When Howard Dean began running for president, some in his campaign imagined he would play the role of Josiah Bartlet, the sometimes ornery but brilliant and lovable president on "The West Wing."
In fact, Dean's campaign style was more like that of another fictional character: Howard Beale, the angry prophet from the film "Network," who was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
Dean's anger was directed not only at George W. Bush, but also at those Democrats who were backing Bush's Iraq war, tax cuts and No Child Left Behind legislation.
"I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party!" Dean thundered in February 2003, as he began his race for the Democratic nomination.
He still represents that wing, but now as chairman of the party. And he has not really changed his tone much.
We talked for an hour recently in his office at Democratic National Committee headquarters. Here is some of that conversation:
"We used to be the moral leader of the world before George Bush went into Iraq," Dean said. "And we need to return to that position, and we will with a Democratic president in '08.
"I've been to Europe a couple of times, I am going again in April to do something with the Italian parliament, and one of the things I hope to do, in addition to winning the presidential election, is to help prepare the next administration's way in terms of repairing the extraordinary damage that the Republicans have done."
Dean said that the problem was not just the American invasion of Iraq "that we could have overcome," he said but "the contemptuousness with which the Republicans treated everybody" after the invasion.
Dean believes that the White House has tried to punish the countries that did not back the U.S. invasion. "When your foreign policy is based on retribution and vindictiveness, it is not a serious foreign policy," Dean said.
Dean said the White House has tried to punish Mexico for that reason and that it has been "a terrible mistake."
We talked about immigration, and I asked if there was a unified Democratic position on it.
"I think there is a much more unified Democratic position than there is a Republican position," he said. "The Republicans have decided they don't want to do anything about immigration because they are scared.
"For the short-term purpose of winning in '06, they ginned up a big anti-immigrant fervor which helped them in a few races, turned Hispanics against them by 12 more points, and now they don't know how to get out of it."
Dean said that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who co-sponsored a bipartisan immigration reform bill last year, "is having a hard time putting together a bipartisan bill because the Republicans are running away as fast as they can. And we can't pass a bill that isn't bipartisan. Frankly, I think that has a lot to do with presidential politics and a complete lack of presidential leadership."
Dean also said: "The best kind of immigration reform is a much better working relationship with Mexico. We will never solve immigration problems in this country without improving the Mexican economy dramatically."
On what to do about getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, Dean said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are doing the right thing by "being measured."
"I think by the end of '08 is a good deadline," Dean said. "I think Reid and Pelosi are taking a very smart, thoughtful, careful tack, slowly moving us in the right direction without doing it so fast that anybody could say we lack responsibility or didn't understand the gravity of the situation. I think Harry and Nancy are really doing a good job.
"And I don't have to say that, as you know," he added with a laugh. "I mean, neither one of them wanted me in this job."
Once in the job, Dean angered powerful figures in the party by spending millions of dollars on building up Democratic Party staffing in all 50 states, instead of siphoning more of those dollars to Democratic candidates in 2006.
"This is a historic opportunity, and we can't squander it," Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in May 2006 after an angry meeting with Dean.
Several stories followed, quoting unidentified Democratic sources saying Dean was throwing away the party's chance for victory in November. And it looked like some wanted to cast Dean as the scapegoat if the Democrats lost.
I got the impression you were being set up to take the fall, I said to Dean last week.
"Oh, it's probably true," he said. And then he laughed again.