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Tales from the Primary Trail: Year End Highlights
December 18, 2003
By Michael McCord

Editor's Note: Democratic Underground welcomes articles about individual Democratic candidates for political office. Publication of these articles does not imply endorsement of any candidate by the editors of Democratic Underground.

Sooner or later (hopefully sooner) this latest orgy of media hyperventilation and spectacle of triumphalism will pass. With the capture of Saddam (aka the despotic worm in a hole), the supporters of Bush's Babylonian Excursion have received a much-needed Viagara jolt to justify their jones for preemptive warfare.

With our fearless leader showing once again his courage when it comes to displaying his bargain basement moral vindictiveness (though it is a guaranteed rise in poll numbers whenever Bush goes nuclear with his moral outrage), we can head into the holiday season and count our blessings knowing that we've squandered thousands of lives and spent billions on a war unconnected to Sept. 11, having little to do with Osama or the Orwellian war on terror, and, oh by the way, where are those weapons of mass destruction?

Meanwhile back in New Hampshire, we are heading into crunch time on the Primary Trail - the final weeks and days before the voters have their say to determine who wins this stage of the Democratic Primary race. So before the candidates make their final, desperate turn for the finish line, it's time to reflect and indulge in that annual journalistic tradition of reporting again what already has happened (aka the year-end wrap up story). As a public service, your not-so-humble trail guide will offer abridged highlights of the N.H. primary year that was. And as I look over my notes and search my memory banks, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that in one way or another, Howard Dean has dominated the show so far.

Of the Punditry, By the Punditry, For the Punditry

At the most recent debate in Durham, Ted Koppel's fixation about the Gore endorsement, polls and fund-raising virility dominated the proceedings (Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show put it best when he called the faux debate a view up the asshole of the primary process). I wished that John Kerry really had shoved the poll numbers up Koppel's you-know-what. Koppel's hand-raising stunt - "Now class, who thinks that little 'ole Howie can beat big bad Georgie?" - rates as one the most debased primary moments ever. But if Koppel had to exorcise his inside political baseball obsession, he could have at least showed some flair and imagination. For example he could asked:

"Gov. Dean, earlier today, you extravagantly praised Mr. Gore for his leadership during the past three years but frankly sir, we fell off our chairs laughing hysterically in the newsroom because the irony was so rich - if Mr. Gore had actually showed some leadership backbone he wouldn't have lost in 2000, the Democratic Party wouldn't have been slapped around by President Bush and the GOP during the last mid-term election, and you wouldn't be filling in the leadership vacuum today. So please explain, Gov. Dean, just how do you define leadership? You have one minute to respond."

Skunk at the Party

Ed Gillespie, chair of the Republican National Committee, insured easy entry into the hall of fame for political hacks when he traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire and trashed Howard Dean and accused Democratic candidates of "political hate speech" for daring to criticize our fearless leader. (Not so coincidentally, Gillespie's trip followed an RNC ad that polluted the airwaves by claiming Bush was being attacked "for attacking the terrorists," which translates into Dems as being soft - really soft - on terrorism, a tactic right out of the Joseph Goebbels play book of 'big lie' propaganda.)

Skunk at the Party 2 (with family values)

During his rhetorical slash and burn trip, Gillespie told an audience of college students he loved his job because he was doing it for his children, for their future.

Bipartisan Blue (Language) Bayou

F-Word Alert 1 - "Fuck Gore" said one female supporter of Sen. Joe Lieberman in Durham the day when Al Gore, who had picked Lieberman as running mate in 2000, dumped Joe and jumped into the warm embrace of Howard Dean. The female supporter's X-rated and most un-Lieberman moment of clarity came after I asked her what she really thought of Gore and Dean's public French kiss.

F-Word Alert 2 - "He (Gen. Wesley Clark) gives me hope and doesn't try to scare the shit out of me... Bush. Cheney. Ashcroft, you name them. Man, they are fucking evil," said one 20-something voter in a Pearl Jam T-shirt after meeting Clark outside a coffee shop in Portsmouth.

F-Word Alert 3 - John Kerry, in a recent Rolling Stone interview, said who knew that Bush would "fuck" up post-war Iraq. He also called W. Bush a "liar" when he talked to an editorial board in Dover. And then I received this e-mail from a reader turned political strategist who suggested that Kerry should expand his public remarks to include Bush is a "lying fuck" or "fucking liar" in hopes of giving Kerry the breakthrough his lagging campaign needs.

How Soon They Forget

"Is Dick (Gephardt) running again?" The response of a Dean supporter who told me she had supported Rep. Dick Gephardt in 1988.

Stature: So Hard to Build, So Easy to Lose.

