08 December 2006

Me, Howard Brush Dean III, and a guy with a big beard

[Note of apology: On Friday, when I wrote this blog entry in the first flush of Dean excitement, I thought that I hit "save as draft" instead of "publish." Evidently, I hit the latter. Forgive its unfinished-ness if you read the earlier version, and please re-read, because I have now, I hope, added a certain level of coherence, fleshed out the ellipses, and added the meeting-Dean story. Plus: photographs! Also note that photographs have been added to some of the Porto entries.]

I just met Howard Dean!

Who would have thought, that instead of meeting him in Vermont, where we actually both lived for an extended period of time, I would have had the occasion to introduce myself in Porto, Portugal, of all places.

Dean is one of the special guests of the Congress of the Party of European Socialists, Romano Prodi being another not-technically-socialist who was also invited. I missed Dean's speech this morning, but he was clearly a guest of honor and it's a good sign that the Europeans and the Americans are stepping toward some sort of international alliance. Especially with Bush out of the picture in two years, and hopefully any of his cohorts, I have high hopes about a more useful American-European dialogue instead of the absurd intimidation and posturing that Bush has undertaken.

Indeed, looking at the printed text of his speech, this is what Dean emphasized, now that Democrats have won the mid-term elections. He said, "It is time for the United States to renew our relationships around the world. It is time we treat our allies with respect and honesty. The Democratic Party believes that America should return to consensus-building, multilateral relationships based on mutual respect." Take that, Mr. Unilateral Cowboy President.

I got here in time to catch the vote for President of the PES, and the subsequent acceptance speech. The vote was unanimous, since there was only one candidate, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark. His speech was compelling, contrasting the agenda of the socialists (the slogan plastered everywhere in all of the official European Union languages is: A New Social Europe) with those who have the cheek to call themselves a "people's party," i.e., the Right.

Yet what I always remind myself when listening to political speeches, is that the speeches of the "them" (of the us vs. them equation; in this case, the Right) will often, to a large degree, sound equally progressive, inclusive, and honest. For that is the nature of rhetoric, and the message is often simplified to a degree that it no longer necessarily means anything, especially in an age of media-politics and sound-bytes. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike will trot out examples of racial and gender equality during their convention. Everyone will promise things that sound pretty good to a lot of people.

At the end of the day, the important thing for a given political party is to back up such words with action, and the difficult thing for any constituent is to determine whose actions are in fact just, whose actions are in fact are progressive, inclusive, and honest. Most of the time, I find it difficult to know, because even when something might appear on the surface to be good (say, a law is passed that appears to benefit the average worker), when you look closer it might be rotten (that same law really is profitting big business at the expense of the average worker). It is a rare situation that gives us a clear indication of when actions have supported words. For me, one of those times was Zapatero's decision to pull Spanish soldiers from Iraq.

Of course, I am exaggerating when I saw that political speeches are only empty rhetoric. There is a difference--sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious--between a speech by Bush and a speech by Gore. That's what debates are about. Staking out difference. But it's frustrating that so many political decisions are made because of who looks good on camera, who sounds cleverest, most "American," whatever that means, who can spin things in the most positive light.

Dean knows this more than anyone, what with all the nonsense about his "scream" during the run-up to the elections. It seems to have affected his style of delivery, and I can't blame him for being more circumspect. But it is also interesting that in his speech today, he made mention of the contrast between words and actions that I'm thinking about here: "It is not enough to say that you believe in being inclusive and support policies that say so, if you then ignore people in the political process. To be blunt, that's what happened to Democrats in my country." Here he is faulting his own party for the disjunct between rhetoric (or theory, if you will) and practice. I'm taking that as a sign that things are changing--and by taking those words as a sign of action, I prove the point that it's impossible not to trust rhetoric to some degree.

OK, enough serious talk about politics; let's talk about how I actually met the guy and how I hope I didn't make a fool of myself but am not sure because, as happens when I am nervous, things sort of happened in a blur.

After the Rasmussen speech, it was time for lunch, and he called all the big shots up onto the podium for pictures. I stationed myself off to the side to catch Dean as he came down, amid a scrum of other people, most of them with cameras the size of my torso.

A couple people got to him first, and he had a long conversation with a French politician, and then a Greek parliamentarian, and in the meanwhile the photographers were telling me to get out of their shots and one actually physically pulled my hand back when I reached out. Finally I sort of wedged myself in. My brilliant, ahem, opening line was, "Governor Dean, I just wanted to say hello as a fellow Vermonter."

Nice guy that he is, he immediately took notice, and said "Another Vermonter!" I introduced myself, and shook his hand, and mentioned my father, and Dean not only remembered Dad and complemented him on the great job he's doing in his position at an important non-profit in the state (I suspected as much would ensue, since Dad is famous, on the state-wide level at least), he *also* remembered that my tall little brother is a fabulous basketball player (state championship) *and* that he went on to an evangelical college, and asked if he was still playing!

(This is why I could never be a politician. [In case there was any doubt.] I can't even keep straight the details of my own family members, much less other people's, as is proven by the fact that I responded with an unintentional lie, saying that my brother is still playing at school. He graduated last May. Forgive me, bro. It was the nerves.)

He asked what I was doing in Porto, and I explained that my husband works at the European Parliament, and then once again told me to say hello from him to my father, and tell him that he's doing a great job. And with assurances that I would, and I'm sure much dorkish smiling on my part, that was that!

M, meanwhile, was taking photos, and the photographers with the big cameras even had the nerve to try to shove him aside, and then, when resisted, ridicule his camera. But he stood his ground, and thanks to my heroic hubby, we have several shots of me and Dean. (I forgot to ask for the classic, fake-smile "me and famous person" photo.)

Here's me waiting my turn:



All of the photos from while I'm talking to Dean have funny-looking people in the background, and I'll post this one, because it's the funniest:



Later that night, after being caught in a series of major downpours while trying to do a bit more sightseeing, M and I were relaxing in the hotel and watching the news. And guess what? I saw myself on TV! I was just a little flash of purple in the corner, but they just happened to be filming when I was either waiting to talk to Dean or talking to him, and so the happy ending to this story is that I have now made a once-in-a-lifetime (I am quite certain that it is not likely to happen again) appearance on Portuguese television.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Robin,

I'm sorry to inform, but your "unintentional lie" will not be forgiven...

Love,

your disrespected/neglected/unhappy brother