Here’s an exchange I saw last night on CNN:
Reporter: Governor [Dean], how would you vote on the $87 billion?
Dean: I’m not in congress, I’m not gonna–
Reporter: It’s the most important matter before the U.S. Congress, you want to be president–
Dean: I doubt that very much. I’m running for president. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, but I’m not gonna tell you how I’d face an issue that is not of my making.”
So let’s get this straight: Dean advocates sending more troops into Iraq and continuing the reconstruction effort, but he won’t tell us if he’d vote to pay for it because the issue is not of his making? Aren’t presidential campaigns all about telling voters how you’d respond to the problems the other side created?
Dean’s entire campaign has been based on assailing congressional Democrats for their votes on Capitol Hill. In fact, he rose to prominence by informing partisans that, had he been in congress, he would have voted against the war resolution and the president’s tax packages.
I have been watching Dean since my last post on him, thinking that maybe the frontrunner warranted a second look. At that time, I merely thought he was unelectable. Now, I thoroughly dislike him. Far from a straight shooter, Dean is a Park Avenue Populist who plays it coy when anyone tries to pin him down on specific issues.
Here are a few examples of Dean double-talk:
Dean flip-flopped on Social Security by stating the retirement age should “absolutely” be raised, then claiming in a debate that he had never advocated the change. He was later forced to admit that he had, in fact, supported raising the retirement age, but that he didn’t support it now.
Dean said it would be “a huge issue” for John Kerry to forgo public financing, but months later, rolling in his own campaign dough, he began to drop hints that he would do the same.
Dean strongly supported trade pacts such as NAFTA as governor of Vermont. But now, in pursuing the AFL-CIO endorcement on the campaign trail, he repudiated his earlier unconditional support and embraced the opposite extreme, demanding that U.S. trading partners adopt U.S. labor and environmental standards. Later, when confronted with the consequences of such a policy, Dean equivocated again on the latter position, stating he would require adherence to international rather than U.S. standards.
Dean supported relaxing sanctions on Cuba, then changed his mind after Castro’s recent crackedown on dissidents. It begs the question: Is this a new development? Hasn’t Castro always had an oppressive regime that stifled dissent? What is the point of formulating a policy toward Cuba if it oscillates with each day’s headlines?
Dean made another misstatement in the second Democratic debate, saying he was “the only white politician that ever talks about race in front of white audiences.” Tell that to Joe Lieberman, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Or John Kerry, who frequently mentions his experience serving with African-Americans in Vietnam. Or John Edwards, the senator from minority-heavy South Carolina, who urges racial tolerance in nearly every speech.
(Also, in the Yet Another Foreign Policy Gaffe department, Dean told supporters at a recent rally that “it’s not our place to take sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)
As Joe Klein put it:
“The question is: How many of Dean’s positions are negotiable? As victory becomes a possibility, how much integrity will he compromise to win? Another question: How long before Dean’s tough talk—the apparent candor that propelled his charge—begins to seem arrogant, uninformed, unpresidential?”
Dean will continue to play coy when he’s asked what he would do in the place of those he criticizes. But we already know one thing: Howard Dean says one thing, and then he says another.