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Stop Howard Dean
by Ted Rueter

The Democratic Party seems intent on nominating Howard Dean for president. Governor Dean leads in the polls and has a powerful grassroots organization. He raised $40 million in 2003, a one-year record for a Democratic presidential candidate. Dean has energized the angry, Bush-hating, anti-war cultural left--those who are mad as hell at President Bush and aren't going to take it anymore.

Al Gore calls Dean "the strongest candidate" to beat President Bush. In reality, the opposite is true. Among the major contenders, Howard Dean is the Democrats' weakest possible nominee. His base constituency is about 20 percent of the voting population.

Governor Dean is pursuing a "gaffe a day" approach to the presidential nomination. He proclaimed, "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pick-up trucks"--thereby offending both Southerners and African-Americans. He made the ridiculous claim that "I'm the only candidate who speaks about race before white audiences." He asserted that he had "a special relationship" with the black community because "I had two African-American roommates in college." He said that if he didn't win the Democratic nomination, his supporters would "certainly not" vote "for a conventional Washington politician." He claimed that his "closest living relative" in the armed forces was his brother Charlie--even though Charlie died in 1974 while touring Laos as an anti-war activist.

Dean appears to have a shaky understanding of foreign affairs. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Dean commented, "I suppose that's a good thing." He declared that the United States will not always have the strongest military. He said that we "should also do our best" not to "prejudge" whether Osama bin Laden is guilty of war crimes. He stated that "it doesn't matter" what authority would put bin Laden on trial.

Regarding the Middle East, the former Vermont governor opined that the United States "shouldn't choose sides" and should be "even-handed" between Israel and the Arabs. (He professed not to know that this is code for "putting pressure on Israel to make concession.") He called on Israel to unilaterally dismantle settlements. He referred to Hamas terrorists as "soldiers."

Sometimes Dean's foreign policy statements are simply bizarre. In December 2003, Dean made repeated references to "the Soviet Union." In June 2003, he conceded that he had no idea how many soldiers serve in the US military. Dean has compared the Bush administration to the Taliban. He said it was an "interesting theory" that President Bush had advance warning of the September 11th attacks.

Dean has even more liabilities as a potential nominee. After getting a medical deferment from the draft, he spent 80 days skiing and laying concrete in Aspen. While he criticizes the secrecy of the Bush administration, Dean has sealed many of the records from his eleven years as governor of Vermont. He advocates a middle class tax increase.

Perhaps most significantly, Dean's blustery, unapologetic, in-your-face style comes across as hot-tempered arrogance. Dr. Dean appears to not suffer fools gladly. Indeed, to many voters, he seems downright unlikable--someone they would not invite into their living room.

A Dean nomination would have devastating consequences for the Democratic Party--and the nation. Dean would likely carry only the District of Columbia and the People's Republic of Vermont--with a total of six electoral votes. Democrats would suffer massive losses in the House, the Senate, governorships, and state legislatures.

Landslides are not good for democracy. A smashing victory would further embolden Bush and the Republican Congress to slash taxes on the wealthy and corporations, further despoil the environment, and pursue an aggressive, Lone Ranger foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is poorly equipped to stop Dean. DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe pledges not to intervene in the primary contest. Al Gore and the Clintons seem to prefer a Democratic defeat in 2004, to clear the way for their own open shots at the White House in 2008. Also, there is no clear consensus on the best Democratic contender to take on Dean.

But I have a candidate to suggest: Dick Gephardt. The 27-year Missouri Congressman is the Democratic candidate the White House fears most. Gephardt could appeal to swing voters in the Industrial Midwest, border states, and the South. Gephardt is everything that Dean is not: stable, experienced, mature, likable, and electable.

A plea to the Democratic voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina: Consider the good of the party. Consider the electability of the candidates. Consider the fact that nominating Howard Dean would be the Democratic equivalent of Thelma and Louise.

 
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