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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2004/ 3 Shevat, 5763

Mark Steyn

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Mad Dr. Dean jolts Kerry campaign to life |
I think we can all agree that Howard Dean overreacted. I'm not talking about his overreaction on Iowa caucus night. I'm talking about his overreaction to his overreaction. Ever since last Monday's audition for ''An American Werewolf In Des Moines,'' the Vermonster has been in sleep mode.

''What I'm not is a rock star,'' he told Diane Sawyer, as she struggled to stay awake. No, indeed. He's turned into Perry Como. Not Perry Como sitting in a patterned sweater in a rocking chair singing ''Sleepy Time Gal.'' But Perry Como after some shortsighted elephant hunter has fired an extra-strength tranquilizer dart into his butt. Instead of impassioned pleas about taking back the country so everyone has the right to live the American Scream, er, Dream, he talked in a voice so evenly modulated that Diane Sawyer kept dropping in tape of the Howlin' Howard roar every five minutes like Baron von Frankenstein frantically clamping the electrodes to the monster and getting no response. Sitting next to the Vermonster, for the first time ever on TV, was his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg. After being absent for months, all of a sudden she can't leave his side, just in case his medication wears off.

As some readers may recall, having spent a decade watching Dean govern Vermont as a dull centrist, I've long argued that the crazy guy running around this last year was just an act, a bit of canny opportunism from a minor local pol who needed to get himself a national profile in nothing flat. Unfortunately, Dean's simulated Mad How disease was so convincing he caught a touch of it himself. If you've seen ''Lost In Translation,'' you'll know there's a marvelous scene where sad middle-age Bill Murray has a night out with Scarlett Johansson and comes to life doing karaoke versions of '80s rock songs. That's Dean. He's right: He's not a rock star. But for months on end he's been doing rock-star karaoke with legions of Scarlett Johansson-type college cuties. You can't blame the guy for getting carried away.

The trouble is that he has now overcompensated. His minders have evidently told him it's not enough to go back to being the authentically boring Howard Dean -- he's got to be mega-boring. In his interview with Diane from Vermont's charmingly restored Norwich Inn, he seemed to be fading into the authentic colonial wainscoting. The Vermonster had become, in '80s karaoke terms, the Calmer Calmer Calmer Calmer Calmer Chameleon. At Thursday's Democratic debate in New Hampshire, the calmer he got -- ''balanced budgets, fiscally conservative manageable budgets, budgets in balance fiscally conservative'' -- the more the bored Dean watchers speculated that he was about to go berserk, like kids at the zoo eager to start lobbing pebbles at the slumbering gorilla.

Not even Al Gore, in his bewildering array of alternative identities, managed to be both crazy and comatose in the same week. The governor seems to have come up with his own variation on the fiscally conservative/socially liberal shtick: Vote for Dean -- fiscally balanced, emotionally unbalanced.

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None of the Vermonster's many enemies in the Democratic Party could have devised as exquisite a torture for Howard Dean as this last week. But, whether they've solved their party's problem is another matter. What seems to be happening on the ground in New Hampshire is this: Now that John Kerry is the sane alternative to Howard Dean, much of Wesley Clark's support has leached away to Kerry. But at the same time Dean has been so subdued and demoralized that some of his wackier support has leached away to Clark. If Kerry is the sane alternative to Dean, Clark is the crazy alternative to Kerry.

Don't take my word for it -- ask Michael Moore, the corpulent conspirazoid. He has endorsed Clark, not Dean. Message: Vote for the real crazy, not the karaoke crazy. In Thursday's debate, Peter Jennings twice gave Gen. Clark the opportunity to repudiate retrospectively Moore's characterization of the president as a ''deserter,'' as Clark had failed to do when Moore made the charge standing alongside him. Instead, Clark claimed to have no views on the matter, not to have looked into it, and said that Moore is ''not the only person who's said that.'' Clark doesn't scream: He has that weirdly intense stare. But, for as long as he's in the race, he'll do more damage to Democratic credibility than any amount of howling from Howard. He's very touchy about status: As he pointed out on CNN, he's a four-star general while Kerry was a mere lieutenant. In the ranks of the deranged, he's Field Marshal Flakey while Dean would be lucky to make corporal.

That brings us to the ''Comeback Kerry,'' as he styled himself last Monday, though even his missus, Theresa Heinz, could only force a grin at that line. In Iowa, the Ketchup Kid left Dean lying in a big pool of red sticky stuff, and establishment Dems breathed a sigh of relief. But it's hard to see why. Consciously or otherwise, Democrats seemed to be trying to neutralize the war as an issue -- the overwhelming majority is still opposed to it but in Iowa they just wanted it to go away, so they could get back to talking about their issues: health, education, mandatory bicycling helmets, etc.

That sounds fine in theory. But let's suppose it works, and the Dems nominate Kerry, whose argument is that, because he's a veteran, his plan to give Jacques Chirac a veto over American foreign policy sounds butcher than it would coming from Dennis Kucinich. Fine. But take away the war from Kerry and what's left? An old-school Massachusetts liberal. Not a mere lieutenant, but a mere lieutenant-governor. To Michael Dukakis. Kerry's record on domestic issues is well to the left of Dean's, and a much fatter target for Republicans. He's soft on drug pushers and murderers, big on tax hikes and partial-birth abortion. If I were Bush and I had to choose between running against Howard Dean's Vermont or John Kerry's Massachusetts, I know which guy I'd be rooting for.

So that's the net result of the Democrats' moment of sanity in Iowa. The runaway favorite for the nomination is an unimaginative doctrinaire New England Democrat, and his principal rival is a paranoid narcissist who thinks Bush is a deserter who allowed 9/11 to happen. It's too much to expect Democratic primary voters to boost Joe Lieberman up to double figures. But, if I were voting on Tuesday, my calculation of the party's best bet would be this: If it's going to be the South against New England this primary season, better Edwards vs. Dean than Kerry vs. Clark.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

01/21/04: Undoing the party herd
01/13/04: llIegals the political 'untouchables'
01/05/04: Don't leave Saddam trial to the 'jet set'
12/30/03: Doers and disparagers
12/23/03: Spates of denial
12/16/03: Defiant? He's a Ba'athist who won't bath
12/10/03: Rummy speaks the truth, not gobbledygook
12/02/03: War on terror can't stop with Iraq
11/24/03: It's not Vietnam and Bush is no Kennedy
11/12/03: There is a Cold War between the US and the EU
10/28/03: Muslim paranoia: Enemies made us impotent!

10/28/03:The CIA scandal is important not because it put an agent's life at risk — it didn't — but because it shows that US Intelligence is either obstructive or inept
10/08/03: Palestinian death cult
09/29/03: Bring on the capitalists
09/22/03: Here comes General Clark, his policies will follow shortly
09/17/03: Don't wait for government protection
09/11/03: Predators aren't looking for peace
09/02/03: This is Hillary's moment — You go, girl!
08/29/03: There are now calls for greater UN involvement in Iraq. Thatís the last thing the country needs
08/26/03: There's only one hyperpower — so everything is our fault
08/04/03: The White Man's Burden
07/29/03: Bill Clinton got this right
06/25/03: It's Mullah time!
05/07/03: What counts is what a guy does when he's not talking
04/30/03: It's named UNSCAM for a very good reason!
04/14/03: Movers and shakers have moved on to the next 'disaster'
03/25/03: Give Saddam credit
03/18/03: 'Eurabia' will have to look after herself
02/27/03: Death wish
02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2004, Mark Steyn