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January 3, 2004
New York Times: Missing The Point

The New York Times ran an article today on the temperament of Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, who has caused his supporters -- and his Democratic opponents as well -- some concern with his quick temper and his manner of speaking without considering the consequences. Predictably, the Times spins this as honesty given a bit too much free reign:

Friends and former employees of Dr. Dean say his temper can indeed flare, although of greater concern to campaign aides is the occasional crisis created by his speaking too quickly on the issues. Even that, he and his top aides say, is not as detrimental as his opponents might hope: as long as he talks straight and from the heart, he said in an interview in Iowa not long ago, voters will overlook a little roughness around the edges.

"What people are responding to is that I believe in what I'm doing and it's not calculated," he said. "That's a quality you can't fake. People can tell the difference."

But this pat explanation flies in the face of the facts. Howard Dean, more than any other Democratic candidate, changes positions in order to pander to whatever audience he thinks is listening. It's his compulsive need to be all things to all people that continues to demonstrate itself through his extemporaneous statements and outbursts, not his supposed consistency and honesty. Besides the starting point of Dean's Top 10 Flip-Flops, we've had in the past month:

* Dean castigating Dick Cheney for keeping energy-policy deliberations confidential when he did the same thing during his administration of Vermont

* Dean reversing course on tort reform

* Dean accusing the Bush administration of corporate welfare and enabling American corporations to avoid taxes by locating themselves offshore, when he aggressively created tax shelters for these same corporations in Vermont, allowing them to bypass the federal tax penalties intended to discourage flight in the first place

The silliest and biggest political gaffe in dishonesty came about through a series of reversals. First, Dean appeared on CNBC's Hardball and stated that he didn't care where Osama bin Laden was tried, in the US or at the Hague, as long as he was "brought to justice". Of course, the Hague has no death penalty nor even a life-without-parole option. Last week, he told people that he would withhold judgment on Osama's guilt until his trial was over. In the same day, apparently after his campaign informed him that he was having a Dukakis moment, he abruptly changed his tune, proclaiming that "Osama bin Laden has admitted that he is responsible for killing 3,000 Americans as well as scores of men, women and children around the world. This is the exactly the kind of case that the death penalty is meant for." Of course, this means that Howard Dean has suddenly discovered a desire to have Osama tried in the US, even though he has never repudiated nor explained his statements on his Hardball interview.

What the Times article, and others like it in the past weeks, demonstrate is that there are two issues with Howard Dean: a lack of executive temperament as well as a stubborn streak of dishonesty, the latter of which he hopes to cover by judiciously employing the former. I don't think that the temper is a contrivance, either, at least not entirely. For instance, one of the examples of Dean's temper given in the article involves Little League-type games:

["]In the heat of sports events with his kids, for instance, I can remember him yelling, red-faced, his neck muscles bulging," if, as a spectator, he saw dishonesty among his children's opponents or poor calls by referees.

Quite frankly, parents like this ruin kid's sports, and anyone who's had the displeasure of being around a parent like this at a game knows exactly what I mean. It used to be a stereotype of frustrated athlete-fathers surrounding children's sporting events that got the Left's knickers in a twist, demanding competition-free play at younger levels. Does a man who has such a twisted sense of perspective really have the qualifications to be president? Top that off with his record of dishonesty and position-shifting, and the picture I get disturbs me greatly. Unfortunately, the Times seems more intent on the continued propogation of the Dean myth of the plain-speaking Everyman, and in doing so are sealing the doom of the Democrats for this election cycle.

UPDATE: Blogs for Bush misses the point a bit, too, although they have some good perspective in their post.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 3, 2004 1:02 PM

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