LETTER FROM MEMPHIS 

Howard Dean crashes and burns in Iowa; only some of us are surprised.

THE RISE AND FALL OF MR. I-TOLD-YOU-SO The phone call came around eleven pm Monday night, from my youngest daughter, Ciara, a graduate student at Tulane, in New Orleans. "Well," she said smartly. "Wasn't that a nasty surprise?" I could tell by her tone of voice that I was in for a lecture, and the ha-ha-ha cackling in the receiver did little to disabuse me of that notion. "Surprised about what, Ciara?" "About Dean getting stomped in Iowa, of course. Just what I told you would happen, right?" "Well, yes and no. Yes, that's what you told me would happen, and no, I'm not surprised." "Oh, come on!" I was a bit huffy, I admit. "You're telling me you're not surprised?” "No, Ciara, I'm not. In fact, I talked to my friend Martha in Burlington earlier today, and she marveled at how far the former Vermont governor had gotten with, as she put it, "so little." Then Martha added: "I just don't quite get it, you know."" "Well, I thought you were the guy, Dad, who said Dean's organization was primo, that that organization would carry the day in Iowa." "Bingo, dear. You've got me there. Yes, I'd seen what Dean's done on the internet, how he had all his ducks in a row. Jackson (Baker; the Flyer's politics editor) is up there, and he told me there were planeloads of Deanies in Iowa working every town, every corner of the state." "But, dad, they're not Iowans. They're "blow-ins," as you always call those folks who come into Memphis for a few months and then decide how everything should work the way they want it to. Don't you remember how many times we've had a good laugh about Memphis blow-ins?" "Yes, Ciara, I was afraid you might bring that up. Point taken." "So what happened? After all, you are my dad, so you're not completely stupid." I was grateful at this stage, let me tell you, for even this meager compliment. "Well, thank you, I think. Actually, it’s all real complicated, but in a nutshell, I think Howard Dean outran his message. A year ago, he was able to stand out from the crowd by claiming, quite legitimately, to be the only credible candidate opposing the Iraq war. As far back as the summer of 2002 he was ranting and raving about what a misadventure Iraq would become." "Just like you, dad, right?" "Exactly. Unlike me, though, Howard scored tons of political points by daring to be different, by standing out from the crowd, by doing what the Congressional Democratic Party refused to do: oppose the war." "And..." "And he did. And he made Harold Ford Jr. and all the other Democrats who voted for the Bush war squeal like a pig, if you know what I mean." "I don't talk about stuff like that with you, you know. You’re my dad." "But that was then; this is now. 2003 was an awkward year for Jr. and the boys, including Senator Kerry and his ilk. But then something amazing happened...." "Which was?" "People like Senator Kerry and Congressman Ford got sense. They realized that the Bushies had sold them an incredible bill of goods, and began trying to figure out what to do about it. They're all politicians, so it took them longer to get to the right place than normal people, but finally, sometime in the last few months, they actually did. And started attacking the Bush administration whole hog." "Dad, you bring up pigs too much in conversation; you really should watch that. So, anyway, what does all that have to do with Dean getting waxed tonight?" "Nothing, except that, speaking of animals, Governor Dean was something of a one-trick pony. He'd spent so long preaching the anti-war gospel that he was stone-cold deaf by Iowa caucus time. He didn't realize that his message was no longer unique. Without knowing it, he'd turned into Mr. I-Told-You-So. And you know, Ciara, nobody likes a know-it-all." At the other end of the phone line, there was a long silence. "Hey, are you still there, girl?" "Dad, I'm trying to be polite. Think about all the e-mails you've sent since you went ballistic about this war; think about how many times you've embarrassed me at restaurants with your anti-war rants. And YOU have the audacity to call Howard Dean Mr. I-Told-You-So?" I should have admitted that she had a point. But did I? Hey, you've gotta be kidding; I'm the dad, right? "Well, there may be some truth in what you're saying. But, Ciara, just who was it that made this phone call tonight?" (Kenneth Neill is the publisher/CEO of Contemporary Media, Inc., parent company of The Memphis Flyer).

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