"Being a doctor has to do with who I am," Dean tells TIME. "First, facts matter, and ideology doesn't," Dean says. "I do not like ideologues. I never trusted ideologues. That's why I don't trust this Administration."
TIME National Political Correspondent Karen Tumulty interviewed Dean on a cramped six-seater jet that was taking him home to Vermont for a New Year's break, for TIME's cover story (coverline, "WHO IS THE REAL DEAN? The Democratic front runner is still a mystery to most voters. A look at what they'll see when they fill in the blanks."
Tumulty's story is titled, "Inside the Mind of Howard Dean. His opponents say he is unlikeable and unelectable. The Democratic front runner explains why most of what you hear about him is dead wrong.")
To understand how he thinks, Dean tells TIME, it helps to look at the way he and his doctor-wife Judith Steinberg treated their patients in their family practice back in Vermont. "She's very methodical. She'll exhaust all the possibilities until she gets to the one that's the most likely," he tells TIME. "I'm intuitive, and I jump steps ahead. Part of what gets me in trouble on the stump is that I shorthand things. I know what I'm thinking, but I don’t say every word of it. I was that way as a doctor. I eliminate possibilities unconsciously, before they get to my consciousness. It's also part of my political judgment. I often know I want to do things before I know why, although the thinking goes on all the time. The way I think is, if you give me information, I tuck it back somewhere and work on it and work on it and work on it without being aware of it. All of a sudden, 10 months later, something will pop out, based on a whole series of things that I've learned in the last 10 months. And finally, all of a sudden, it falls into place."
Tumulty reports that Dean has been intrigued by the writings of University of California, Berkeley, cognitive linguist George Lakoff, the author of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Lakoff argues that liberals, with their "nurturing parent" view of the world, have lost ground in the values debate to "strict father" conservatives. In the middle, Lakoff writes, are "bi-conceptuals" who have internalized both parents.
Travelling with Dean, Tumulty notes his no-frills style means that he seldom changes clothes: "Dean was in the same charcoal pinstripe suit that he had worn for the past four days, which had taken him through an eight-county swing in Iowa; a forum in Green Bay, Wis.; a policy speech in Detroit; a Democratic breakfast and a ribbon cutting at his new campaign headquarters in Florence, S.C.; and finally, on the way to the Charleston, S.C., airport, some networking with the élite at Clinton’s old haunt, Renaissance Weekend." Dean tells Tumulty, "The rule is, if you travel with me, you're not allowed to take baggage you have to check," he says. "The one-suit theory is, nobody's going to know the difference because I'm in so many places."
As the Democratic front runner, with only two weeks to go before the presidential race begins in Iowa, Tumulty reports, Dean is being pummeled from every angle. Yet in the latest TIME/CNN Poll, Dean has widened his lead over the field to 22% support, double that of any other contender and up from 14 points in mid-November. Dean still loses to Bush 51% to 46% among likely voters, when TIME/CNN asked who they would election if the election were held today -- but he is just within the margin of error.
Dean also tells TIME:
Nurturing is not part of his natural style. "There's a different way I do empathy," Dean says. "I kind of lean into them, and I look at them, and I'll let them know I'm really paying careful attention to what they say. But I don't put my arm around them and all that stuff. Because it's true: when you present me with a problem, I want to solve the problem."
He maintains a certain detachment, he tells TIME, because he remembers how his emotions made him incapable of assisting with a critically wounded 9-year-old drive-by-shooting victim when he was a medical student. He recalls, "What I learned from that is, if you get sucked in and you get overwhelmed, you can't do a thing for the patient."
His biggest mistake during the campaign was his accusation that John Edwards waffled on his support for the war; he wrote the North Carolina Senator a handwritten apology and "was happy to do it," Dean says. As for the rest of his slips and stumbles: "It's not calculated, obviously. All I know is that most of this stuff that gets written about is not interesting to most people, except for reporters and other candidates," he says. "It doesn't affect what happens in my campaign." But he knows it could. "What these guys do is, they take a quote and they twist it and they recharacterize it, and some reporter writes it. And once you get into (the news database) LexisNexis, you're done."
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