Sunday, November 23, 2003

Rich Gets it Wrong In an otherwise sharp riff about the lengths President Bush and John Kerry have gone to downplay their upper-crust, ivy-league roots, Frank Rich hands Howard Dean this backhanded compliment:
Dean is more forthright about his Yale (via St. George's) and Park Avenue pedigree--up to a point. On his Web site, a gathering place for small donors, his privileged upbringing goes unmentioned, and in the recent "Rock the Vote" debate on CNN, he said he had gone to "a college in New Haven, Connecticut."

Let's take these two points one at a time.

1. While it's true that the bio on www.deanforamerica.com doesn't mention the candidate's Park Avenue childhood (it doesn't say much about his seventh grade science project or his little league career either) a few seconds tinkering with the site's search tool--try typing in the words "Park Avenue"--turns up dozens of results, the first of which reprints an article published in the Boston Globe this fall. The article's third paragraph?

Within the Deans' world of Park Avenue and East Hampton, it was expected that Charlie would buck the family's four-generation lineage on Wall Street, leaving that obligation to quieter, tamer Howard and the two younger boys.

Ahem. So--is Dean hyping the fact that he grew up on Park Avenue? No. But I wouldn't say he's exactly running away from it. And it's certainly not fair to say that "his privileged upbringing goes unmentioned" on his site.

2. I watched the Rock the Vote debate, and heard Dean use the "a college in New Haven" formulation. But what Rich fails to mention is that the debate--held before an audience of college students and other young people--took place in Boston. That is to say, not so far from another elite institution of learning about which Rich himself may know a thing or two. And so it seems awfully reasonable to read Dean's formulation--as I did at the time--as a bit of a joke, made with the Harvard-friendly (and thus,Yale-unfriendly) audience in mind.

Kind of surprised Rich didn't pick up on that.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.