December 28, 2003

IT'S LIKE LOOKING IN A MIRROR

From Patrician Roots, Dean Set Path of Prickly Independence (Rick Lyman, New York Times, 12/28/03)

The Park Avenue building where Howard Dean grew up has a neurologist's office on the ground floor and a church just behind. His mother, Andree Maitland Dean, is eager to emphasize that the family's three-bedroom apartment there is not luxurious.

"Look around," Mrs. Dean said in a recent interview, gesturing at the quarters where her boys grew up. "Howard didn't have the least bit of a glamorous upbringing."

Explaining that every time she had a baby, the dining room would serve as a bedroom for the newborn and his nurse, she concluded, "I don't think we could even keep up with the Bushes."

Like her son, Mrs. Dean chafes at the notion that the family lived the kind of privileged existence that many associate with America's current first family — despite the striking similarities between the two families that even a cursory look reveals.

George Walker Bush and Howard Brush Dean III are from opposite sides of the nation's political fault line. Yet besides energizing the left wing of his party, Dr. Dean has some Republicans worried that the characteristics he shares with President Bush could appeal to swing voters, especially when Dr. Dean's current image as a Vermont liberal is leavened with details of the fiscally conservative way he governed Vermont for 11 years. . . .

Other, deeper similarities are apparent only to those who have spent significant time with each man: temperaments prone to irritation; political skills that play better in small groups than on television; rock-solid confidence in their own decisions.

In addition, each man is seen as being his own worst enemy on the campaign trail, President Bush for mangling his English and fumbling answers, Dr. Dean for creating unnecessary crises by speaking his mind too swiftly.

Too much can be made of these similarities, of course. Certainly Dr. Dean, 55, and his family feel it is misleading to tag them as Bushlike bluebloods, despite the fact that they own a Park Avenue apartment and an East Hampton country house.

"I don't hide who I am," Dr. Dean said. "I am not in the least bit embarrassed about how I grew up. But, now, it wasn't quite as opulent as everybody might think." . . .

All told, for instance, Dr. Dean's parents have given him and his family nearly $1 million in cash gifts over the last two decades, including a single gift of $200,000 in the early 1980's. And his wife's parents gave the couple $60,000 in 1985 to help them pay $161,700 in cash for the family's house on Burlington's south side, freeing the couple from monthly mortgage payments. . . .

Mrs. Dean sees her son's unpretentiousness as something he learned at home, pointing out that her own parents taught her to treat people in an egalitarian way.

"When I was growing up," she said, "we didn't even treat the servants like servants."

This is, over all, a positive profile of Dr. Dean. You can see signs that the Times wants to do a hit piece (it's always a sign of journalistic mischief when they go interview the candidate's mother), that it planned to make Dr. Dean look pampered and spoiled and delusional, but that it just can't do it.

Once a politician's story gells for a campaign, journalists are powerless before it. Dr. Dean's story going into the primaries is set, and it is one that the Times can't help loving. He is the son of privilege, a product, like so many of the Times' beloveds, of Park Avenue, the Hamptons and prep school. He is a trust-fund baby whose inherited financial security has allowed him the freedom to despise the source of his good luck.

Thus, while elite, he is not snobby. Thus, he turns up the chance to follow his father to Wall Street. Thus, he is exposed to anti-Americanism for the first time in England and turns away from the Republican Party. Thus, his parents are mildly prejudiced, but he asks for a generic black roomate. Thus, he chooses to be a doctor to help people. Thus, he moves to bucolic Vermont and gives himself up to politics. No wonder the Times must love him. God help them, they love him so.

Posted by David Cohen at December 28, 2003 3:52 PM
Comments

Your last paragraph is a synopsis of every Hollywood made-for-TV tear-jerker staring an Alan Alda wannabe and now playing endlessly on Oxygen or Lifetime.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 28, 2003 6:03 PM

I am reminded of the great line about George H.W. Bush: "Born on third and acts like he hit a triple."

Posted by: Your brother at December 29, 2003 8:34 AM

The point is that after two or three generations
the money just fades into the background (like
a nice sunset). It is well known that the Bush's
lived in modest middle class digs while in Texas.
The Bush pad in Kennenbunkport was probably
"shabby chic" before there was such a thing.
This is why old money people are often more pleasant to be around, since you don't always
have to get a demo of the new Hum-Vee or look at
the $50,000 travertine marble shower they just
had put in.

Posted by: J.H. at December 29, 2003 10:17 AM

I particularly love the trope about the scion of Wall Street, the Park Avenue kid, who rebels against his heritage and dissappoints his father in order to become a . . . doctor. Who knew generations of Jewish mothers were so motivated by an altruistic love of humanity?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 29, 2003 10:33 AM

Dean probably moved to "bucolic Vermont" for the skiing.

Posted by: genecis at December 29, 2003 10:35 AM

I would much prefer to suffer the ride in the Hum-Vee than to play a round of golf with a guy named "Poppy." Listen, long before anyone ever heard of Howard Dean, "41" perfected the Rebel-Son-of-Wall-Street-Banker routine. That there are people out there who actually believe that "43" had a "modest middle class" upbringing proves not only David's point that the media is powerless to stop a well-defined campaign biography, but that "84" have played the game better than anyone. Let's hope that we will not be subject to many stories about which candidate treated his servants better.

Posted by: Your brother at December 29, 2003 1:20 PM

Bad day at the office?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 29, 2003 1:55 PM

I'm just running out of targets. Opposing counsel are mostly on vacation this week.

Posted by: Your brother at December 29, 2003 2:17 PM

Illinois Ave. in Midland, Texas, where GWB spent his formative years, is a nice place -- why, there's even a Whataburger down the block! -- but it hardly compares to the upbringing on Park Ave. that Howard Dean had, despite mom's protestations (unless of course the Deans lived north of 97th Street, where the New York Central/Metro North tracks emerge from underground. That's a lot different world from what your typical Park Avenue image conjures up).

Posted by: John at December 29, 2003 2:53 PM

That Dean's mother refers to the domestic help as "servants" is revealing, and not in any way helpful to her son.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 30, 2003 11:26 AM

Yeah, that reminded me of the puff piece that described Clare Booth Brokaw Luce as kind to her inferiors. Dorothy Parker allegedly wondered, "Where does she find them?"

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