(Note: I never finished writing the follow-up to my adventure in Iowa, probably because I was too exhausted and depressed from the collapse of Howard Dean’s campaign. After someone on MeFi posted about the scream, I cranked out this reply. Someone on MeFi, who was an editor for Wired, said I should send this out to every op-ed page I could. I did, and it never got published, but what the hell.)
After a week of seeing Howard Dean’s Monday night yell plastered all over the news, after a week of listening to talking heads declaring his candidacy dead, after a week of pundits saying that Howard Dean is “unstable” and “frightens children,” after after a week of hearing everything from the Howard Dean Techno Remix to AC/DeanC’s “Highway to Hell,” I thought the furor had died down. Then Diane Sawyer interviews Howard and Judy Dean last night on “Primetime” and spends the first half trying to nail Governor Dean for being angry and unpresidential. She brought up the speech with The Yell. I am sick and tired of the media beating this dead horse when there are plenty of live horses that need to get the stuffing kicked out of them. (And, just so you know, I love horses. I’m talking about metaphorical equines, about which I could care less.)
I was there in the Val-Air Ballroom. I’d answered the campaign’s call to come to Iowa to be a volunteer, and I’d spent the weekend walking around Des Moines, feeling my sinuses turn to stone in the -20 weather and wondering if I was helping Dean win Iowa or making the biggest mistake of my life. I came to that rally after watching the dismal returns with my friends back at the motel, and all I wanted to do was wallow in self-pity. I wasn’t in the mood for any rah-rah, not from the local campaign manager, not from Tom Harkin, and not from the candidate himself.
Howard Dean took the stage amid the roar of the crowd, and I thought to myself, “Who are we kidding? We got our heads handed to us, and we’re cheering? What is wrong with us?” But then he started talking, reminding us that, yes, it would’ve been awesome if we’d come in first or second, but that we’d still won delegates. We weren’t out like Dick Gephardt. We’d come in third, and no one expected us to get this far. We had our ticket punched to New Hampshire, and we were going to keep on campaigning in the rest of the country. Now, he reminded us, was not the time to give up.
And then Governor Dean started with that chant: “We’re not gonna give up in New Hampshire!” and the crowd roared back “No!” and then “We’re not gonna give up in South Carolina!” and the crowd roared back even louder. And on and on through the next states we have to win, ending with that yell that I can’t even remember. I don’t think I heard it ’cause the room was so loud. I didn’t hear it because I was so loud, roaring along with the rest of my fellow Deaniacs.
The man on stage wasn’t someone in denial. This wasn’t someone having a psychotic episode. This was the coach telling us after the first game of the season that we’d screwed up, we hadn’t beaten the other team like we thought we would, we’d been too cocky, but we still had amazing potential if we stopped believing our own press and got back to work. This was the pep talk I needed to hear, neophyte campaign worker that I am, and if he’d said anything less, if he’d acted anything less, I’d have left Iowa more disappointed than I was. That’s Howard Dean up there, I realized as I went in for a handshake and a picture, and that’s the man I want in the White House. That’s the man for whom I’m going to work my tail off come hell or high water. Howard Dean is a leader, and leaders don’t give their supporters what they want. True leaders give them what they need.