The Left

Dubious about Dean

I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t join the so-called left wing of the Democratic party in going gaga over Howard Dean.

Based on a “fresh-faced” image, a reputation as a straight talker, an innovative use of the Web to attract volunteers and donations, and—above all—his strong opposition to the war in Iraq, Dean seems to have become the left’s favorite among candidates with a realistic shot at the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. At least he appears to be generating a lot more excitement than any other candidate in a so-far unexciting race.

How long Dean can sustain his momentum (what Bush the Elder famously called “Big Mo”) I won’t try to guess. The first Democratic primaries aren’t until early next year, and who knows what terrible or wonderful things will happen between now and then? But I want to go on the record now in saying that I hope Dean is not the Democratic candidate who runs against George W. Bush in 2004. In fact if he is, I don’t know if I could bring myself to vote for him.

Part of this has to do with my reflexive suspicion of any fashionable political trend—left, right, or center. Candidates like Dean, who become the flavor of the moment among trendsetters and pundits, should be treated with the utmost skepticism. They are, as Orwell wrote of saints, guilty until proven innocent.

But what bothers me most about Dean is something much more specific than that. It was this comment after the fall of Baghdad: “We’ve gotten rid of [Saddam Hussein], and I suppose that’s a good thing, but there’s going to be a long period where the United States is going to need to be maintained in Iraq, and that’s going to cost American taxpayers a lot of money that could be spent on schools and kids.”

You suppose that’s a good thing, Howard? The man responsible for the murder, rape and torture of hundreds of thousands of his own people is driven from power, and you suppose that’s a good thing? Let me know when you’re sure it’s a good thing, and we’ll talk again. Is a piece of your heart missing?

And do we really have to choose between doing the right thing in Iraq and providing for our own schools and kids? Certainly there are important questions to be discussed here, but please don’t treat it as a simple either/or proposition. It’s not that easy.

This isn’t just bad thinking on Dean’s part; if Dean is the nominee, it’s a roadmap to defeat for the Democrats. Polls suggest most Americans don’t like what Bush is and isn’t doing domestically. And there’s increasing doubt about the future of Iraq. But most Americans understand that getting rid of Saddam was a good thing for the Iraqis and for the world. If Dean doesn’t grasp this, I have to wonder what else he doesn’t grasp. As William Saletan wrote in Slate, “Every time Dean talks about foreign affairs, he gives off a whiff of hostility or indifference to American military power.”

The Washington Post reported a revealing incident on July 4. President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, was watching a neighborhood Independence Day parade in Washington when a dozen people marched past wearing Dean for President T-shirts and carrying Dean for America signs. Rove was overheard telling a companion, “Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, that’s the one we want. How come no one is cheering for Dean?”

Then Rove exhorted the marchers and the parade audience: “Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!”

Karl Rove being no dummy when it comes to politics, I think the Democrats should take heed and look elsewhere. I’m inclined to support Dick Gephardt, but I can live with either John Edwards or Joe Lieberman. I’ll have more to say about them in future posts.