Sen. John Kerry rode his motorcycle onto the The Tonight Show set but unfortunately had to share the limelight and Jay Leno's attention with a sock puppet. Only in America. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the only progressive believer of the bunch who has struggled hard to get traction and media attention, garnered the most headlines for his campaign with a reality-tv spin off of 'Find a Date for Bachelor Dennis.'

George W., Take this Tax Rebate and Shove It

A lady at a Dean rally in the summer offered to donate her $400 tax rebate as a donation to Dean's campaign. Even on the wild and wacky New Hampshire primary trail, that's a rare sight.

Joe Seizes the Joeness Factor

Joe (don't call me Joseph) Lieberman is big on Joe. His ads highlight Joe's Joeness (Joe is the largest written word seen) and his web site is We haven't seen such a one-name campaign since Jesse (Jackson). Joe has been jilted by former amour Al Gore and gained sympathy for Gore's display of craven political disloyalty (which is, I know, an oxymoron). Joe has also courted John McCain supporters which is a curious choice in a Democratic primary filled with thousands of angry Democrats who are in no mood to compromise with barbarian GOPers, even if they are mavericks like McCain. In the cultural connection department, you may remember "Joe," the 1970 movie starring Peter Boyle, about a working class stiff who has had it with all that peace, love and understanding hippie-dippie nonsense and goes ballistic. Which is what Joe2004 is doing with his favorite dart board, Howard Dean.

Politics Makes Strange Assault Gun Bedfellows

Howard Dean now loves Al Gore, or at least he savors Gore establishment-based blessings. Howard Dean also professes an understanding of the typical NRA gunslinger. But Wayne LaPierre, NRA vice president, has a different opinion about Al Gore, one with Third Reich echoes. "Al Gore intends to force every American gun owner to carry a national I.D. card," LaPierre wrote in a direct mail letter in November 1999. "He didn't exactly say tattoo a number on you forearm, but you get the idea."

Familiarity Breeds Contempt, Vol 1

There has been no hometown newspaper advantage for John Kerry. The Boston Globe's columnist corps has sliced and diced Kerry to pieces (death by a thousand column cuts) by attacking him for aloofness, campaign incompetence, arrogance, inability to stir a high school audience to a Britney Spears-like fever pitch, dressing like a foolish snob in cold weather and pandering to voters. To be sure, this type of cannibalism is not unknown for Boston but usually it's reserved for local pols and corrupt state officials.

Honest Political Opportunism

Sen. John Edwards, the former trial lawyer from North Carolina, has a campaign message based on his answering tough questions with candor. He even has a serious tome called "Real Solutions for America." Even his New Hampshire campaign website practices straight talk. "Edwards Uses Flu Outbreak to Push For Stronger Public Health System" read a headline about a recent proposal.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt, Vol. 2

Dick Gephardt's campaign hosts a web link called which parses every public statement Howard Dean has made since, well, he started making public statements. Dean, who supported Gephardt in 1988, had his campaign (which is run by former Gephardt confidante Joe Trippi) fire a salvo of its own - a picture of Gephardt hovering over Bush as the flight-suit-in-chief signed the Iraq War Resolution that Gephardt supported.

Bush Suck Up File, Vol. CCCXXXIV

This is a zeitgeist entry and explains much about why so many media vultures know so little. On C-SPAN the other day, I watched host Brian Lamb ask Richard Berke, the Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Times, if Berke heard inquiries from readers about Bush's missing year of Air National Guard Service in the early 1970s. Berke looked spooked as though this was an alien abduction issue. Lamb told Berke he hears questions every day about Bush's AWOL time and this is important to many Americans because, believe it or not, it goes to the heart of our fearless leader's credibility as a truth teller and legitimate commander. Berke dismissed this as a non-issue (still a lingering question or two but nothing important), not worthy of polite discussion (especially by the Beltway-in-the-know society), and likely instigated by unseemly, Bush-hating tribes.

I hear from many veterans who are still furious about media culpability in covering up for Bush - "Why don't you write about it?" they ask. (I have, I am.) To many, it's a matter of justice. As anybody who served will tell you, Bush's flight from duty should have ended up with serious consequences such as (a) immediate upgrade from reserve to active duty status, (b) courts-martial, or (c) least of all, a dishonorable discharge. Bush not only got a free pass then but lied about it later and got a free pass from Berke and his so-called newspaper of record which spared no expense nor conspiratorial imagination when it came to President Bill Clinton and Whitewater.

Will a Democratic candidate have the guts to bring up W. Bush's AWOL record? We shall have to wait and see.

Michael McCord, a U.S. Army veteran, is an award-winning reporter and writer living in New Hampshire.

More of Michael McCord's Tales from the Primary Trail:
Gen. Wesley Clark to the Rescue?
Dr. Dean's House Calls
The Unbearable Lightness of Being John Kerry

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