coins as a child and says he is doing this "just for fun."

A mint condition 2003 Arkansas quarter is available on the internet for 57-cents, but anyone who thinks Howard Dean would pay 57 cents for a 25-cent piece, does not know Howard Dean.

"I am the cheapest S.O.B. you ever met," he says proudly.

How cheap is he? He will not buy cable or satellite TV, even though this means his wife, Judy, must traipse down to his campaign headquarters in Burlington to watch him debate. (Sometimes she, like most of the rest of America, just skips them.)

He paints his own house. No big deal, you say? Consider that the very first union that endorsed him was the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. So in the future might he actually go out and hire a painter? "I doubt it," his campaign spokesperson, Tricia Enright, told me.

He fixes his own toilet and mows his own lawn (Judy tells people how she awoke one morning at 6:30 a.m. to see him out there mowing because he had promised to do so before getting back on the campaign trail.)

He is also a rabid recycler. He can often be found at his campaign headquarters, digging through the garbage and taking out the soda cans and newspapers that should have gone into the recycle bin.

At the end of a recent commercial flight, when the flight attendants were collecting armfuls of discarded newspapers, Dean asked them if they were going to be recycled.

No, he was informed, they were going to be tossed out.

So Dean took the newspapers, traveled around the country with them for the entire campaign trip, and then carried them back to Burlington where he recycled them.

He does not believe in fancy hotels. (His press corps, which is on expense account, does. This is yet another point of contention between them.) He doesn't order from room service. If you want to catch a glimpse of him, go down to the lobby of his hotel early in the morning. You will see him get off the elevator in a sweatshirt and sweatpants and go over to the newsstand as soon as it opens so he can get his morning papers.

He does have his fun side, however.

"I usually wake up at 4 in the morning," he said recently, "and think about politics for three hours."

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