I suppose I should have a colorful Howard Dean anecdote, but I don’t. When he was governor here, the newspapers would run a photo of him every year, ceremonially tapping the first sugar maple. His blue blood was betrayed by his choked-up grip on the hammer; obviously a man not used to swinging a tool. One year, he wore a helmet for the ceremony. I can’t begin to explain that.

That’s the Howard Dean I know; I’m not sure who this guy is I keep reading about in the newspaper. Al From and Joe Lieberman keep warning Howard Dean will drive the Democratic Party off the left side of the road, but where’s the evidence for that?

Howard Dean was governor of the only state where it’s legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit and the only state where it’s legal to shoot fish. He has high marks from the National Rifle Association. In 1997, when Gov. Dean first began to covet the presidency, he announced his switch from anti- to pro-death penalty. Definitely a political move, but not to the left.

The Democratic Leadership Council says Mr. Dean is wrong to call for the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, but Howard Dean is not tax-and-spend liberal. As governor, his fiscal policies were very much like those of Bill Clinton, the darling of the DLC. He brought in a balanced budget each year, even though one is not required by the Vermont constitution and he ended his term of office with budget surpluses.

As governor, Mr. Dean worked his will by creating a legislative bloc of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Vermont has a third party on the left, the Progressives. The Progressives never supported Howard Dean, I doubt they’ll begin supporting him now. In fact, the Vermont Democratic Party was never much of a Dean machine. There was always Gov. Dean and his people – and the rest of the Dems further down to the left end of the spectrum.

Much is made of Mr. Dean’s signature on Vermont’s civil unions law, which established the legal equivalent of gay marriage. Credit for civil unions should go to the Vermont Supreme Court, which directed the legislature to find some type of marriage accommodation for gays and lesbians. When first asked to share his feelings on gay marriage, Howard Dean said, “It makes me uncomfortable, same as anyone else.” It was the Vermont legislature, their state of comfort unknown, that made civil unions law. The public debate was long and fierce and moving; it was a splendid chapter in the history of American civil rights, but Howard Dean did not speak up. Mr. Dean signed the civil union bill in his office, away from the media. If any camera recorded the scene, the photo remains obscure. Although Mr. Dean is willing to accept the thanks – and contributions – of lesbians and gays across the nation, he was not a champion of civil unions and certainly not a leftist on the issue.

So what’s the deal? Why are so many DC Democrats lining up to bash Howard Dean? It’s not because he’s a leftist; it’s because he’s an outsider. Six months ago, Mr. Dean was a nearly unknown candidate with nothing to lose by attacking George W. Bush over the Iraq war. Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt and Lieberman all had too much to lose to roll the dice, but not Dean.

To tell the truth, there isn’t much difference between Howard Dean and John Kerry. They’re both centrist Democrats; the main difference is style. Mr. Dean now does have something to lose, but he now also has a reputation to maintain, so he has to act as if he’s still swinging for the fences, even as he tries to become more like cautious John Kerry.

The truth about Howard Dean is that he’s a politician and he’ll do what he must to get elected. If he is elected, his administration will be like Bill Clinton’s, minus the sleaze. Good on education, good on health care, Republican-lite on welfare, guns and the death penalty. Mr. Dean was not good on campaign finance when he was governor, but now that his internet army is raising millions in small contributions, he looks like the soul of McCain-Feingold.

In truth, Howard Dean is not left enough for me, but if he can end the Bush reign of terror, I’ll be willing to take this doctor’s medicine.