Charles Krauthammer

Iraq remains a political liability for the president. The continuing casualties have turned the war on terror from a winning political issue into a problematic one. Iraq's political effect is to neutralize foreign policy as a strong Bush positive, draining it of salience and shifting the center of gravity of the election contest toward more domestic concerns. Nonetheless, as Iowa showed, there is zero payoff, post-Saddam, from raving that you were the firstest and mostest against the war.

Dean, of course, compounded his problem by his reaction to Saddam's capture. The problem, however, was not even the substance of his reaction, but the sourness, the certainty, the smugness with which it was delivered.

As the gaffes piled up, it became obvious that Dean's deepest problem was not his positions but his temperament. Anyone who still has any doubts about this must be one of the three people in America who has not seen, and recoiled from, Dean's unhinged rant after the Iowa loss.

Interestingly, observers in the hall, watching the interplay of Dean with the frenzy of his volunteers, did not find The Scream particularly disturbing. It was television that made it catastrophic.

Which confirms my long-held view that Dean's ultimate weakness was that he was the classic anti-McLuhan candidate. I suggested back on Sept. 5 that ``Dean's passion is well suited to the early campaign ... the one-on-one, town-hall-meeting, retail-level campaign so far. Dean's problem is television, famously a cool medium. ... As the campaign becomes less retail and more national -- and therefore more televised -- Dean's rise will be challenged.'' What I could not have predicted was that he would actually explode on national television.

Dean was always passion and anger. Passion and anger don't wear well on television. They are too hot and, under the pressure of the first defeat in his entire political career, he simply combusted -- into a manic eruption that within 24 hours had been memorialized in song.

When the late-night comics call you ``a hockey dad" (Letterman) and ``the Incredible Hulk" (Conan O'Brien) and ``Mr. Rogers with rabies" (Leno), you've got trouble. The most difficult thing to recover from in politics is ridicule.

I'm not laughing, however. I'm cryin'. The dream is gone.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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