Howard Dean was on Meet the Press
this Sunday, and in case you didn't catch it, here are a few highlights:
Now, I thought he started out all right. He wants to do away with Bush's tax cut, which I think is sound policy, but political suicide.
Then he says he disagrees with the new prescription drug bill, which is horrible policy. Though I'm not sure he dislikes it for the same reasons I do.
But then, as he begins to be pressed by Tim Russert (and Russert does a lot of pressing in this interview), the true weasel begins to shine:
Russert: But through your entire career you have been for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
Dean: Yes, because I just...I have, and it's because I think that there's so little fiscal discipline in the Congress that you might just have to do it. I hate to do it because we didn't have to do it in Vermont, but, God, the guys in Washington just never get it about money.
Russert: Well, in 1995, when you were advocating that position, you were asked how would you balance the budget if we had a constitutional amendment--
Russert: 'calling for that, and this is what Howard Dean said. 'The way to balance the budget, [Gov. Howard] Dean said, is for Congress to cut Social Security, move the retirement age to 70, cut defense, Medicare and veterans pensions, while the states cut almost everything else. 'It would be tough but we could do it,' he said'.
Dean: Well, we fortunately don't have to do that now.
Russert: We have a $500 billion deficit.
Dean: But you don't have to cut Social Security to do that.
Russert: But why did you have to do it back then?
Dean: Well, because that was the middle of...I mean, I don't recall saying that, but I'm sure I did, if you have it on your show, because I know your researchers are very good.
Russert: Well, Miles Benson is a very good reporter for the Newhouse News.
Dean: Yes, he is. No, no, no. I'm sure I did. I'm not denying I said that. I have'
Russert: But you would no longer cut Social Security?
Dean: But you don't'no. I'm not ever going to cut Social Security benefits.
Of course he can't. That would be political suicide as well. But see, he was talking sense back in 1995, and nothing has really changed. Well, in a sense, there's a deeper need for cuts and Social Security reform. But now that he's running for President, he just can't say those things.
But he doesn't even deflect the question in a clever way. He blusters and gets defensive.
And eventually he gets downright incoherent:
Russert: But, Governor, if you don't go to near Social Security or Medicare or Defense and you have a $500 billion deficit, if you're not going to raise taxes $500 billion to balance the budget, where are you going to find the money? Which programs are you going to cut? What do you cut? Education? Health care? Where?
Dean: Here's what you do. As a veteran of having to do this, because this is what I did in Vermont, Social Security, you fix actuarially. It's just like an insurance policy. Right now there's' eventually, in the middle of the 2020s you're going to see more money going out than coming in. You've got to fix that. We've talked a little bit about how to do that. Maybe you look at the retirement age going to 68. Maybe you increase the amount that gets'payroll tax'I'm not in favor of cutting benefits. I think that's a big problem.
Oh, you fix it actuarially
Then he did all right on the question of gay marriages, I thought.
But then he fumbled big-time on the discussion of the death penalty. Which, for the record, I'm against.
Anyway, here's the relevant exchange:
Russert: But in terms of rethinking...let me show you what you did say in '92 and think about...
Dean: That's right. You don't have to show me. I know what I said in '92.
Russert: But I want to talk about it...
Russert: ...because I want the country to see it because it's important. "I don't support the death penalty for two reasons. One, you might have the wrong guy, and two, the state is like a parent. Parents who smoke cigarettes can't really tell their children not to smoke and be taken seriously. If a state tells you not to murder people, a state shouldn't be in the business of taking people's lives".
And here's his reply:
Dean: It's a deeply, deeply troubling issue. Let me explain to you why I changed my position and why I've began that process in 1994. These were two horrible murders of young children and I oppose the death penalty in most instances. Here's the areas I've changed and here's why, and I'm very supportive for exam--we don't have a death penalty in Vermont just so most of your viewers know that we're one of the states that doesn't and we don't need a death penalty. But here's the problem, Tim, the state executes people improperly if they're improperly convicted. Illinois was the classic case. There were a number of people that were death row that turned out to be innocent. Deeply trouble.
