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Howard “Wild Man” Dean

There’s been quite a lot of blogosphere chatter about the strange yell Howard Dean emitted during his rally-the-troops speech after his drubbing in Iowa.

Jackie D, for example, writes, “I don’t know if big Iowa loser Howard Dean is mentally balanced or not, but he sure does know how to get hilariously unhinged.” She’s rooting for Dean to get the nomination because she believes– probably correctly– that “he’ll lose big-time, and also because there will be more side-splitting public meltdowns like this, right up to November.”

Apparently The Yell has got quite a lot of air time. I heard it twice this morning on National Public Radio.

Rightly or not, it’s this sort of thing– rather than a candidate’s position on any partiuclar issue– that can send a campaign into a tailspin. I’m reminded of Senator Ed Muskie’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Muskie, campaigning for the New Hampshire primary, was considered the front-runner until he called a press conference to denounce an unflattering newspaper article about his wife. Muskie broke down in tears, and even though he won in New Hampshire, his campaign deflated and collapsed soon after.

So it’s possible The Yell will be Howard Dean’s Muskie moment. It reinforces the image of Dean as a giant blood vessel waiting to burst.

Dean’s dilemma, I think, is that when he tries to play it cool and reasonable, he fades into the background. When he gets red-faced and vein-popping, he turns people off. And his opposition to the Iraq war didn’t help him much even among antiwar Iowans.

Matt Welch writes of Dean, “I kind of like the idea of a crazy man running for president, but my tastes have long been unsound…” Dean still has a lot of money and a lot of organization– although they didn’t help him much Monday night. But if the “crazy man” reputation sticks, it’s unlikely a majority of Democrats, let alone a majority of American voters, will share Matt’s preference.

Update: Some unkind people are having all kinds of fun at Dr. Dean’s expense.