maandag, juni 23, 2003

Howard Dean Off And Running

Howard Dean will formally announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination today in his home town of Burlington.

Just one week on the heels of Wesley Clark's promising performance, Howard Dean appeared for a full hour yesterday on Meet the Press for Americans to get a look at another potential Democratic candidate.

After seeing yesterday's performance, it wasn't difficult to ascertain that one of Dean's biggest problems in running for president is going to be his cantankerous bite that emerges when he's feeling disagreeable. Although he's clearly running as outside-the-Beltway candidate (a point he hammered home over and over again to try and distance himself from the other Democratic front-runners to the point of boorishness), and claims to be a "straight-talker", he seemed to backpedal with the best of them when cornered on certain inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

Asked whether he would support a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, he said, "I go back and forth on that." Asked whether a same-sex couple that got married in Canada could be considered legally married in the United States, he said, "I can't answer that question because it's a legal question."

When pressed by moderator Tim Russert, following Dean's assertions that we needed more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the fact he didn't even know how many troops were on active duty in the United States military, Dean snidely replied "For me to have to know right now to participate in the Democratic Party primary how many troops are actively on duty in the United States military, when that is actually a number that is composed both of people on duty today and people who are National Guards people who are on duty today, is "silly",".

More annoying, when watching the self-proclaimed "straight-talker" in action, was watching him sidestep. He rightly disparaged the candidate who claimed to have voted for supporting the Iraq resolution last fall only in the belief that such a vote would force Bush to go through the UN when one had nothing to do with the other, but then repeatedly refused to name the candidate. While this is likely because of the recent firestorms and subsequent apologies Dean created in criticizing his fellow Democrat presidential aspirants, he wouldn't even acknowledge apologizing to three rivals for his criticism of them, noting instead that he'd only apologized to one of them. Apparently, in the other two instances, he only apologized for making the comments, not the comments themselves. Americans have already traveled down that road of double-speak enough, haven't they?

He also said the Social Security Trust Fund will be "in fine shape until, I don't know, 2040 or something like that" -- then changed the date to 2020 when his rosy projection was challenged. He said the program is ''in fine shape'' until about 2040. Russert said that was not the case, and Dean corrected himself to say problems would begin in the mid-2020s. He said he would consider raising the retirement age to 68 and letting more salary above $80,000 fall under the payroll tax.

The maximum annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes this year is $87,000. Also, 65 years and two months is the retirement age for receiving full benefits. The retirement age for full benefits will gradually rise to 67 over the next two decades.

About the only things Dean seemed clear about was his contention that he is an outside-the-Beltway candidate and the easy questioning of Bush's credibility. Hardly refreshing, hardly new.

On the other hand, he made clear he believes it is good that Saddam is out of power, but added astutely that ''We don't know whether in the long run the Iraqi people are better off. And the most important thing is, we don't know whether we're better off.''

Dean said he was worried that if the United States ''can't get our act together in Iraq and if we can't build Iraq into a democracy, then the alternative is chaos or a fundamentalist regime.''

He also accused Bush of misleading the country about Iraq's possession of unconventional weapons.

"We were misled. The question is, did the president do that on purpose or was he misled by his own intelligence people ... Or did he in fact know what the truth was and tell us something different."We essentially went to war ... based on facts that turned out not to be accurate. I think that's pretty serious, and I think the American people are entitled to know why that was," he said.

"This president told us that we were going into Iraq because they might have atomic weapons and that turned out not to be so," Dean said, adding that "The secretary of defense told us that he knew where there were weapons of mass destruction around Tikrit and around Baghdad. We've been in control of Iraq for 50 days and we haven't been able to find any such thing."

Also to his credit, Dean was the only one, among the main contenders, to have criticized the invasion of Iraq from the beginning.

Unfortunately, while he liberally passes out the criticisms of Bush and his fellow Democratic contenders, he doesn't seem to handle criticism himself very well.

Without refinement of this public peevishness at being questioned on his stances and statements however, this candidate isn't going to go very far.

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