Friday, June 10, 2005

Defend Dean, Not the Comments

Yesterday I commented on the controversy over Howard Dean's recent comments. One mistake I believe many are making is confusing support for the person and their positions with the need to defend every comment.

Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes in what they say--including, but certainly not limited to, Howard Dean.

It is not contradictory to support the types of changes in government supported by Howard Dean while still questioning the wisdom of some of his comments. Despite reservations over his views on Medicare, which resulted in my change in support from Dean to Kerry in 2003, I'm generally in agreement with the direction Dean wants to go. Both Dean and Kerry are similar in being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Both have had very similar views on Iraq--although I would have much more respect for Dean if he had admitted this earlier, and acknowledged that Kerry was speaking out against Bush's foreign policy blunders even before Dean was, rather than falsely claiming Kerry voted for the war based upon a distortion of the meaning of the IWR vote.

For some reason, many Dean supporters seem to believe that support for Dean's policy positions means defending every Dean political statement, regardless of how absurd. This is just not necessary, or wise.

In supporting Kerry, I felt no obligation to agree with every statement Kerry made. When Kerry made his famous statement on the $87 billion, I had no problem admitting that it was a terrible statement to make politically. I would explain the context, such that there were two votes and how this was a largely a dispute over how the money would be raised, but would never have attempted to claim it was a sensible sounding way for Kerry to explain it. Kerry admitted the same. In contrast, if Dean had made the comment we'd be hearing endless arguments as to why it was exactly the right thing to say.

Similarly, when limited to sound bites rather than fuller explanations, Kerry often did do a poor job of explaining his position on Iraq. I wouldn't deny that certain comments he made during the campaign weren't ideal. Rather than trying to defend a specific sound bite, I'd explain Kerry's position in full, and refer people to Kerry's more detailed statements where he did provide a sensible explanation of his position.

Dean's comments are fine if Democrats are talking to each other. However, Democratic leaders who are running for office know that such comments are counterproductive in attracting others--especially when it sounds like Dean is lumping everyone who votes Republican together. As I said previously, Dean must be careful to distinguish between current Republican leaders and the typical person who has voted Republican.

Democrats have enough obstacles. They know they don't need the added ones of being dragged down by being associated with these comments, which is why so many have felt the need to go on record distancing themselves from some of Dean's comments. It is possible for Dean's supporters to discuss Dean's strong points and why they support Dean without denying that some mistakes were made. It is also not necessary, or productive towards our goals for them to attack those Democrats who have criticized Dean's comments while continuing (at least for now) to support retaining Dean as DNC Chair.


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