In my view, the Washington Post is the most responsible voice of the Democratic Party. So when it takes a hard look at Howard Dean, the Post is worth listening to. This morning the paper has no fewer than three major pieces on Dean’s candidacy.
The first is an editorial, “Assessing Mr. Dean.” The Post’s assessment is less than enthusiastic:
“[W]e are troubled by aspects of Mr. Dean’s character and personality. He can be condescending, and unwarrantedly so, as when he said at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last month, ‘Mr. President, if you’ll pardon me, I’ll teach you a little about defense.’ He is quick to bristle, slow to admit error; see, for example, his ill-considered comments about Southern voters and the Confederate flag. He suffers from what he recently described as ‘smarty mouth,’ a tendency to glib remarks and unsubstantiated or incorrect assertions. His citation of rumors that Mr. Bush was tipped off to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 by the Saudis and is now trying to cover up that advance warning is one example of such irresponsibility.
“Where we diverge most sharply with Mr. Dean is on his emerging world view. We believe the war in Iraq was a battle worth waging; Mr. Dean does not, and he has catapulted himself to front-runner status in large measure on the basis of that stance. Now that Saddam Hussein has been captured, Mr. Dean must confront the difficult fact that, had his counsel been followed, the brutal dictator would still be in power. In some ways more worrisome, though, are his shifting stands on postwar policy….”
Ouch. It will be interesting to see what the Post has to say about the other Democratic contenders, but for now, it appears that the paper’s editors have signed on to the “stop Dean” effort. It is hard to imagine a successful Democratic Presidential candidate who cannot even secure the endorsement of the Post. But, should Dean win the nomination, can the Post’s editors endorse for the Presidency–in wartime–a candidate whom they have described as “irresponsible”?
Dean is also the subject of two extensive news reports. This one, by Dan Balz, is titled “As Pre-Primary Season Closes, Questions Cling to Dean’s Gains.” Balz writes:
“[R]arely has a front-runner begun an election year with as many questions swirling around him as the man who rewrote the rules in presidential politics the past 12 months….he has closed the year with some statements and assertions that have come under criticism or turned out not to be true. They range from suggesting that his late brother was a member of the military to apparent criticism of the politics of the Clinton years, to a reference to party centrists as Republicans, to remarks about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that brought rebukes from his rivals. Dean also acknowledged that he will need an experienced running mate to fill in for his lack of national security experience.”
But the subject inevitably changes to: if not Dean, then who? Balz quotes a Democratic moderate: “The Washington party is a failed party, and Dean’s criticism of the Washington party is incredibly accurate. We’re completely out of power and heading for permanent minority status if we don’t start modernizing the party. Dean has been a modernizer and innovator, and should be embraced for it. Instead he’s being attacked for doing it differently.”
The Post’s second news piece on Dean, by Paul Farhi, is titled “Dean Tries to Summon Spirit of the 1960’s.” The subtitle says it all: “Candidate’s Recollections Differ From Historians’ Views of a Turbulent Decade.”
Dean is nostalgic not just for the decade of the 1960’s, but apparently for a specific year: 1969, when he was 21. Dean’s view of that time is idyllic; he evokes memories of Bobby Kennedy, Medicare, Head Start, the civil rights movement: “We felt the possibilities were unlimited then. We were making such enormous progress. It resonates with a lot of people my age. People my age really felt that way.”
The Post points out that: “As history, however, Dean’s memories of the era are selective. Rather than the time of great national unity and purpose he describes, the 1960s were a period of great upheaval, and surely rank among the most divisive for America in the 20th century.” Moreover, Farhi notes somewhat snarkily, Dean’s current nostalgia is at odds with his own experience at the time:
“During this period, Dean had no apparent involvement in the emerging causes and issues of the day. After entering Yale University in 1967, he was a popular but unremarkable student who took no role in campus protests against the war, or in a local issue, the trials of members of the Black Panther party in New Haven in early 1970, friends have said. After avoiding military service with a student deferment, he was eligible to serve by 1971, but presented evidence of a bad back and was rejected. He subsequently spent nine months in Aspen, Colo., skiing and working odd jobs, such as washing dishes and pouring concrete. He then became a stockbroker, following his father, a prominent figure on Wall Street, before entering medical school.”
Nevertheless, Dean’s message “registers with a key bloc of primary voters: older liberals who remember the 1960s in similarly warm and hopeful terms.”
Many of our readers are too young to remember the 60’s. Well, we were there, and suffice it to say, this country will go back to 1969 over our cold, dead bodies (to paraphrase the Rifleman and, before him, Phil Gramm). If the election comes down to a contest between those who are stuck in the late 60’s and those who have moved on, Dean is in deep, deep trouble.
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