The cover of the Drudge Report today ridiculed Dean's Iowa "concession" speech with simplicity but not subtlety: Two photos of a sleeves-up, snarling Dean, an audio link that reads "YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!" and the headline: "Dean Goes Nuts." Drudge will be Drudge, of course, but judging from reaction elsewhere, Dean's speech last night -- specifically one moment of hoarse yelling -- may haunt him forever.
Here's a recap (or watch the video): Dean's emergence on the stage, bounding out with Tom Harkin at his side, started out promising. Tearing off his jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves, Dean seemed unbowed. The trouble began when Dean started bellowing a one-man name-the-states contest, promising to fight through the next 13 primary states, and finished with a pledge "to take back the White House," followed by a primal scream that may become Dean's new trademark -- a strangled "Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" that Drudge captured on audio. (It's also inspired a Howard Dean Car Alarm and a dance remix.)
Reaction to Dean's bizarro performance swirled across the Web and airwaves today, and the praise was oddly similar to the criticism. A poster on the right-wing site Free Republic compared Dean to Macho Man Randy Savage. A conservative opinion-writer said Dean "lost control of himself and began screaming at supporters." New York NPR talk show host Brian Lehrer said Dean sounded like Jesse Ventura. Howard Stern ran Dean's speech over a track of metal band AC/DC.
Dean-friendly bloggers tried to make the best of Dean's appearance while debating whether it helped or hurt. One blogger praised Dean as a "Junkyard dawg." Another wondered if Dean's temperament might aid him in fighting terrorism: "Maybe Dean would do a better job of putting Osama in his place, eh? Or at least put some serious fear into him."
This morning, adding to his caucus hangover, Dean faced skeptical reviews: On the Today show, Katie Couric asked him: "Do you think things got a little out of control and you got a little over the top? Can you explain that?" On CBS, Hannah Storm called Dean's performance "decidedly unpresidential." And the New York Times pulled a one-two punch of not only chiding Dean's performance -- but comparing him to his more genteel competitor: "At his post- caucus rally Monday night, Dr. Dean looked more like Howard Beale, the angry anchor in 'Network,' than Marcus Welby MD, while Mr. Kerry was every inch the veteran senator he is.'"
We've heard a lot from Dean and his supporters in recent months about how hard the media has been on him -- and we'll likely hear more. They say he's received a bad rap from a biased press corps that long ago dubbed him angry and gaffe-prone and stuck to the script. But Dean's performance last night gave his critics plenty of ammunition. Let's see if he can recover.