Yeah, deeply trouble. You can read the actual transcript, and it only makes it worse. Dean's position on the death penalty is horribly incoherent.
Then Russert hammers him on the issue of national security:
Russert: Let's talk about the military budget. How many men and women would you have on active duty?
Dean: I can't answer that question. And I don't know what the answer is.
(a little later...)
Russert: But how many troops...how many men and women do we now have on active duty?
Dean: I can't tell you the answer to that either. It's--
Russert: But as commander in chief, you should now that.
Dean: As someone who's running in the Democratic Party primary, I know that it's somewhere in the neighborhood of one to two million people, but I don't know the exact number, and I don't think I need to know that to run in the Democratic Party primary.
Dean: For me to have to know right now, participating in the Democratic Party, how many troops are actively on duty in the United States military when that is actually a number that's composed both of people on duty today and people who are National Guard people who are on duty today, it's silly. That's like asking me who the ambassador to Rwanda is.
Russert: Oh, no, no, no. Not at all. Not if you want to be commander in chief. But we now have 9,000 troops--
Dean: So your perception--your position is that I need to know exactly how many people are on duty today in the active military forces--
Russert: Well, have a sense--
Dean: --six months away from the first primary?
Russert: If somebody wants to be president of the United States, have a sense of the military.
Dean: I do have a sense of the military.
Russert: --of how many people roughly--
Dean: I know there are roughly between a million and two million people active duty.
Now some would question exactly how precisely Dean needs to know such information. I think he should have some sense of it, closer than a range of a million, but I don't think I would have harped on it as much as Russert did.
The underlying point is well-taken, though. That Dean has been one of the most vociferous among the Democratic candidates in criticizing Bush's military policy, and he is perhaps one of the least qualified to do so.
Many on the Left want to accuse Bush of deserting the National Guard. Russert asks Dean about what he was doing during the Vietnam War:
Russert: Let me turn to a Boston Globe article about the military service during the Vietnam War as it applies to you and I'll put it on the screen. "Dean did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War because he received a medical deferment for an unfused vertebra in his back. Several articles in the last year have noted that after his deferment, Dean spent 80 days skiing in Aspen, Colorado". And then The Aspen Times wrote this profile. "In Howard Dean, we could have a president who spent the winter of 1971-72'pounding bumps on Aspen Mountain. 'I paid $250 for a ski pass and skied 80 days on Ajax. It was the greatest mountain. ' I went to work pouring concrete for a small company'". Why were you able to ski on Ajax Mountain, pounding your back, and pouring concrete, and not serve in the military?
He hems and haws about how his screwed-up vertebrae keeps him from running long distances, but not, apparently, skiing or pouring concrete. Maybe the deferment was legit, but it smells fishy.
Russert: Let me turn to Iraq, and this is what you said in April. 'We've gotten rid of [Saddam Hussein], and I suppose that's a good thing'. 'Suppose'?
Dean: Here's the problem. 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.
We don't? We don't know in the long run whether the people of Iraq and the people of America are better off without Saddam Hussein ruling the country?
What in the hell is he smoking? Please tell me how a given state could be much worse, even in relative chaos, than under the thumbscrews of a tortuous, genocidal dictator. Most people on the Left repeated the refrain, "Yeah, yeah...Saddam's a bad guy, but..." And now they can't even acknowledge the good in ousting a man they recognized as horrid.
If you've got legitimate concerns about the future of Iraq, by all means voice them, but the argument that Iraq might be worse off without Saddam is just insane.
Anyway, there's more, lots more. But I've hit most of the high points.
It's sad, really. I'd vote for a Democrat if there were a viable one in the field. Right now Dean seems unusually strong. And if the Dems nominate him, it's going to be a massacre.
In fact, unless we go into a full-bore depression in the next year, coupled with three or four major terrorist attacks, no one's going to beat Bush.
Especially not the stooges vying for the nomination right now.