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Open letter to Howard Dean

12/05/03 12:00AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore has been watching the progess of the Dean campaign, and he has a few suggestions for the candidate.


Dear Doctor Dean,

You don't know me, but I've hung around American presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton. I've watched many other world leaders in that time. And I've logged a whole lot of miles with American secretaries of state, starting with Henry Kissinger.

That doesn't make me a real expert on anything, but I did learn a few things about leadership. For instance, the one quality projected by the notable foreign leaders I covered was strength. This was as true of Margaret Thatcher as it was of Charles DeGaulle or Gamal Abdul Nasser.

But since television took over politics in this country, American voters also want to like, as well as respect, their presidents. This was an important reason Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were two-term Presidents.

Now, forgive me Dr. Dean, but I think your greatest problem at the moment is that you are way behind George W. Bush on the likeability scale. I watched you in the latest debate in Iowa. Of course, as you are the favorite, you were under attack. That put you on the defensive, and you responded by making condescending remarks about your opponents, which re-enforced your reputation for being thin skinned and abrasive.

Recently, commentaries and profiles about you by respected national writers repeatedly have raised the issue of your "anger," implying that an angry man can't be elected president. But, you know what, Dr. Dean? I think they are wrong. I think it is perfectly all right to be angry. The way the country is now being run, there is much to be angry about.

But you can't just be angry. At times, you have also got to seem to be likeable. And in my experience the best way to accomplish this is through self-deprecating humor. Henry Kissinger was about as warm and fuzzy as a porcupine, but Kissinger would often disarm his critics by publicly making fun of himself - of his heavy Germanic accent, of his legendary temper, and even, in his early days, of his image as a ladies' man. I guess you have to be really old to remember that Henry once had that reputation. His line on that was, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

Well, gvernor, you too can be as funny as Henry Kissinger. You have all those Hollywood people supporting you. Surely Rob Reiner can hook you up with a few good writers to give you some one-liners about your anger, or your new image as a liberal, or perhaps about your tiny, white-bread state. People eat that sort of thing up. Folks my age still remember John Kennedy poking fun at himself with lines like, "I'm the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris."

It's no too late, either. Voters outside Iowa and New Hampshire are just beginning to think about presidential politics. So in the next national television debate, remember that a joke on yourself with a shy smile or a broad grin can go a very long way. It might even help get you to the White House.

Yours sincerely,
Barrie Dunsmore

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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