The Dean Scream Debunked

I've supported Howard Dean since last spring. Although he's not my ideal candidate, I still feel he has the best chance of defeating George Bush in a general election. But if the corporate media and Democratic analysts like Paul Begala and James Carville get their way, we'll get to see a John Kerry versus George Bush election in November, a battle between two members of the Yale University "Skull and Bones" secret society. And I'm afraid that the GOP and Karl Rove couldn't have hoped for a better outcome from the Democratic primary process.

I'll support whomever the Democrats nominate, whether it's John Kerry or Howard Dean or Hillary Clinton, but after watching the primaries closely, I've been disturbed by how much influence the corporate media and the party ideologues have had on the process. Two months ago, Dean seemed to be the clear people's choice. He had shown the courage to criticize the president on invading Iraq and giving tax cuts to the rich when the Democratic leadership was unwilling to do so. His campaign had used the Internet to revolutionize fundraising, getting small donations from hundreds of thousands of Americans. He had broken all previous fundraising records set by Democratic presidential candidates, including Bill Clinton. He also had big endorsements from Al Gore, Bill Bradley and Tom Harken. Thanks to grassroots organizing and a loyal group of volunteers, he had built big leads in Iowa and New Hampshire just a few weeks before those ballots were cast.

So what happened? The story of Kerry's ascendancy in the last month is the story of how corporate media and the moneyed elite usually get the candidate they want. And the so-called Dean Scream is a perfect illustration of this point.

The story goes something like this. Just two weeks before the Iowa caucus, Dean was leading Dick Gephardt in the polls. So Gephardt spent what little money he had on television ads attacking Dean. At the same time, TIME and Newsweek ran unfavorable cover stories on Dean, and rightwing groups like The Club for Growth ran some of their own anti-Dean propaganda. (Paradoxically, it was rumored that Republicans were giving money to the Dean campaign, since they felt he would be easy to beat in November! If you believe that Karl Rove really thought that Dean would be as easy to beat as McGovern was in 1972, I have some real estate in Iraq for sale.)

What happened next is that Iowa voters got tired of all the mudslinging, were turned off by Gephardt, but also grew nervous about Dean. Maybe Dean was as bad as the rightwing said? Out of desperation, they turned to two Senators who were more upbeat, or at least less angry; who seemed reasonably electable, albeit beholden to big money donors: John Kerry and John Edwards.

After finishing third in Iowa, Dean gave a speech that was meant to rally the troops, and remind them that he was a fighter. His speech had the intended effect, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Dean raised his voice to a scream to be heard above the roar of his supporters. The press ran footage of Dean yelling, without placing it in context, or showing how his voice was heard by the crowd. The crowd didn't hear it as a scream at all. What the national press ran was "isolated" audio of Dean's voice. ABC and others have only recently apologized and attempted to fix the damage they caused to Dean's campaign, but it may well be too late.

New Hampshire voters paid attention to Iowa's results, and the negative media blitz about the Dean Scream. It also didn't help Dean that John Kerry found his voice and showed off his hockey skills. Kerry won again. (Most media outlets didn't report that he may have done so thanks to Republican voters.)

Historians may look back on Dean's speech after the Iowa caucus as the turning point of his candidacy. The media dutifully reinforced the impressions that they had been selling about Dean for more than a month, delivering just another misrepresentation about the potential nominee. They couldn't have served Karl Rove better if they had tried to.

In some ways, whether Dean gets the nomination or not isn't all that important. As long as the Democratic Party learns what Dean has tried to remind them about themselves. As long as they defeat George Bush in November and stop letting the Republicans bully them in Congress. As long as Republicans and Democrats alike find it increasingly difficult to lie, cheat and steal without being punished. If Kerry can carry the torch of the Democratic Party, the torch that Dean re-lit for all of us during the last twelve months, then he'll have my support. In the meantime, Howard Dean is still my choice and I hope other voters in the remaining 48 states will agree.