Thursday, September 11, 2003

Real apologies are due

Update: September 14th. Just saw K Street on HBO. Turns out Dean's humorous line about Trent Lott was from Carville. Or was it Carville's script writer? So without Carville (or his script writer) Dean would have only been angry and insulting. Oh yeah, and what did the Governor say this morning on This Week? "I won't be scripted." Addendum: "Unless I have script approval."

Howard Dean had a great line in the last debate:

He was confident and witty, turning a question about the lack of minorities in Vermont into a quip about a vilified Republican senator from Mississippi - no small trick in a debate hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.

"If the percentage of minorities who are in your state has anything to do with how connected you are with African-American voters, then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King," Dean said.

He could have moved on from there and simply talked about his commitment to diversity and how he demonstrates it. He could have turned the question into a totally positive winner for his campaign. But, for some reason, he just couldn’t do that.

Dean, defending himself against criticism that his supporters are mostly white, told the predominantly black debate crowd, "I'm the only white politician that ever talks about race in front of white audiences."

The only one. Wow. Every other white politician is just a coward on the race issue. They won’t even talk about race. Only Dean cares. Only Dean. Why are we even having a primary?

Wait a minute…John Edwards begs to differ:

"I think what Howard Dean said last night does a disservice to everyone he stood next to and all the people before us who have raised this issue over and over again in front of all audiences," the North Carolina lawmaker said one day after the nine candidates debated in Baltimore….

"What he said last night was divisive and divisive is exactly what we're trying to overcome. He's right about one thing, politicians should talk about civil rights wherever they go. And in the future, I hope he leads by example instead of by attack," Edwards said in a telephone interview.

"Sen. Lieberman marched with Martin Luther King. Sen. Kerry talks about his experience in Vietnam. I grew up in the segregated South. Fighting for civil rights is part of who I am which is why I talked about it in front of every audience and whoever I'm with," he said.

Defenders will say he just misspoke. Maybe. But it is an odd way to do so. And it certainly feeds the impression Dean’s defenders wish to dispute that he unfairly characterizes his opponents. But the bigger question for me is what leads Dean to make such strong categorical statements of fact, not just opinion, that simply aren’t true?

At an earlier debate I was struck by his strong denial that he had ever supported raising the retirement age when I knew I had heard him discuss the fact that he had only a couple of months, not years, before. This was no minor point. This is a major policy issue that he had given significant consideration. Yet his denial was defensive, strident and unequivocal. Oh yeah, and it was wrong, too.

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