Roger L. Simon speculated a while back that Howard Dean never really wanted to be president. I found Roger’s psychoanalysis intriguing but also a bit much. It was just a gut feeling sort of thing, impossible to back up with hard evidence.
I can’t imagine McGovern reacting to the capture of Saddam by saying it didn’t make America safer. This is one of the more tin-eared remarks I can remember ever being made by someone running for the Presidency.
So why then did Dean say this? Although he’s no genius (few in politics are), he’s plenty intelligent to realize that the vast American middle (the voters who finally elect the President) would roll their eyes at this comment. Why didn’t he say what a normal politican, even a normal person, would say under these dramatic circumstances? It may be that, as Novak indicates, he has simply gotten himself in an impossible box (but there are various ways he could have deflected the situation). Or it may be that deep down Dean does not want to be elected.
In different conversations and in different ways, according to several people who worked with him, Dean said at the peak of his popularity late last year that he never expected to rise so high, that he didn’t like the intense scrutiny, that he had just wanted to make a difference. “I don’t care about being president,” he said. Months earlier, as his candidacy was taking off, he told a colleague: “The problem is, I’m now afraid I might win.”
So Dean was Ralph Nader. At least on some level. He wanted to pull the Democrats to the left, and didn’t really want the responsibility that comes with being the president. (No doubt Nader never thought he would win.)
I voted for Ralph Nader in the last election, though I certainly won’t do it again this time. I was as frustrated with Clinton and Gore as the next person, but I had no desire whatever to vote for George W. Bush. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I pulled the lever for Nader was to punish the Democrats for being lame. (I also didn’t expect Bush to win, or I surely would have voted for Gore.)
I like to think I’ve changed since 2000. I won’t be supporting this year’s Ralph Nader (not the real one or the one from Vermont), but I have to admit my desire to punish the Democrats once again for being lame. Only this time the lameness is of a different variety. A vote for Nader was supposed to be a vote for Bush. So perhaps I haven’t changed at all and I’m just reverting to form.