What Would Dean Do?

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.

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3 Responses to What Would Dean Do?

  1. Justin says:

    Not very original, I must say. :)

    His waffles on Social Security and free trade are concessions to Democratic orthodoxy. He’ll probably have to waffle a bit on his
    pledge to repeal all the Bush taxes, too. Any frontrunner would be facing the same sorts of criticism. Bush 41 said it of “Slick
    Willie,” etc. If General Clark gains any traction in the race, watch him modify his positions to pick up support from key interest groups, too. I hope you’ll be more charitable toward him at the time. This is politics.

    I think the Lieberman effort to paint Dean as anti-Israel, which you’ve now picked up, is a despicable smear campaign. With Grossman on his team and a Jewish wife and kids, I doubt it will stick, thankfully.

    The “Park Avenue populist” label doesn’t do much for me, either. The guy obviously has a social conscience, that’s why he became a doctor instead of sticking around as a broker in his father’s firm. Contrast to Bush.

    Do you have anything good to say about him? His ability to mobilize grassroots support? His fiscal conservatism, his knowledge of health care issues, his record of accomplishment as governor? What about his “touchdown” in last night’s debate (according to William Saletan of Slate, not a Dean fan by any stretch)?

  2. EdG says:

    But we already know one thing: POLITICIANS say one thing, and then they say another.

    That’s because people force them to be inconsistent. We want tax cuts AND we want to spend $166 billion on Iraq. We want democracy, but not for Palestinians or Venezualans. We want homeland defense but not if we must pay for it.

    I give Howard Dean credit in that he is willing to listen to people, admit when he’s wrong, and adjust his policy to fit. The United States would be much better off if more politicians (i.e. GW Bush) did that.

  3. Connie says:

    I agree with EdG.

    I love Clark, but I think Wesley Clark right now has the advantage of collecting momentum without saying what he stands for. But I bet in someways if Clark right now is in the race you would see him flopping back and forth (or have the media distort him for going back and forth).

    Not to mention, the Washinton Post article on Dean is not entirely correct. I’ve heard Dean and been following his TV appearances. He has never firmly stood out against NAFTA. In fact he’s made a point to attack Kucinich for being so Anti-NAFTA on the Spanish DNC debate down in New Mexico. His point on NAFTA was that he thinks it is a good trade agreement and backing out would be a mistake, but he would modify NAFTA to start raising living standards of workers abroad. And he is in support of building up small businesses, and that will prevent jobs from moving abroad.

    Give Dean a chance. First time I heard him I was put off by his attitude. He turns out isn’t such a bad guy…go to his rallies, go to his Meetups. He’s not just Howard, just like Wesley is not just Wesley. They are the people behind them. It is exciting that we have a race this year that has candidates that we can really root for.

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