Dean's Dilemma

By Howard Kurtz

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, June 27, 2003; 8:41 AM

We don't mean to obsess on Howard Dean, but the former asterisk is at a crucial point in his candidacy.

He's hot -- look at all the coverage surrounding his faux announcement in Burlington -- and could get hotter if he wins the MoveOn poll today. But the heat is rising in the journalistic kitchen, too, and the good doctor is starting to get grilled.

Which raises the intriguing question of whether the media that have helped fuel his outsider candidacy are going to turn on him.

Dean has always exhibited a certain wariness toward the press. And there's a certain familiar rhythm to what's happening right now. When Dean was just a long-shot maverick -- in the mold of Bruce Babbitt or Paul Tsongas or, at one point, John McCain -- reporters enjoyed his straight talk and the good copy he provided.

But now that Dean has boosted himself into top-tier status, news organizations are starting to take a second, and harder, look at some of his fudges and inconsistencies, including his apologies to some of the other Democratic candidates.

As the Baltimore Sun's Paul West observes: "He has not become the darling of the national media corps, which regards him as thin-skinned and prone to complain about tough reporting, sometimes even before an article has appeared in print."

Carl Leubsdorf writes in the Dallas Morning News that some top Democrats "fear a repetition of the electoral disasters" created by George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984, and that Dean has "gained a reputation for nastiness that could create problems."

Last year, Dean was buoyed by a successful appearance on "Meet the Press." This week, Dean is widely viewed as having belly-flopped on "Meet the Press." Tim Russert pressed him on Social Security, gay marriage, his son's arrest, his lack of enthusiasm for the toppling of Saddam Hussein and why he was able to go skiing after flunking a physical for military service.

How Dean handles this new level of scrutiny will largely determine whether he sinks or swims.

The surest sign of Dean's progress is that establishment Dems are circling the wagons, as in this New York Post column by Deborah Orin:

"Democrats are starting to realize upstart antiwar candidate Howard Dean could actually wind up as their 2004 nominee -- thanks to the power of the Internet. That scares some of them silly.

"The New York-born Dean hits a raw nerve among frustrated Dems with the message summed up by his in-your-face TV ads in the early test state of Iowa: 'The only way to beat George Bush is to stand up to him.' . . .

"He's become the Teflon Dean among liberals, and that has really upset his rivals. Dean's missteps, like flubbing military questions, don't seem to hurt because his backers are true believers and his rivals (so far) look gray by comparison."

New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets scorches Dean over his Meet session:

"Then there was the matter of Dean's military service. Like many young men in 1971, he got a medical deferment. Unlike most of his fellow deferees, he marked the event by spending 80 days skiing Ajax Mountain in Colorado. It was late in the interview when he related this story, and Russert listened with shell-shocked equanimity. He had just presided over perhaps the worst performance by a presidential candidate in the history of television."

That's setting the bar pretty high.

Conservatives are also starting to slap him around, such as Andrew Sullivan:

"I didn't see what many are calling a disastrous performance by Howard Dean on 'Meet The Press,' but I know from observing him and debating him once that he's an intemperate, arrogant bully. . . . It's a trait bad doctors have. They are used to being in such controlling positions vis-a-vis their patients that it goes to their heads. Good doctors resist such an obvious temptation.

"And then there's Dean's looseness with the truth. I'd say Fred Barnes scores a few hits with this column. Here's one Dean quote Fred exposes: 'Karl Rove and others have talked about going back to the McKinley era before there was any kind of social safety net in this country.' Now Karl Rove has talked about McKinley -- but only, so far as I know, in respect to electoral campaign politics, not policy matters. Maybe one of the Dean blogs can put me right on this. Defend Dean's statement; or somehow persuade me this isn't an obvious deceptive smear. Email me, Deanies. Stand by your man. Or keep him honest."

Slate's William Saletan is in reassessment mode:

"For months, I've been scratching my head over the Howard Dean problem. On domestic issues, Dean beats the rest of the presidential field hands down. He knows the nooks and crannies of all the policy debates. He's been an executive. He's principled where he ought to be principled and pragmatic where he ought to be pragmatic. He hurls fire and brimstone with the best of them. He isn't one of those wishy-washy liberals who inspire contempt on both the left and the right. And he states his views in a way that everyone can understand and most people can support.

"The problem is national security. It isn't just Dean's opposition to the war in Iraq, which is eminently defensible. It's subtler and broader. Every time Dean talks about foreign affairs, he gives off a whiff of hostility or indifference to American military power."

