Column No. 1 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - February 7, 2002


TPJ is honored to welcome Dr. Steven Jonas as a TPJ contributing author.  Dr. Jonas opens with “On DOCTOR Dean.”  Dr. Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author of some twenty books.

Dr. Jonas is one of America's most perceptive Democratic political analysts. He has written two books expressing his political theories: The New Americanism and The 15% Solution.

In The New Americanism, Dr. Jonas presents his case that the Democratic Party has come adrift from its founding principles, and he urges a swift return to support for the constitution as the best source for America's patriotic, political and social culture. He defines American patriotism as commitment to our core constitutional principles. Revealingly, he points out that the Republicans have adopted a false definition of patriotism that places reverence for the flag, the presidency and the military above all other constitutional criteria.

Dr. Jonas' second book, The 15% Solution, is a novel set in America's not too distant future. Published in 1996, The 15% Solution describes the unification of the religious right with the Republican Party which initiates a period of American fascism signaled by draconian legal discrimination against gays and lesbians. Chillingly, many of Dr. Jonas' predictions have already taken place. With this week's announcement by Bush that he and his Party now support a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay and lesbian marriages, Dr. Jonas is now being heralded as a prophet of the collapse of American constitutional culture. I urge all Junkies to welcome Dr. Steve Jonas and to read his two important books.

Greetings to the friends of The Political Junkies.  TPJ has been kind enough to invite me to become a regular contributor, and I am most honored to accept.  I tend to think and write in the analytical/historical realm, although I do occasionally get into “news-of-the-moment” issues as well.  But even those, I tend to deal with from the analytical/historical perspective. I also like to engage in strategic planning from time to time.  Thus Steve plans to have my stuff appear in the Thursday sub-issue, with which I am starting today.

Most of the material that you will read under my by-line is mine.  But occasionally I will present some thoughts from a political historian friend of mine, sent privately to me over time, that I think are worthy of note.  It happens that he wants to remain anonymous in The Political Junkies context.  The material, edited by me, is used with his permission. His initials are “A.L.,” and his thoughts, with apologies to Ring Lardner, will appear in this column under the title “You Know Me, Al.”

This first piece, entitled “On DOCTOR Dean,” is one of his.  It was written in May, 2003, just after that first nine-person debate in South Carolina, I believe it was, that was generally viewed as a not-too-good outing for the Governor.  What eventually happened to his candidacy will likely be the subject of several books and more than one doctoral dissertation over the years.  But given what did happen, I think that my friend’s observations were rather prescient.

“You Know Me, Al.”

“On DOCTOR Dean”

Dear Steve  I had a thought about the Governor's personality and why he may be reacting the way he did in the "Big Nine" debate on Saturday.  If I'm right, there is an issue/problem.  But, to use your lingo, it is diagnosable (sic) and treatable.  And doing so would certainly help him to improve his chances of gaining the nomination.

The Gov. is, first, a doctor.  And like many of those in your profession (so you have told me) he may well suffer from what you have called "doctoritis."  That is, most doctors, and I would certainly include the Governor in this group, are pretty smart.  They have to be; otherwise they wouldn't have gotten into medical school.  The problem is that a) they know it and b) they do not suffer fools, or even other smart people, gladly.  How many doctors do you know who can hold a real conversation with someone?  To do so means you have to think that the other person has something of value to say. And there is nothing in their education or experience that helps them to overcome the malady.  Those who do, and there are some, have to draw on insights and lessons of life from outside of their medical training and experience.

Doctors are used to diagnosing and prescribing, telling patients what they have and what they need to do about it.  Doctors give orders, literally.  That is what most of them are trained to do.  The Governor was a family practitioner.  Contrary to what might be generally thought, you have to be real smart to be successful in that specialty, because it covers such a wide range of human maladies.  Furthermore, you have got to have all of that knowledge in your head.  You do also have to "keep up."  While doing so is pretty straight forward, it happens that the demands that these docs are meeting are ones that for the most part they place on themselves.  Unlike in the political realm, they are not often placed on them by anyone in the outside world.

So here is a real smart guy, trained to give orders, and not necessarily trained to listen to others (except in an information gathering mode).  He got to be Governor of a small state by happenstance, and then managed to stay in office for a long time.  But Vermont ain't the US and his opponents in the state were not like those he is facing now.  Nor is the media up there, between Burlington and Brattleboro.

You know that a lot of folks in the business of politics are not that smart.  Successful politicians have other skills of course.  Just look at one of the dumbest (as well as most ignorant) people ever to inhabit the White House, the current incumbent.  So what may be going on with the Governor, as he starts to go out into the big-time political world, is that a) he doesn't like to waste him time with people who aren't as smart as he is, b) he thinks that he can wing it in venues like Charleston based on how smart he is, what he does know and how he can think on his feet, and c) generally, doctor knows best.

Like so many doctors I know, he thinks that he knows it all, and for what he doesn’t know he thinks he can wing it.  In other words, doctor knows best (to coin a phrase).  You and I know that this is not going to work in a national campaign for the nomination, much less the Presidency.  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  No matter how much talent you have, it's practice, practice, practice, and until you get up to top, top level, it’s coaching, coaching, coaching.  And even some of the greatest musicians have coaching for their whole careers.

This man has some great ideas, especially about what’s is going to be needed to energize the Democratic Party and that mass of people who, customarily non-voters, who would come out and vote Democratic, given something truly different from what the Republicans have to offer to vote for.  But to get the nomination, he is going to have to be much better prepared on the issues, history, and their details.  And he is going to have to be open to being coached on moderating that doctor-arrogant tone of his, and be able to accept his coaches’ advice and change in accord with it.  I do hope that he will be able to do this, for he is a good man, and with some work, would, I believe, make a great President.

And so wrote AL, last May.