I respected Dean more last June when I heard him say he would entertain raising the retirement age to 68. Not that I necessarily favor it, but clearly he wasn't saying it for political expedience. Well all that has changed. Along with several other positions. When I hear Dean supporters describe this guy I'm sure that there must be a case of mistaken identity. I realize many of them have maxed out their 21.9% credit cards to fund this child of Park Avenue's presidential ambitions, so they are really invested, so to speak. Still, I'm afraid the awakening, whenever it comes, will be brutal-- which is too bad. There is a ton of passion behind Dean.
Rivals Target Dean's Blunt Comments
Dean's rivals and some Democratic strategists see the former Vermont governor's comments past and present as among his biggest liabilities. Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) are turning Dean's words against him almost daily, calling into question his commitment to Democratic causes such as Medicare and the Middle East, and portraying him as a flip-flopper on other issues. Since running for president, Dean has switched his position on at least three politically sensitive topics: Social Security, free trade and the Cuba trade embargo. In all three cases, his new position comports with the views of the key voters he is courting.
"He'd have to go a long way to alienate" his committed supporters, many of whom are new to politics, said Democratic strategist Joe Lockhart, a former spokesman for President Bill Clinton. "The problem for him is he can't win with just those people. He needs some of the people who regularly participate in the process. Those people still have reservations, and this back-and-forth plays into those reservations."
Dean's comments over the past decade show that, perhaps more than any other candidate in the field, he has switched or modified key positions as a presidential contender. Because he rarely speaks from scripts, he also tends to make more off-the-cuff statements that land him in hot water. Kerry recently said Dean makes way too many verbal "gaffes" to be president.
Dean is getting hit the hardest over Medicare. Gephardt and others have accused Dean of siding with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the 1995 fight to slow the growth of Medicare from 10 percent to 7 percent. Dean last weekend said the charge is false, but it is not.
Although Dean never explicitly said he was siding with Gingrich, he did endorse a GOP proposal, backed by the then-speaker, to slow Medicare's growth. He told a Vermont newspaper in 1995 that he could "fully subscribe" to slowing the rate of the program's growth to 7 percent, which would have been tantamount to cutting Medicare spending.