Here's a more upbeat take, from Dean's blog:

"The MoveOn vote is behind us; two great speeches have been delivered; Howard Dean has made Letterman twice in a row and led Inside Politics for two days straight. . . . there is a sense of incredible momentum gathering behind this campaign, and we have the opportunity now to truly push Howard Dean into the front of this race."

USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro gives Dean his due:

"Consider: In the past six months, Howard Dean has transformed himself from an ego-powered dreamer into an enthusiasm-fueled candidate on par with his established Democratic rivals. Yes, other maverick candidates such as Jimmy Carter (1976), Gary Hart (1984) and John McCain (2000) have surged out of nowhere to upend a presidential race. But never before has a play-by-his-own-rules insurgent made a dash like Dean's so far in advance of the primaries."

In the Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein sees a possible nightmare scenario for the Dems:

"The fund-raising drive that will bring President Bush to San Francisco and Los Angeles today could ultimately give him the largest financial advantage in recent presidential politics and provide Republicans an opportunity to reshape the map of national elections.

"Bush is working to raise at least $170 million for a primary campaign in which he's virtually certain to face no significant opposition. At the same time, the Democrats face the prospect of a highly competitive nomination fight that could leave their nominee strapped for cash when it is resolved, analysts in both parties say."

Prescription drugs, finally a reality? The benefit is one step closer, says the Boston Globe:

"Both houses of Congress approved sweeping Medicare legislation early this morning to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and increase private competition for the program.

"The twin votes, less than an hour apart, set the stage for congressional talks on a final compromise. The change would be the biggest in the government health insurance plan for the elderly since its creation in 1965.

"The Senate vote was a bipartisan 76-21. The House vote was 216-215 along party lines, reflecting the decision of the House leadership to inject a stronger dose of free-market competition into its plan. 'This is the greatest action in a generation to mend the broken promise of Medicare,' said Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who backed the Senate changes despite strong opposition from some Democrats."

In the Weekly Standard, radio host Hugh Hewitt takes on the WMD critics:

"It appears as though the public has already concluded that the attacks on Bush of this spring are like the attacks on Bush of last spring--partisan cheap-shots of the worst sort since they concern national security. I think a good majority of the electorate has also come to an intuitive understanding of the key concept: It is okay to overestimate a threat, but, since September 11, it is never okay to underestimate one. If Bush overestimated the threat from Iraq, he certainly gave Saddam every opportunity to open the doors, and even at the end, to quit the country. Bush was unwilling, however, to run any serious risk of WMDs reaching terrorists. His 2003 critics have apparently reversed their 2002 positions, and would have preferred him not to highlight the threats in his intelligence briefings. . . .

"I think the layman's rule is this: If the commander in chief perceives a significant risk of severe casualties to Americans, he uses whatever force is necessary to remove that risk. The forgery of documents related to purchases of uranium from Niger, or the lack of a detailed Baghdad hotel bill from Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, in no way detracts from the correctness of the president's assessment of all the evidence of risk. The attempt to impeach the president's conclusion by impeaching parts of his data set establishes a standard under which many future September 11s could never be prevented because of the distinction between 'signals and noise in intelligence collection.' "

But The Note says Dubya is getting off easy these days:

"You can't help but believe that the standard of conduct and coverage to which Bill Clinton was held was too high, and the one for George W. Bush is too low.

"We don't know where the bar SHOULD be placed by the political and White House press corps to hold each and every president (and candidate) accountable to the public interest, but we DO know it belongs somewhere between Point B(ush) and Point C(linton).

"For the first time in The Note's career, Democrats have joined Republicans in the belief that the press is systematically biased against them, and agitate everyday to try to change things (or work around their media enemies).

"The Bush White House tends to leave any griping about press bias to surrogates, while in public, led by Ari Fleischer, they adopt a faux 'the press will do its job/we'll do ours' posture."

The New Republic sides with a Weekly Standard piece on Democrats we excerpted earlier this week -- to a point:

"We more or less agree with David Brooks--that many Democrats' visceral hatred of George W. Bush and the Republican majorities in Congress risks becoming self-defeating, since it could easily result in a nominee who is too liberal to win the presidential election in 2004, and a party that alienates moderates and gets slaughtered on the congressional level as well. But one thing we have to take issue with is Brooks's dismissiveness toward Democrats' explanations of their own powerlessness. According to Brooks:

" '[W]hen many liberals look at national affairs, they see a world in which their leaders are nice, pure-souled, but defenseless, and they see Republicans who are organized, devious, and relentless. . . . The Democrats are the party that for 40 years has labeled its opponents racists, fascists, religious nuts, and monsters who wanted to starve grannies and orphans. Republicans saw what Democrats did to Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and dozens of others. Yet Democrats are utterly sincere. Many on the left think they have been losing because their souls are too elevated. When they look inward, impotence, weakness, high-mindedness, and geniality are all they see.'

