‘Frontrunner’ Dean Drives Democrats to Anti-Bush Extremes

Posted July 25, 2003 at 1:59pm

On the basis of political momentum, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is now the frontrunner for the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nomination. And, if history is any guide, he’s in the process of leading the party to disastrous defeat. [IMGCAP(1)]

Dean has roared from obscurity to first-tier status by expressing — and fueling — the near-hatred that Democratic activists feel for President Bush and all his works, especially the Iraq war.

The danger is that the party will put itself in the same position it occupied in 1972, 1984 and 1988 — far to the left of mainstream American opinion — and it will lose the election in a landslide.

Dean doesn’t lead the nine-candidate Democratic field in any national polls — yet. But he raised more money than any of his rivals in the last quarter. Polls show he’s competitive in Iowa, tied for the lead in New Hampshire and now the favorite of California Democrats.

And you can tell he’s the leader because other candidates are following him, especially on his signature issue, opposition to the Iraq war.

Just look at what happened to Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) last week. Formerly stalwart and — for a Democrat — courageous in backing the war, Gephardt delivered an attack on Bush policy so extreme that it can be explained only as a desperate effort to avoid losing more campaign cash — and Iowa — to Dean.

In a speech in San Francisco, Gephardt accused Bush of “utter disregard for diplomacy,” of treating allies “as so many flies on the American windshield,” of “turning America into a global vigilante.”

“George Bush has left us less safe and secure than we were four years ago,” Gephardt said, as though pre-Sept. 11, 2001, innocence of the threat of terrorism was a safer condition than America’s current war footing.

Gephardt accused Bush of “chest-beating unilateralism,” claimed that Bush’s “coalition of the willing was recruited like the crew of a pirate ship” and charged that post-war Iraq was “a looming quagmire,” and said flatly, “We’re losing the peace.”

Gephardt also picked up on the theme that Bush was enmeshed in a “growing credibility gap” over claims in his State of the Union message that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa. Gephardt said this was “a major part of his justification for invading Iraq.” Of course, it was no such thing.

Gephardt didn’t repudiate his October 2002 vote to authorize the war. But he reinterpreted it as an effort to push Bush to “go to the United Nations and bring the world community on board.” Instead, he charged, Bush “effectively shut them out when they felt we hadn’t made the case.”

This is similar to the stance being taken by Dean’s closest rival for the frontrunner’s position, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who is constantly being jabbed by Dean for indulging in “revisionist history” about his pro-war vote.

Crowded by Dean in New Hampshire, a must-win for the Senator, Kerry is competing by implying the United States is no safer than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, and by charging that “this president went to war unilaterally and now our soldiers are there nearly alone with a target on their backs.”

And another candidate afflicted by Dean-envy is Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.), who has every right — on paper — to think he should be where Dean is.

Graham, after all, is a senior Senator and foreign policy expert, the former governor of a big state, not a tiny one, and an opponent of the Iraq war from Day One. Yet Graham is stuck toward the rear of the Democratic pack.

So, to attract attention, Graham went so far as to imply that Bush deserves impeachment for allegedly deceiving the country about Iraq’s nuclear program. He withdrew the suggestion, but he is still railing at “the dishonesty of the president.”

Dean hasn’t called for Bush’s impeachment — just the resignation of any officials who participated in the alleged deception. He also said, “It remains to be seen whether the president himself was misled … or whether the president knowingly misled the American people.”

Whether or not Dean ends up as the Democratic nominee, the party is following his lead into such extreme opposition to Bush that it may end up as it did in 1972, 1984 and 1988 — deemed too weak to stand up to America’s adversaries.

In 1972, even though the Vietnam War was unpopular, Sen. George McGovern’s (D-S.D.) advocacy of immediate withdrawal resulted in his receiving less than 38 percent of the popular vote.

In 1984, Democratic candidates competed with each other to satisfy the nuclear freeze movement that they would have given the Soviet Union a nuclear advantage in Europe. The party’s nominee, Walter Mondale, also advocated tax increases and carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

In 1988, despite the Iran-Contra scandal afflicting the Reagan administration, Democrats were so hostile to Reagan’s Central America policy — and seen as so weak on foreign policy as well as crime — that Michael Dukakis lost 39 states to Bush’s father.

So far, only one of his rivals — Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) — has had the gumption to raise alarms about the danger that Dean represents.

Unfortunately, there’s a dangerous precedent for Lieberman, too — that of hawk- Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who was an also-ran for the 1972 and 1976 nominations.