Howard’s end: A long, strange trip it’s been

Oh Howard, we hardly knew ye.

It seems that the media’s utmost contempt for outsiders and energizers has finally succeeded in destroying former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential aspirations, much like a Bush administration does to levelheaded thought in America. After three long months of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and – shame on you – even Terry McAuliffe slamming Dean on his supposed gaffes and character flaws, the vigor and excitement has once again been sucked out of yet another presidential campaign.

Perhaps Howard wasn’t exactly the most polished politician. But wasn’t that much of his appeal? After four torturous years of neo-con pandering and politicking, this nation was just about ready for another straight shooter.

Semantics, sadly, have as much value placed on them as anti-Semitism in our 24-hour cable news-obsessed society.

“I want to be the candidate for the guy with a Confederate flag waving from his pickup truck,” says Howard “New Conductor of the Straight Talk Express” Dean. “Racist!” says Rush “Donovan McNabb” Limbaugh.

Are you kidding me?

It’s a shame that the right will pounce on a supposed linguistic misstep like that when they’ve been courting just that constituency since Nixon ran. Dean tries to welcome all 300 million of us into his vision for America, and he is decried as racist. He gets caught screaming on a somehow crowdless audio feed that must have been used back in ’64 in the now Ed Sullivan Theatre for four boys from Liverpool, and all our unsubstantiated fears that he’s got a temper as hot as the sun are suddenly proven.

I must say that I’m not entirely innocent of the Howard Hating. I, like many of the young liberals out there, jumped on the campaign early on. I went to my meet-ups, got my buttons and shirts. But then I heard he couldn’t be trusted with his finger on the button. He was unstable, inexperienced. It wasn’t until the beginning of the end that I started to realize what an immense and important impact he had not only on this race, but on all future races.

He harnessed the power of the Internet. He excited young America in a way that hasn’t been seen since the ’60s. Most importantly, he set the tone for this campaign. He wasn’t going to let Bush get a free pass into the White House in November. He called out the Democrats for being wusses and made them stand accountable for letting the right run roughshod over them. Because of Dean, we are starting to get our two parties back instead of the right and the right lite.

It was incredibly sad to see Howard go, but his duty is done. And I may be mistaken, but I see something on the Sunday morning Washington, D.C. horizon, and it looks like Tim Russert is sitting beside him. Unless my eyes deceive me, I think Ralph Nader may yet heat this campaign up even more.

Patrick Gibbons can be contacted at