Letters to Iowa

Des Moines Register columnist Marc Hansen writes about the handwritten letters Deansters are writing to Iowans at their Meetups:

Dear Howard Dean backer,

Thanks for your personalized, handwritten, single-spaced, two-page letter. No, it wasn’t addressed specifically to me. And at first I wondered what was going on – some guy with perfect penmanship and a California return address writing my wife out of the blue. Whom does she know out there that I don’t?

But when I gently ripped the letter out of her hands and read it, my mind was at ease. It was obvious, Pen Pal, you were only after her support in the Iowa caucuses.

Since then, I’ve heard from other Iowans who received the same kind of anti-form letter. Do the Dean people miss anything? Such attention to detail has to be a big reason their man leads the pack as Jan. 19 approaches.

I can’t remember exactly what you wrote about your favorite presidential candidate, but I do remember marveling at the time and effort. Even if you wrote the same letter to a dozen of us here in Caucusland, it still beats the standard mass mailing.

A few Iowans might tell you to mind your own business. Some of us hate it when outsiders tell us how to think. We’re funny like that. Still, it was a nice touch.

So I thought the least I could do was write back and let you know how it’s going on this end.

It’s true what the pundits are saying. Yes, they’re freezing their laptops off. Yes, Sunday’s debate went well for your man Howard.

As the front-runner, he weathered the attack everyone knew was coming. He held his ground. He talked up a storm about health care, tax cuts, free trade and other issues. He showed the usual command.

Joe Lieberman was outspoken old Uncle Joe. Hard-nosed and relaxed at the same time.

John Kerry had a cutting anti-Bush line about actually knowing what it’s like to be on an aircraft carrier. Everyone was so busy ganging up on Dean, though, you wondered if anyone noticed.

Dick Gephardt, who’s been in Congress since St. Louis was considered the West Coast, talked about the important bills he helped pass and the important people he can call on to help get things done.

Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley Braun were likable yet hopeless underdogs.

Lots of people fell in love with the boyish charm of John Edwards. As soon as the national media figure out he’s really only 29, though, he’s through.

Which brings me to the meat of this letter. Things are going well for Dean, but they can always get better. Is there any way, for instance, you can thaw him out, loosen him up a bit?

He talks a decent game. If he doesn’t really know his stuff, he sounds as if he does.

But whom are we dealing with here? Who is this guy? Give us a glimpse of the man.

The average voter is as interested in NAFTA as the next semi-alert citizen of the free world. But what the average voter really wants to know is what kind of person he’s dealing with.

If the trust is there, the free trade takes care of itself. Can we trust Howard Dean?

One of the more telling moments Sunday came when the candidates were asked about the biggest mistakes they’ve made as elected officials. It’s the classic job-interview question. The idea is to take one of your strengths and trot it out as a weakness.

Edwards voted for the No Child Left Behind bill, mistakenly believing, he said, the president would take it from there.

Lieberman said that as a young state senator he was more concerned with the rights of criminals than victims.

Gephardt said he voted for the early Reagan tax cuts.

Kerry failed to defend himself under “withering attack” in the first race he ever ran.

Braun learned the hard way the opposition would criticize her even when it wasn’t deserved.

Dean said he misquoted Edwards.

“I wrote him a letter of apology, and I apologize again today.”

Not bad, but not as good as Kucinich who, as the mayor of Cleveland, fired the police chief live on the 6 o’clock news.

“On Good Friday,” he added, asking whether anybody could top that. “But let’s say that in the years since, I have learned a certain amount of diplomacy.”

Even though nobody on the panel agreed with him about pulling out of Iraq, Kucinich instantly became more genuine, more likable, more truly human.

You told me, Pen Pal, why Dean deserves Iowa’s support. I’m telling you how he might be able to nail it down. Just trying to help.

“Gina in Texas” posted this reply to the Blog for America comment thread (on an unrelated matter, today’s NPR radio-only debate):

I emailed a response to the Des Moines Register opinion column by Marc Hansen today. The link was posted in a previous blog thread by anamericanabroad and pointed out again by Larry in Austin, thanks. Click my name if you want to read the piece.
My response started out as a short note, then something happened…. oh well, I guess I needed to get it out on paper. Virtual paper, anyhow! It follows for anyone who cares to read through it–I actually doubt Mr. Hansen will!
Dear Mr. Hansen,
I’m one of those out-of-state Dean supporters who is handwriting letters to Iowans. I of course wonder how they will be received, and thanks for letting us know what at least one Iowan thinks about the idea!
We appreciate the “thaw him out” advice too, although it’s funny: Even today, we still hear criticism from pundits and politicians that Dr. Dean comes off as _too_ angry or hotheaded. His supporters don’t think he’s “all about anger.” I’m not on the campaign plane with him, but I would say the doc is showing a calmer–one might almost say, “kinder and gentler”– side to blunt such criticisms.
I realize some Iowans won’t appreciate their letters, but I trust that most take them in the spirit in which they are intended: We outside Iowa know that y’all have a huge say in who becomes the Democratic nominee, and we just can’t help wanting you to have the views of the nation on a topic of national importance.
I don’t know what the California man who wrote the letter to your wife said, but I point out in my letters (I’ve written seven, all a bit different) that I have never before volunteered in any political campaign. I feel encouraged to get involved, on one hand, by my feeling about the current administration. No, it’s not anger, though sometimes I do get angry at some events or pronouncements. It’s more like disdain, or maybe disgust… Frankly, the best way to describe it is that I’m appalled, and there doesn’t seem to be a noun for that (apallation, appalledness