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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2004 / 13 Shevat, 5764

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Replicant | Just when I was going to write that you could not count Howard Dean out, that he could still rekindle the fires of his support, that he could still be a potent campaigner, he convinces me that he is a replicant after all.

In the Philip K. Dick novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and the movie "Blade Runner," which was based on it, replicants are synthetic beings indistinguishable from humans except for their inability to feel normal emotions.

Take The Scream. The scream did not, of course, do in Howard Dean. The scream had a context: Dean had just come in third in Iowa, having won only two counties out of 99.

Had Dean won Iowa by 10 points and given the same speech, even adding the state capitals and major exports, he could have given the same scream and it would have been viewed as no worse than mildly amusing by the news media.

But the scream came not only in the context of defeat, but in the context of a candidate whose emotions were suspect. To me, Dean looked not just like a candidate looking for a strategy, but a human being looking for a personality.

It was not entirely his fault. The intense scrutiny of a presidential campaign — and first-time candidates never believe this — makes you profoundly question yourself.

When everything you do gets criticized, you begin to question everything you do. When you are winning, you don't care. You trust your instincts because your instincts seem so wise and good.

But when things go badly, you get lost quickly. Howard Dean's campaign strategy was based on spending huge sums in Iowa and New Hampshire and using victories in those two states to roll over his opponents elsewhere. (John Kerry had the same strategy; the only difference is that Kerry succeeded.)

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But having squandered millions in Iowa, Dean was rocked to his core on caucus night. How could he have been so wrong? How could he have been so bad? And what was he going to say to salvage his campaign?

Personally, I think he should have gone with a quotation. Quotations are usually safe. He could have gone with the famous one by Adlai Stevenson (who was quoting Abraham Lincoln) when he said that "he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh."

Or he could have gone with a joke: "I'm going to sleep like a baby tonight — I'm going to wake up and cry every 15 minutes." Dean could have gone with anything that made him seem human.

Instead he went with a totally phony, manufactured emotion: wild enthusiasm. It was a disaster. It was exactly what a replicant would have wrongly guessed was appropriate.

Which brings me to the second piece of videotape that has been shown over and over again this year: Janet Jackson's exposed (though pixelized in the replays) right breast.

Howard Dean was asked about it. The old Howard Dean would not have answered. But the new Howard-in-Defeat Dean, who must show he is one us, had to.

Naturally, he muffed it.

He replied: "I'm probably affected in some ways by the fact that I'm a doctor, so it's not exactly an unusual phenomenon for me."

Is that a regular guy or what?

In poll after poll, voters say that what really makes them vote for a candidate is "that they are a regular person just like me."

But is that the quote of a regular person? Or is that the quote of a person without normal human emotions?

And are we really to believe that doctors don't respond to sexual stimuli outside of work? Are we really to believe that doctors don't have normal human emotions even while relaxing and watching a football game?

Some people think the movie "Blade Runner" ends with the last replicant still at large.

I think they ought to check out Vermont.

(This column was written entirely on a BlackBerry, but no fruits or vegetables were harmed in its production.)

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