Dean Scream Revisited


You’ve all heard it. You’ve laughed at it while it loops on the online community ytmnd (a Web site centering around the acronym for “You’re The Man Now Dog”). And I’m sure you’ve tried to impersonate it.
And now I’ve tried to onomatopoeiatize it (badly).

The Scream could quite possibly be one of the low points of Howard Dean’s life. To run such a monumental campaign (he did after all, bring the internet into modern campaigning), just to have one little sound distortion end his presidential ambition and define him for the rest of history is quite a tragedy, albeit a hilarious one.

He did not go to New Hampshire or South Carolina or Florida or Oklahoma or Arizona . . . and he most certainly did not go to D.C. to take back the White House.

But the Scream was more than just Dean feeling bad for himself. As the Democratic logic went, with Iraq described as a “quagmire,” the economy in the tank and Bin Laden still out there, how could the public even think of re-electing such a bad president? 2004 was supposed to be the Democrats’ year, the year when they returned from the wilderness. They expected to go to New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida and Oklahoma and Arizona . . . and take back the WHITE HOUUUUUUSE – and above all, they deserved it.

But they blew it.

What is significant about the Scream is that it is overflowing with confidence, much like the Dems of that year. Dean’s fiery speech crescendos up to “White House” (the intended climax) followed by that-sound-which-shall-not-be-named (the real climax).

What a sad metaphor it is for the entire 2004 Democratic campaign: a whole campaign’s worth of bravado ruined by one little pitiful squeak at the end. Faulkner comes to mind: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

And Barack Obama is walking dangerously along the same path.

The overconfidence is evident in his actions. Long the media darling (don’t deny it), Obama probably felt a little too good when he wrapped up the nomination. His ridiculous “presidential” seal and his presumptuous trip to Europe gives the impression that he was done with the race already. In fact, Gwen Ifill, the debate moderator for Thursday’s Vice Presidential Debate, has already penned a book titled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, scheduled to be released on Jan. 20, 2009 – Inauguration Day. It seems like Democrats have already moved past the election to the Obama Presidency. That’s a mistake Hillary learned the hard way.

Now, more and more of Obama’s campaign is beginning to resemble Kerry’s.

When John McCain took his celebrity status and turned it into a negative – classic Rove strategy – Obama blinked. Mr. Different Kind of Politics sensed danger and hightailed it to Hawaii, hoping to avoid media spotlight, and ever since, he has stayed conspicuously out of the headlines. That, in tactical terms, is Obama playing by rules dictated by the enemy. Kerry was similarly always on the defensive. Probably due to the influence of his sunny running mate, Sen. Two Americas Two Wives, Kerry made the strange choice of maintaining a “positive campaign,” putting him in permanent defensive mode. Obama seems to have fewer scruples about negative ads, but one drawback to being Mr. Unity is that you’ve maneuvered yourself into a position where negativity is unsustainable.

In the next 30 days to the election, be prepared for some good old-fashioned Swift Boating, and following that, some good old-fashioned Democratic whining about it.

Whatever may happen, it seems like the Dems have all the right ingredients for a repeat of ’04. Just add a dash of overconfidence and high expectations, throw in a pinch of high-minded optimism about politics (“no way . . . they wouldn’t do that!”) and you just might get Republican control of the White House for eight of the last eleven elections.

For Barack Obama, the man who attracts football stadiums of fans, the possibility of a Dean Scream this November is a very real and very frightening possibility.

Mo Zhu ’11 is from Belmont, Mass. He lives in Brooks.

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