Dean Is McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis — A Trifecta of Losers

Posted January 2, 2004 at 4:19pm

Months ago, even before the good news started pouring in for President Bush, a Democratic friend of mine succinctly summed up his party’s attitude toward the 2004 election. “If we’re going to lose,” he said, “we may as well go down fighting with our boots on.” [IMGCAP(1)]

He was rooting for Howard Dean, of course, and this sense of rushing headlong toward true, blue state martyrdom explains at least part of Dean’s apparent invulnerability to attacks from his rivals.

Heaven knows, Dean has provided his foes with ammunition — from his switcheroos on Social Security and Medicare reductions to his casual dismissal of Saddam Hussein’s capture to his dissing (then undissing) of Bill Clinton to his refusal (quickly amended) to prejudge what ought to happen to Osama bin Laden.

The list goes on and on. Suddenly, Dean is yelling at Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to stop other candidates from criticizing him when he’s done nothing all campaign long but blast “the Washington candidates” running against him.

He also said that if he doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, his hundreds of thousands of Internet supporters might not support his party’s ticket.

And, just before the holidays, he suddenly revealed that he planned to discuss his deep faith in Jesus Christ as he campaigned in the South — an area where he previously said that politics shouldn’t be about “God, guns and gays.”

For reasons I can’t fathom, Dean’s rivals still haven’t collected videotape of the frontrunner’s whoppers and aired them in hard-hitting campaign ads in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere.

Instead, they’ve been deriding him in statements to the media and in colorful e-mails, such as that from Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) describing Dean as the fulfillment of Bush’s and GOP guru Karl Rove’s wish-list for Santa.

The Bush campaign and allied groups surely will unload on Dean if and when he wins the nomination and — barring a terrorist attack that cripples the economy and is blamable on inadequate Bush homeland security preparations — I don’t see how Dean can keep from being clobbered in November.

In statements of late, Dean has made himself into the reincarnation of the Democratic party’s trifecta of major losers — Sen. George McGovern (S.D.) in 1972, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988.

In a Dec. 21 op-ed in The Washington Post, Dean asserted that his foreign policy “reflects the best of our mainstream tradition,” but in reality it’s well to the left of that — close to, if not in, McGovernland.

To be fair, Dean doesn’t say about Iraq, as McGovern did about Vietnam, “Come home, America,” but when he says — and says again — that Saddam Hussein’s capture has not made America safer, he reveals that he doesn’t know a strategic enemy when he sees one.

In the op-ed, Dean said he favors “active talks with North Korea, backed by the threat of force,” but North Korea couldn’t possibly credit any threat from Dean when he’s announced in advance that he’d cave on the North’s initial demand for bilateral talks.

Moreover, Dean has declared that North Korea doesn’t meet any of his criteria for using force — retaliation for an attack, an imminent threat, a genocide in progress and “permission” from the United Nations.

Bush has used force — in Afghanistan and in Iraq — and the lesson hasn’t been lost on Libya, Syria and Iran, if not North Korea.

Libya contacted Britain about giving up its weapons of mass destruction last March as the war in Iraq began. Iran is allowing in weapons inspectors, and Syria intermittently shows signs of worry that it’s next on Bush’s target list.

Toppling Saddam Hussein did make America safer, and the public thinks so by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Dean has long resembled Mondale in favoring total repeal of Bush’s tax cuts — even those that benefit the middle class — and gradually he’s come to adopt the views of Democratic interest groups such as labor, as exemplified by his repudiation of previous support for free trade agreements.

At least rhetorically, Dean has headed left of Mondale’s standard interest group liberalism, suggesting that America needs “a new social contract” akin to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s in the Great Depression because working Americans are “outraged” at the corporations that employ them and the government that serves them.

In his “social contract” speech Dec. 18, Dean said his program is “pro-business and pro-jobs,” but he has also called for “re-regulation” of business, a stance that tracks with the views of Ralph Nader.

In that speech, Dean said “while Bill Clinton said that the era of big government is over, I believe we must enter a new era for the Democratic Party — not one where we join Republicans and aim simply to limit the damage they inflict on working families. I reject the notion that damage control must be our credo.”

That sounds like a pretty flat repudiation of Clintonism, but a day later Dean’s campaign said that only “the desperate Washington candidates” could think so.

But Dean has been scathing in denouncing the centrist Democratic Leadership Council as the “Republican part of the Democratic Party.” Guess what — Clinton was chairman of the DLC and “Clintonism” is the DLC’s continuing byword.

Dean has long resembled Dukakis, the proud “card-carrying member of the ACLU,” in denouncing Attorney General John Ashcroft as a menace to civil liberties, but extending due process to Osama bin Laden clinches the case.

Dean quickly retracted the thought, evidently remembering that bin Laden has proudly pleaded guilty to murdering Americans. But that he could harbor the sentiment is evidence that he believes that the war on terrorism isn’t really a war at all.

Whatever Dean says and does, it seems not to matter to his supporters, who comprise a plurality of Democrats. They want to go down to defeat with their boots on. Unless something terrible happens to America, my guess is that they will.