Monday, August 25, 2003
I've decided: Howard Dean is officially as big a phony as the rest of the Democrats. Which just proves he might win the nomination.
The new spin is that Dean is moving to the center: taking on Saudi Arabia in a talk to Rotarians, flirting with support for tax cuts and generally behaving like a front-runner thinking about the general election. And the spin further suggests that he can do this two-step better than his opponents because his "anger" has won over the left-wing activists of the Democratic Party even though he's made few substantive concessions. Some papers have bought into to this spin sufficiently to believe that Dean is losing real support on the left because of this supposed turn to the right.
This is such garbledigook. Did someone out there actually think Dean was indistinguishable from a lefty lunatic like Kucinich? Does anyone out there really know what Dean stands for, so that we'd know if he's betraying those stands? (Apart from the culture-war shibboleths of gay rights and abortion, I mean.) And does Rich Lowry actually think "this President will not confront the Saudis" is a tough-minded policy statement?
"This President will not confront the Saudis" is to the 2004 campaign what accusing Bush I of having kowtowed to the Chinese was to the 1992 campaign. It's the cheap way to seem hawkish and it's utterly unconvincing. What, after all, is Howard Dean planning to *do* about the Saudis, praytell? How, if I may ask, is he going to prevent our petrodollars from being recycled into Islamist terrorism?
Sorry, I'm going to go on about this for a minute. Dean claims to have supported the first Gulf War and the Afghan campaign. No points for the latter; opposing it would have put him in Kucinich territory. As for the former: could be. Clinton said he would have supported that war for political reasons even though he disagreed with it. Gore voted for it, albeit with grave reservations. Fortunately for Dean, he didn't have to cast a vote. But it's interesting that he says he favored that war but opposed the recent Iraqi campaign. After all, the Gulf War ended with Kuwait liberated but Saddam still firmly in charge in Iraq. And, as a result, it ended with a long-term U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and a sanctions regime in place that the Left blamed for "millions" of Iraqi deaths (until they belatedly fell in love with sanctions, having discovered that the alternative was war). So: if Dean favored the first Gulf War, did he favor the end-game? And if not, what would he have done differently? And if he wouldn't have done anything differently, does he see any contradiction between his support for that war and his desire to "confront" the Saudis? How would he "confront" the Saudis when American bases in Saudi Arabia were the only thing preventing Saddam from renewing his regional aggression?
But none of this logic matters. This is the same garbledigook the Democrats talked in 1992. Clinton was horrified by Bush's mishandling of the Yugoslav crackup - and then presided over the rape and slaughter of Bosnia. Clinton was disgusted by Bush's kowtowing to the Chinese after Tiananmen Square - and then knowingly took campaign money from CCP-controlled entities. Clinton criticized the Bush I end-game in Iraq - and then did essentially nothing about Saddam Hussein for eight years. The Democrats - and I include the New Republic crowd in this indictment, though they are the best of a bad lot - do not have an alternative foreign policy to the Bush foreign policy; they have a series of carps and gripes. Dean's "maturation" means that instead of empty slogans against the war he's now going to mouth empty slogans criticizing the handling of this or that aspect of the war, some of which will be carefully tailored to seem "hawkish." But it's all garbledigook, and don't you forget it.
Same goes for domestic policy. Howard Dean has not suddenly been imbued with the Spirit of '86 (tax reform, that is). His gesture in favor of tax reform is purely Clintonian: let's "reform" the code by putting more money in the hands of "those most likely to spend it." Earth to Dean: the '86 reform closed loopholes and *lowered top marginal rates* to 28%. It eliminated most of the tax brackets, too. This was "broadening the base" and it's a great idea - a better idea than Bush's tax cuts, which are full of inefficient loopholes. But Dean isn't advocating that. He's advocating cutting income tax rates for people who pay a diminishing share of the income tax - in other words, narrowing the base and raising top rates. Some reform. And I'd love to understand how it'll help the economy. Hey Howard: if "priming the pump" is what it takes, why don't we just take cash from rich people as they walk by and hand it out on street corners? It's only a shame that Bush has encouraged this kind of economic foolishness by falsely advertising his own tax cuts as Keyensian (when, in fact, they are a mix of supply side ideas, social engineering and idea-less pork barrel).
Talk of using the veto to cut spending is also cheap. Clinton did much the same in 1992, and talked a different game once in office; *his* spending was vetoed by Newt Gingrinch, before the GOP cottoned on to the beauty of pork-barrel spending. Overwhelmingly, Clinton's spending cuts were on the military side of the ledger. Dean now claims Bush is short-changing the military - so presumably we're to believe he'd increase military spending. So, Howard, what will you cut? Farm subsidies, maybe? Care to tell us before the Iowa caucus? Hey, while we're at it: what's your position on the Northeast Dairy compact?
Howard Dean was the governor of one of the smallest, whitest, most politically homogeneous states in the Union. The middle item on that list tells us the main reason he's still not really the front-runner: he has no base - none - among blacks, which is like a Republican having no credibility among white evangelicals (which, come to think of it, was why John McCain crashed and burned in South Carolina, the place where Howard Dean is also likely to meet his Waterloo). His record tells us nothing and we have no real idea what he'd do as President. We don't even really know what he *wants* to do. He's nobody's Great White Hope - he's a politician. He's obviously smarter politically than the entire rest of the field, which is why I think there's now a real chance he'll take the nomination (though my money is still on Kerry). He is no Bruce Babbit/Paul Tsongas. He just might be Jimmy Carter. But there is nothing there. He wasn't a hard-left candidate before. He isn't moving to the center now. He's just changing his campaign schtick very slightly to move the story - successfully - in the media. Just like a good candidate should.