My moment of illumination about Howard Dean came one day in Iowa when I saw him lean into a crowd and begin a sentence with, "Us rural people. . . ."
Dean grew up on Park Avenue and in East Hampton. If he's a rural person, I'm the Queen of Sheba. Yet he said it with conviction. He said it uninhibited by any fear that someone might laugh at or contradict him.
It was then that I saw how Dean had liberated himself from his past, liberated himself from his record and liberated himself from the restraints that bind conventional politicians. He has freed himself to say anything, to be anybody.
The newly liberated Dean doesn't worry about having a coherent political philosophy. There is a parlor game among Washington pundits called How Liberal Is Howard Dean? One group pores over his speeches, picks out the things no liberal could say and argues that he's actually a centrist. Another group picks out the things no centrist could say and argues that he's quite liberal.
But the liberated Dean is beyond categories like liberal and centrist because he is beyond coherence. He'll make a string of outspoken comments over a period of weeks — on "re-regulating" the economy or gay marriage — but none of them have any relation to the others. When you actually try to pin him down on a policy, you often find there is nothing there.