Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Who's Yer Daddy?
The first blog I ever read regularly was Best of the Blogs, and it's still my favorite because of articles like these: Jerry Bowles on the curious placement of a full-page National Guard ad in today's New York Times and Josh Hammond on why he thinks Howard Dean is becoming "the white Alan Keyes of the Democratic Party." Bowles is an ex-military man and has been all over the controversy over Bush's service records; Hammond has been harder on Dean than most commentators in the Dean-friendly blogosphere, but often says things Deaniacs need to hear.

Dean has backed off his pledge to make Wisconsin his last stand, so unless he gets beat by Sharpton (which nearly happened in Virginia), he's probably in through March 2 now. Hammond accuses Dean of being untrustworthy for staying in the race after saying he'd get out. He ascribes Dean's persistence to, among other things, a desire to do to Kerry what Kerry did to him, and that may be partly why he's staying in the race.

But I think there's another, more prosaic reason--not the sole reason, but one that counts. Dean has been running for president for nearly two years, and speaking to enthusiastic crowds for eight or nine months. When he walks into a room, he hears people chanting, "President Dean, President Dean." They hang on his every word, interrupt him with applause, and line up to shake his hand when he's through. Then it's onto the bus or plane and off to the next town, where a couple of hours later, it happens again. I don't care how well adjusted you are--if you have ego enough to think you should be president of the United States, that adulation has got to be as powerful as crack. I don't believe Dean is so egotistical that he's staying in solely because he loves the way it feels to run, but love it he must. How could he not?

Recommended reading: A group called Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice held a forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the other night. One of the group's founders, Stephen Soldz, delivered a talk called "The Psychodynamics of Empire," which was not nearly so daunting as its title. In the course of his talk, Soldz analyzed Americans' response to September 11 as an analyst might see it if we were collectively on the couch, and provided insights into the appeal of George W. Bush.

Soldz notes that we grow up believing that this country is unique, called by history, God, or whatever to be the greatest country on Earth. But now we've been attacked, the economy is in the tank, and people are unsure what the future will bring. Is it us? Is it our fault? Soldz says, "The fear, anxiety, and sense of failure despite our best efforts that many Americans experience--especially in this, the best country in history--and the accompanying shame, help activate the strict father model. The existence of an enemy out to destroy us leads people to believe we need a strong leader, an all-wise father-figure to protect us. Enter President Bush with his jump suit and codpiece."

But as I read Soldz' analysis, I thought, enter also John Kerry--a war veteran projecting a steady and resolute image, surrounded by those ubiquitous Fire Fighters for Kerry--an alternate version of the strict father. He's certainly better suited to fill that psychological void than John Edwards, the guy who's dating your sister, or Howard Dean, the toughest teacher in the whole high school. Wesley Clark comes the closest, but he comes across more like your dad's best friend than your dad, and he's gone back to Little Rock anyhow.

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