As one who has been extremely cynical and suspicious about the candidacy of Howard Dean for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, I have to confess that the more I hear the other candidates criticize him, and the more I hear him respond to their vapid and treacherous charges, the better he looks.
Take the recent criticism of Dean’s comment concerning Osama Bin Laden. At the nationally televised debate last weekend sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper, John Kerry, supposedly one of the more liberal of the Democratic presidential wannabes, tried to make Dean look like a limp-wristed liberal criminal coddler by recalling Dean’s recent observation that Bin Laden, if captured, would have the presumption of innocence.
Well, wouldn’t he? Or was Kerry suggesting that such legal niceties as a fair trial could be dispensed with in this particular instance in favor of a good old fashioned public lynching?
Dean, who could have given the yahoos in the television audience the red meat some are looking for, instead said simply that as president he would be bound to protect the rule of law, and that while he assumed Bin Laden would be convicted and sentenced to death for his alleged crime of masterminding the attack on the World Trade Center towers, he would also have to be tried in accordance with the law, which includes giving him the presumption of innocence.
That solid defense of the Constitutional right to a fair trial stands at once in stark contrast with the position of the current occupant of the White House, who has locked several American citizens up indefinitely without charges, without trial, and without access to a lawyer or even contact with family members. It stands in equally stark contrast to Kerry and the other candidates, none of whom jumped to Dean’s defense.
Dean got the same kind of unprincipled criticism from Kerry and Lieberman a few weeks ago when he made the rather obvious observation that the much ballyhooed capture of Saddam Hussein had done nothing to make the U.S. safer or more secure–a point that was underlined readily by the continued slaughter of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and by the elevation of the Homeland Security Department’s risk index, as well as by a series of high-level threats to U.S. bound airliners, necessitating, in some cases, F-16 escorts to some flights and cancellations of others.
Dean’s earlier comment about wanting to be the candidate of the guys who drive pickups decked out with confederate flags prompted a similar attack from his rivals. For saying that he does not want to write off the South in the election, and wants to challenge the Republicans’ so-called “Southern Strategy” of using racial code words to pry Southern working class whites away from their traditional support of the Democratic New Deal coalition, Dean was attacked by candidates Lieberman, Kerry, John Edwards and even by Al Sharpton, all of whom accused him both of racial insensititivy to the supposed hurt feelings of blacks and of paternalism towards whites.
Excuse me, but just how does it hurt black feelings to say that working class people –black and white–are being screwed by a Republican strategy of tricking whites into voting against their own class interest by appealing to their racial fears? And how is it paternalistic to point out to the guys who put confederate flags on their pickup trucks–and there certainly are a lot of them in the Southland, most of them really decent folks at heart, who do exactly that–that they have been duped and used by the Republican Party? It’s a fact, and it’s high time that someone among the Democrats had the huevos to point it out. Dean has been taken to task by his Democratic rivals too for calling for a repeal of the entire Bush tax cut package, with Kerry in the lead saying that he would preserve the portion of the tax cuts that went to the middle class.
Has anyone looked at those alleged middle-class tax cuts Kerry and Lieberman want to save? They are so small as to be insulting. Few would miss them if they were gone, and they weren’t across the board in any case. Dean is right. It would be far better to wipe them off the boards and start from scratch. Far fairer, and far better for the economy, would be a one-time cut in the social security FICA tax, which would go disproportionately to those at the lower end of the economic scale, and which would be spent immediately back into the economy.
While Dean hasn’t had the guts to join Congressman Dennis Kucinich in calling for a slashing of the military budget–the only way the U.S. government will ever truly be able to fund all the real needs of the American public–or for making the tax code more progressive, it was still bracing to hear him tell Kerry, and by inference most of the other candidates at a debate hosted Tuesday by National Public Radio, that Kerry’s call for keeping much of the Bush tax cut in place while proposing a host of new funding initiatives was “hogwash,” as indeed most of the human services spending promises made by Democratic presidential candidates in the past several decades have been. Further, Dean gets points for explaining that any benefits middle class families may have thought they were receiving from the Bush tax cuts have long since been gobbled up by higher property taxes and state sales and income taxes necessitated by Bush cuts in federal aid for schools, police, roads, etc. Not to mention the higher energy prices and interest rates that have been the result of Bush administration policies. Senator Lieberman blasted Dean saying that no Democrat has been elected president who ran on a call for higher taxes, but this criticism coming from a guy who, with Al Gore, blew the 2000 election while shamelessly promising program after program to every wedge group a pollster could identify didn’t carry much weight.
Dean is far from perfect, and he shows a worrying tendency to back away from some good statements and positions when confronted (especially when compared to candidate Dennis Kucinich, who has stood solidly by all his positions and who is helping to keep Dean honest with regard to his opposition to the Iraq war). But not always. It was refreshing to see him stand firm for the Constitutional right to a presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. It has been refreshing to hear him call the Republicans’ Southern Strategy for what it is–a racist gambit that has hoodwinked a generation of white stars-and-bars waving Southerners (as well as a large cohort of northern white suburbanites, who keep their own confederate flags neatly hidden away in their racially frightened hearts).
Dean may not be a progressive candidate. His position on the death penalty is indefensible, his record as governor could hardly be called liberal, and his position on globalization and trade agreements, not to mention the military, is pretty wishy-washy.
But I have to confess, listening to the treacherous and petty Republican-style attacks of his weasily rivals for the nomination, and watching him stand his ground for (the most part), with humor and dignity, is exhilarating, after years of the likes of Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton and Gore.
If nothing else, a Bush-Dean match-up would, for the first time in a generation, offer us the spectacle of a genuine political street fight, with real punches thrown and real blood on the pavement.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html