Over the next few months, Washington editor David Corn will sit down with Democratic presidential candidates and question them on their views, their records, their policy proposals and their lives. The tapes of these sessions will air on RadioNation, heard weekly on stations around the country. This is the first in the series. –The Editors
Howard Dean, it seems, is an unintentional liberal. The former governor of Vermont and current Democratic presidential contender is sitting at a table in a Washington hotel room–as Democratic governors, in town for a convention, pop in and out–trying to make the point that a fellow who was the enemy of progressives in his home state could still be something of a progressive champion as a national candidate. Last May, Dean, who was the Green Mountain State’s chief executive for eleven years (winning election five times), became the first Democrat to declare he would seek his party’s presidential nomination. Since then, this 54-year-old stockbroker turned doctor, hailing from a ritzy New York family, has for political handicappers become the sleeper candidate to watch. He established himself as the antiwar candidate before others with similar convictions joined the pack. He repeatedly blasts the Democratic Party for having lost its edge (if not its soul), and he has urged health insurance for all and a rollback–not just a freeze–in the Bush tax cuts. He cites as frontline qualifications his expansion of a state program guaranteeing health insurance for all Vermont children under 18 and his signing of legislation that established civil unions for gays and lesbians. Antiwar, favoring universal healthcare, trashing Bushonomics–is Dean shaping up as a hope for unreconstructed liberals? It’s not that simple. And he admits it.
During an interview, Dean acknowledges that he battled fiercely with the Progressive Party of Vermont. In fact, he’s even boasted, “The Progressives hate me because they’re all big liberals and I’m not, and I’ve stopped them on many occasions.” What has Dean stopped them from doing? “Raising taxes, mainly,” he says. “We believe that balanced budgets are important…. ‘Progressive’ in Vermont means something different than it does nationally. We are a pretty liberal state. It’s not entirely out of keeping that I’m one of the more progressive people in the [presidential] race while still being a moderate at home, because if you believe in a balanced budget, that automatically disqualifies you from being a progressive [in Vermont]. And I think at the national level, that’s not true.” (Progressives in Vermont have criticized Dean for not pushing for a universal state-run healthcare program, for not providing sufficient financial support to state colleges, for underfunding the Agency of Natural Resources and for too often compromising with developers. In 2000 the Progressives ran a candidate against Dean, and their nominee attracted 9.5 percent of the vote–almost enough to cost Dean the election.)
On the stump, Dean has received the most notice for left-of-center stances: his antiwar position and his call for healthcare coverage for all. But on Iraq, Dean has issued what appear to be contradictory remarks. In a February speech he denounced Bush for “focusing…on the wrong war at the wrong time,” claimed that he (Dean) was “not ready to abandon a search for better answers” and called for continuing inspections “as long as there is progress toward disclosure and disarmament.” But previously, Dean proclaimed that Washington should issue Iraq a sixty-day deadline to comply with the UN resolutions and if it does not, then “we will reserve our right as Americans to defend ourselves and we will go into Iraq.” Then, at a Democratic National Committee meeting on February 21, he attacked the Democratic Party leadership for “supporting the President’s unilateral attack on Iraq.” Aren’t these various lines inconsistent?