Getting Angry at Voters for Fun and Profit

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 16 2011 11:37 AM

Getting Angry at Voters for Fun and Profit

Way back in January 2004, right before the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean made one of his last mistakes. A Republican voter asked him a long, leading question about why Dean was such a jerk. Dean didn't take it well.

Dr. Dean flashed his much-talked-about temper at a town-hall-style forum here in a sharp exchange with a 67-year-old retiree, Dale Ungerer. Mr. Ungerer, who said he was a registered Republican but had sometimes voted for Democrats, challenged Dr. Dean to ''please tone down the garbage, the mean-mouthing of tearing down your neighbor and being so pompous,'' questioning why the candidate spent so much time bashing President Bush.
Dr. Dean declared, ''George Bush is not my neighbor.'' As Mr. Ungerer, stood up, Dr. Dean said, ''You sit down. You've had your say, and now I'm going to have my say.''

Crazy Howard Dean got angry all the time! The narrative was set; he played it out. Maybe it would be fair to say that the media wrote him into it.

I bring all of this up because the reaction to Mitt Romney's annoyed response to liberal hecklers at the Iowa State Fair has drawn somewhat different coverage than Dean's blow-up did. Liberal plants -- one of them about as old as Dale Ungerer was -- asked Romney why he wouldn't support raising the cap on FICA taxes to pay for Social Security. Romney responded with a back and forth -- "are you finished!" -- and a gripe about how what these people were suggesting was something new and ugly in America.

How was it covered? If you don't want to watch the video, this screenshot should tell the story.

Screen shot 2011-08-16 at 11.11.31 AM

The question: Did Romney have a Reagan moment or merely a bullhorn moment? That's the secret. Make sure the narrative works for you before you grapple with a voter.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.