Dean is under attack

A. J. Atchue

As the Democratic presidential race shifts into high gear with the Iowa caucuses on the horizon, a clear trend seems to be emerging. All of the other candidates are ganging up on front-runner Howard Dean from every direction and covering multiple issues. However, the former Vermont governor is keeping his composure and his message firm.

Take the Nov. 24 debate in Des Moines, Iowa, as an example. In Iowa, Dean trails Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt by a slim margin in the polls, with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry running a distant third. Both Kerry and Gephardt attacked Dean on his credentials as a fiscal Democrat and his relative lack of experience to be commander-in-chief, should he win.

Gephardt argued that as governor, Dean had cut programs for the needy to balance the budget, and the congressman remarked that such action is not that of a true Democrat. Dean shot back with statistics of how he had increased spending in education and other social services by as much as 30 percent during his five terms in office.

Kerry then joined the fray, eight times in a hilarious minute asking Dean if he would cut Medicare to balance the budget as president. Over and over, Kerry persisted, “Will you slow the rate of growth, governor? Because that’s a cut.” Finally, Dean responded by joking, “I’d like to slow the rate of growth of this debate, if I could,” then affirmed that he would not cut Medicare to balance the budget. However, this left open the ideological question of whether slowing the rate of growth amounts to a cut, as Kerry and Gephardt seemed to suggest.

Gephardt also criticized Dean for a television advertisement that the latter is currently airing in Iowa. The ad portrays Gephardt as constantly flip-flopping on the War in Iraq. The speaker on the ad charges that Gephardt helped craft the Congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq, only to become an open critic of the war. Finally, the ad says, Gephardt voted for the additional $87 billion relief package, most of which goes to Iraq. The message here is apparent. Dean wants to position himself as the only major candidate who has been against the War in Iraq from the beginning right through to the present.

However, Gephardt responded by arguing that Dean had originally opposed the war, then seemed to indicate that he would support the $87 billion, only finally to say that he wouldn’t make Iraq a campaign issue. Whether or not that’s completely accurate, Gephardt is clearly trying to break the stranglehold that Dean has on the anti-war image.

In relation to the entire Iraq issue, Kerry repeatedly called into question Dean’s experience to be commander-in-chief during this age of terrorism and volatile world climate. Kerry boasted of his 35 years of experience in foreign affairs, beginning with his opposition to the Vietnam War after returning from combat duty. Kerry has since been a long-time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When moderator Tom Brokaw pointed out that Dean would be taking office with essentially the same foreign experience that Bill Clinton had in 1992, Kerry responded by saying that these are different times after 9/11. In fact, according to Kerry, Clinton himself has said that he’s not sure he would have been elected under these conditions.

Dean rebuked Kerry’s attack by saying that Kerry had used all his years of foreign relations experience to give Bush a “blank check” to go to war with Iraq by voting for the war resolution in October 2002. Kerry’s answer to why he voted the way he did on that resolution continues to be largely incoherent and confusing, in stark contrast to Dean’s unwavering anti-war stance.Voting begins on Jan. 19 in Iowa, with the New Hampshire primaries a week later on January 27th. It appears that the race for Iowa between Dean and Gephardt will turn ugly and go right down to the wire. The latest local poll has Gephardt narrowly ahead of Dean, 27 percent to 20 percent. Since Dean has a commanding lead in New Hampshire, the Iowa results could determine which direction the race turns as it moves into February.

Despite the relentless attacks, Dean has not lost his cool, convincingly responding to the questions, not the anger, of his trailing rivals. Every seemingly damaging mistake by Dean has been patched over within days as if it never happened. This race will only get more interesting in the coming six weeks. All the while, I’m sure President Bush and his advisors are secretly salivating over the prospect of a general election match-up with Howard Dean, the anti-war former governor of Vermont.