"But, questions of what Democrats may or may not have done in the past aside, isn't the Democrats' description of why they've been getting their hats handed to them lately at least partly accurate? Let's take one of our favorite issues, the recent Bush tax cut. As we've written repeatedly, the only way the White House managed to pass a tax cut that is by all accounts going to cost the country nearly $1 trillion over the next decade is by using a series of accounting tricks to hide the bill's true cost, which ensured its passage by allowing it to win support from ostensible moderates in the Senate.

"In particular, the administration and its congressional allies squeezed their $1 trillion tax cut into a $350 package by 'sunsetting' some of its costlier provisions. . . . Not long after the White House passed its 2001 tax cut using some of these same accounting tricks, the president turned around and began campaigning to make the sunsetted provisions permanent, arguing that people's taxes were suddenly going to rise in 2011 thanks to some 'quirk of the law,' and that this just wasn't fair."

Is the Iraq flack finally telling the truth?

"Iraqi spokesman 'Baghdad Bob,' who gained notoriety during the war for his absurd claims of victory, showed up on Arab television yesterday -- his first appearance since the fall of Saddam Hussein," says the New York Post.

"Former Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who says he handed himself over to the Americans, was shown without his familiar military fatigues and beret as he chatted with an al-Arabiya reporter. His hair was completely gray and close-cropped.

"'Via some friends, I went to the Americans . . . and there was an interrogation about a number of issues concerning my work. After the interrogation, I was released,' a tired-looking and thin al-Sahhaf said in a clip aired by the channel."

Here comes the denial:

"A Pentagon spokeswoman insisted last night that there is no information that al-Sahhaf -- who was nicknamed 'Baghdad Bob' by GIs and 'Comical Ali' in headlines -- was ever in U.S. custody."

Once a spinmeister. . . .

Finally, the Raleigh News & Observer explains why Tim Russert isn't getting his calls returned:

"Ever since Sen. John Edwards' May 2002 appearance on 'Meet the Press,' there has been no shortage of speculation in Washington as to when he might return. The North Carolina Democrat's performance, which included some vague responses, was panned by pundits, and Edwards even poked fun at the experience when he addressed the annual Gridiron dinner earlier this year.

"The question has been renewed in the wake of last weekend's appearance by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a rival for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. In the eyes of most viewers, Dean got roughed up pretty badly by host Tim Russert.

"Edwards, in any case, is not likely to reappear anytime soon. Betsy Fischer, the show's executive producer, said NBC has been trying for months to get Edwards back on."

© 2003

June 30, 2003

Democrat Howard Dean says anti-war stand doesn't mean he's weak

Washington-AP -- Even though he opposed the Iraq war, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean insists he'd be a strong commander-in-chief.

In a new T-V ad and in a foreign policy speech today, Dean says standing up to the war was an act of political courage.

He told the Council on Foreign Relations that at the time the war was launched, the U-S had limited international support, didn't have enough post-war planning, and had failed to make the case for invasion.

Among the Democratic candidates, only Dean and Florida Senator Bob Graham opposed the war.

Dean recalled the 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy resisted calls for war and used toughness, patience, and diplomacy to get the missiles out.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

June 30, 2003

Howard Dean campaign reports $6 million raised since March

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (June 30, 8:33 a.m. PDT) - Democrat Howard Dean's presidential campaign said Sunday it has taken in $6 million in the past three months, fund raising the former Vermont governor attributed to support from people not previously involved in politics.

"We're bringing in a ton of new people," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press between fund-raisers in New Hampshire.

Dean and the eight other Democrats running for president in 2004 are racing to show their fund-raising prowess in campaign finance reports for the second quarter, which closes Monday.

"My guess is when you see the report it will be a lot of small donors ... these are ordinary people who've been waiting for someone to say what they've been thinking," Dean said.

President Bush's re-election campaign is expected to file finance reports showing $27 million to $30 million for the three-month period. That amount is certain to dwarf the totals of the Democratic contenders, though Bush started months after his rivals.

Dean raised about $2.6 million in the first quarter, lagging far behind then-money leaders John Edwards and John Kerry. They each took in about $7 million from January through March.