NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- If John McCain called his 2000 presidential campaign the "Straight Talk Express," then Howard Dean should be coining his the "Straight-Off-A-Cliff Express."
At this time last year, if any pundit would have said that he had Dean pegged to win the 2004 Democratic Party presidential nomination, he would have been well-advised to have his head examined. What a difference a year makes! Dean's success amongst Democrats can be largely attributed to the fact that he has been able to galvanize and energize certain factions of the Democratic Party: namely the "new age hippies" and those who are seriously desperate for either a date or a party.
Dean has used the Internet to sign up supporters for "meet-ups" in their area. Essentially, it's a revamping of the "political love-in" from the '60s, where pot-smoking hippies would use politics as a guise for picking up dates. Now, Dean -- having "liberated" the gays of the state of Vermont by legislating civil unions, much in the same way he might imagine that Lincoln "liberated" the slaves -- is out to "free" every sex-starved, party-deprived Democrat and give them what they really want: a good time.
To that end, the Dean campaign recently enlisted people to host "New Years With Dean and Al Gore" house parties. A host who raised $311 for the campaign through his or her house party became eligible to participate in a -- wait for it -- CONFERENCE CALL with Dean and that wild party animal, Al Gore!
The problem is that the Howard Dean gravy train seems to be sputtering toward the end of its track. One can only play "rotate-a-date" for so long, even if it is for a political cause. Looks like they're running out of beer keg money on the Dean campaign trail. They've dropped the fun, playful pretense and are now resorting to flat-out desperation.
On Dec. 28, Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, sent out a mass mailing to every poor sap who happened to give the "Dean for America" folks his or her e-mail address: "We need to raise $1.5 million before midnight on December 31 so we can win Iowa. With just four days left to go, we're $1.2 million short. Please take action right now, because these are the most critical days our campaign has ever faced."
The e-mail message ends with a lovely, upbeat, "We need each other now more than ever. Stand together and do what you can do, but do something." Perhaps a "get off your arses, you lazy hippies" would have been more effective?
That brings me to yet another Dean downfall. Man, is this guy ever angry. I mean, seriously agitated. Then again, he is the poster boy for the same state (Vermont) that the Drug Enforcement Administration ranks No. 2 in the country in per-person Ritalin use, so perhaps his constant agitation is fitting.
Dean rants and raves and flings and flails so much during debates, events and appearances that I honestly don't know how anyone could picture this guy in the Oval Office, within an arm-fling's distance of the Big Red Button. It seems that once the blood gets flowing to Dean's reddened face, it all gets diverted directly from his brain, since he has a tendency of getting worked up and running off at the mouth with unsubstantiated, knee-jerk claims.
Most recently, he said that Bush was given a "heads up" about the 9/11 attacks by Saudi Royals. When he was asked to back up the claim, of course he couldn't.
Similarly, back in 2001 when Dean was still governor of Vermont, he attended the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Miami Beach, Fla. While at this event in Gov. Jeb Bush's home state, Dean made some totally false, glib remarks about the host governor -- making Dean come off as the kind of guy you'd invite over to your place for dinner, only to have him bellyache about the fact that your french fries weren't "crinkle cut."
Jeb Bush responded to Dean's remarks in a classy letter, dated June 25, 2001, that was copied to the National Governor's Association. In it, he very pointedly addressed Dean's false assertions: "You stated that the number of Florida's uninsured is growing. In fact, over 81 percent of all eligible children are now receiving insurance under the KidCare program -- a staggering improvement from the 54.8 percent being served under the previous administration ... As it pertains to reduction in services and programs for expecting mothers, another issue that was misrepresented during your remarks, I proposed no such cuts in my budget. While the Senate proposed a reduction in Medicaid eligibility limit from 185 percent to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, this recommendation was not picked up in the final budget. The final budget contains no reductions in benefits or eligibility groups for Medicaid ... You also stated that the infant mortality rate has increased under my watch. In reality, the provisional infant mortality rate in Florida for the year 2000, the most recent year for which we have data available, is at its lowest level in Florida history."
Bush ended his letter to Dean with a subtle suggestion about checking his facts before running off at the mouth: "In the future, I would urge you to contact me personally when you have questions regarding my record and I will look forward to providing the facts about the services and programs offered to the people of Florida."
Based on Dean's recent comments about "Dubya" and 9/11; the "decrease" in education spending (when in reality, George W. Bush has increased spending on education by 65 percent); and about not wanting to pin the blame for 9/11 on poor Osama bin Laden (even though bin Laden has owned up to the attacks with great pride) -- it looks like he should have taken Jeb's words about reality-checking to heart. Now the stakes, and the price of mistakes, are much higher. That's something that Dean is going to have to learn the hard way now.
Dean seems to have cornered the market on anti-war supporters -- the same ones who boo George W. Bush's and Ronald Reagan's names on liberal college campuses, yet cheer dictators like Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro. If you wish Saddam Hussein was still in power, then Dean is your man.
During the Democratic Debate in Columbia, S.C., on May 3, 2003, Dean said in the same breath that although he's glad Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the war was still wrong. In a foreign policy address at Drake University in February, he suggested that if he was in charge, he would have spent more time figuring out ways to negotiate with Saddam on the disarmament issue, and maybe would have tried to talk some sense into the murderous dictator. He also said, in a Washington Post online Q&A, that more negotiation is needed with countries like North Korea to press for nuclear disarmament.
What leverage would Dean hope to use exactly? Bush has the leverage to negotiate by virtue of the fact that he's proven to these dangerous, dictatorial regimes that he isn't afraid to use military force if the situation requires it. It's no coincidence that within only a handful of days of Saddam Hussein's capture, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi volunteered to destroy his country's nuclear and chemical arsenal, and Iran suddenly agreed to open up its nuclear facilities to inspectors.
The obvious lesson here is if you want a safer world and a more secure America, vote for Bush; if you want Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il in sensitivity training, then Howard Dean is quite clearly the guy for you.
Even when it comes to supposedly "left-wing" issues like healthcare, Dean doesn't seem to have a clue. One would think that, since he's a medical doctor himself, this would be the one area where Dean would really shine. However, when he spoke at a New England conference on healthcare in 2001, he suggested that Vermont's healthcare system should be used as a "national model" since 93 percent of residents (that's Dean's figure -- not that of the Census Bureau's, which says the number is significantly lower) have health insurance.
Dean went on to say, in the same speech, that Vermont's insurance program will be $50 million in the red if something isn't done. OK -- so Vermont, with a population of a little more than 600,000, represents about 0.2 percent of the entire national population. If Dean's model was a national one, covering all 50 states, then America would be about $22 billion in debt.
So what exactly does Howard Dean have a handle on?
Well, we know he's good at organizing matchmaking sessions for his supporters. Maybe he can come up with one that caters to members of despotic regimes, whom he seems to feel would greatly benefit -- along with the rest of the world -- from a little more discussion in their lives. Dean also let slip during his Jan. 20, 2000, news conference that he -- along with his driver -- have actually pursued speeding cars. He said that in one case, they called ahead for help in order to apprehend a person who may have (gasp!) thrown a can out of a car window. Perfect! While "Dubya" works at ridding the world of tin-pot dictators, Dean can work at ridding the world of tin-can offenders.
(Rachel Marsden is a freelance writer living in New York.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)