There is the Angry Populist, the Calm Populist, the Polite Populist, the Executive Populist, and the Radical Populist. That’s who racing across New Hampshire chasing Democratic and independent voters in the days before the first presidential primary of 2004. Oh, there’s also Joe Lieberman.
Senator John Kerry, the leader in the polls, is the angry one. He doesn’t hoot or holler. But he declares, “It is time for us to get angry…and restore real democracy to the United States.” By that he means he wants to rid Washington of the money-grubbing special interests out. And when he has not been pushing that mission, he has been talking about his Vietnam days. On Friday, he appeared with Vietnam veterans at a rally in Manchester and told war stories. One of his television ads showed a war buddy of his talking about Kerry: “There’s a sense after Vietnam that every day is extra….That you have to do what’s right.” And the spot included video of Kerry as a soldier in Nam. Kerry is, by nature, cautiously passionate. A little anger is not a bad idea for him; it allows him to emote, which has not been his strong suit as a candidate. Heading into the final weekend, his strategy remained obvious one: talk about your record, bash George W. Bush for catering to corporate interests, and, most importantly, keep plodding ahead and don’t screw up.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is now the calm one. He is more interesting to watch than Kerry, for he has the more difficult challenge. He has had to rejigger his approach. That has entailed burnishing his image as a responsible and straight-talking governor of many accomplishments while also maintaining his insurgent take-back-America message. At a rally on Friday night, he pulled it off. Speaking at Keene Middle School to an overflowing crowd of about 1500 Dean enthusiasts–a group of all ages–he nailed his case. With a calm, steady and firm delivery, Dean noted the qualities that would make him a good president: he is willing to stand up for what he believes, whether it is popular or not (the proof: his early opposition to the Iraq war and the No Child Left Behind act, his support of civil unions for gays and lesbians); he has experience and can deliver on health care (the proof: his success in Vermont); and, unlike other politicians, he tells the truth.
To prove that last point, Dean noted that his Democratic opponents say that America can have a middle-class tax cut and expanded education funding, kindergarten through college and expanded health care coverage. No way, Dean said, adding, “You know why 50 percent of Americans don’t vote? It’s because politicians talk like that before every election.” But, he added, when these pols enter office they cannot deliver on such promise. “You can’t win an election on promises,” Dean asserted. He, on the other hand, is willing to acknowledge the hard truth: “You can’t have everything.” Someone has to tell the people that. And Dean maintained he is the only candidate prepared to do so–to balance the budget and be realistic in terms of new social programs. He said his budget would have room for expanding health insurance, a program for early child development, and an alternative energy initiative.