Liberals pin hopes on Dean
September 12, 2003 | Page 5
FOR MANY progressives, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is seen as the realistic choice in the 2004 presidential election. Dean supports abortion rights for women, gay civil unions, an expanded national health care system and improvements in education. And he opposed George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. But dig a little deeper into what Dean stands for, and activists will find a different story. KATHERINE DWYER and ELIZABETH SCHULTE explain why Dean doesn't deserve the support of the left.
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HOWARD DEAN says himself that he's surprised to be viewed as the progressive alternative in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. He told the Washington Post he thought it was "pathetic" that he's even considered a progressive. "It shows how far to the right this country has lurched," he said.
Dean's origins have more in common with George Bush than the ordinary people he and the Democrats claim to stand for. Dean comes from a long line of stockbrokers--his family put the "Dean" in Dean Witter Reynolds. He worked on Wall Street himself--between his career as a ski bum in Aspen, Colo., and becoming a doctor. And he spent his childhood shuttling between "the big house" in the Hamptons, his parents' posh Park Avenue apartment and exclusive private schools.
"The Deans--who were, of course, Republicans--belonged to the super-exclusive Maidstone golf club, which for decades had no minority or Jewish members," Time magazine reported. Before going to Yale--also Bush's alma mater--Dean attended the St. Georges School in Middletown, R.I., described by Time as "a boarding school that today costs $30,000 a year and maintains its own 69-foot sloop for student boating."
Dean is given credit for being a liberal in large part because of his 11 years as governor of Vermont, with the state's reputation for being a bastion of progressive politics. But talk to Vermont activists, and you'll hear another story.
Dean proved to be Corporate America's best friend in Vermont. "We would meet privately with him three to four times a year to discuss our issues," said John O'Kane, a manager at IBM in Vermont, "and his secretary of commerce would call me once a week just to see how things were going." Yet on several occasions, Dean refused to meet with IBM workers.
Dean is viewed as an environmentalist because of his work around conservation in Vermont, where he helped insure the preservation of more than 1 million acres of land. Yet this achievement pales in comparison with what Dean did to weaken environmental agencies and open up Vermont to development. While in office, Dean pushed for a gas pipeline that would have required clear-cutting, supported a nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and defended increased pesticide use and damaging mining operations.
Dean is proud of his record of implementing welfare "reform"--including workfare, which forced the state's recipients to work for their benefits--earlier than Bill Clinton did on a national scale. Dean has promised to repeal some of Bush's tax cuts to the rich and to institute a broader health care system. But the truth is that Dean's real priority is balancing the budget.
"I'm fiscally conservative, much more than the president--I don't believe in borrow-and-spend," Dean told one interviewer. "Social justice comes from a balanced budget." Translation: More attacks on working-class people.
One of Dean's ideas is to raise the retirement age to 70 in order to take pressure off of the Social Security system. On many other issues as well, Dean's stands are far from radical:
Health care--Dean supports expanding health care, but his proposal is much more limited than even Bill Clinton's--a plan that Dean found "overly ambitious." Dean promises to expand existing programs to cover those under age 25--and give tax incentives to businesses to insure workers over the age of 25. Of course, that could well leave out unemployed workers over the age of 25, and part-time workers--who make up a huge section of the 42 million Americans with no health coverage today. And Dean's plan doesn't insure full coverage for health care needs.
So when Dean assures Corporate America that his plan is no "big-government-run program," we should believe him. As governor of Vermont, he instituted a program that resulted in less than 2 percent of children in the state going without health coverage.
However, Dean's plan, which required each family to pay a $50 monthly premium for government-subsidized health care, relies on private health care providers for vital services. And since providers can chose whether or not to accept the plan, many simply refused to offer needed services. And to top it off, in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Dean called for cuts in Medicare.
Criminal justice--A few years ago, Dean shifted his position to become pro-death penalty. In 2000, Dean supported the National Governors Association policy calling for increased spending on the war on drugs.
Civil liberties--Dean opposes aspects of the civil-liberties-shredding USA PATRIOT Act. But in the wake of September 11, he told reporters that the attacks would "require a re-evaluation of the importance of some of our specific civil liberties."
Dean went on to say: "I think there are going to be debates about what can be said where, what can be printed where, what kind of freedom of movement people have and whether it's okay for a policeman to ask you for your ID just because you're walking down the street." Dean claims that he hadn't really thought through whether the Bill of Rights should be altered to preserve security.
Gay rights--Although he stops short of supporting gay marriage, Dean supported legislation in Vermont that grants legal equality to gays--a major victory for activists who fought hard to expand gay rights. However, Dean is against instituting gay civil unions on a federal level if he becomes president, claiming that gay rights are a state issue.
Israel/Palestine--Dean is to the right of Bush on Israel and Palestine. He regularly condemns Palestinian violence, yet never mentions Israeli violence toward Palestinians.
"He went further than even some of the most pro-Israel elements in the Bush administration, like Paul Wolfowitz, who wanted to at least include some vague restrictions like pushing Israel to curtail new settlements and accept a timetable to establish a Palestinian state," commented Ahmed Nassef, editor-in-chief of Muslim WakeUp! on Alternet.
At best, Dean represents the Democratic Party's recognition that it has lost the support of many liberals--and an attempt to pull them back into the fold in 2004. But Dean is certain to move rightward once he has won the support of progressives and knows that he can count on their votes--in the hopes of appearing more "electable" to the political establishment.
It's certainly understandable why Dean's willingness to criticize the Bush administration--as well as the meek leadership of his own party--is appealing to liberals and even radicals. But talk is cheap. Dean's record shows that we can't trust him to be a real alternative to the pro-corporate, pro-war policies that both the Republicans and Democrats stand for.
When Dean says it's pathetic that he's considered the progressive in this election, we should take him at his word. The struggle to stop Bush will only be built by organizing a movement from below--not putting our hopes in Howard Dean.
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The antiwar candidate?
MUCH OF Dean's popularity among liberals and a section of the left comes from his opposition to Bush's war in Iraq. But Dean has never been consistently antiwar. "I don't even consider myself a dove," Dean told Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post.
Dean supported the 1991 Gulf War. He also supported the U.S. war on Afghanistan. During debates over whether to invade Iraq last year, Dean said, "We will reserve our right as Americans to defend ourselves, and we will go into Iraq" if Saddam Hussein refused to meet the 60-day deadline to comply with United Nations resolutions.
Dean opposed the invasion when it began. But he supports the U.S. occupation of Iraq--and in fact has criticized Bush for not sending enough troops. "Now that we're there, we can't leave," Dean told NPR host Bob Edwards. "We cannot allow chaos or a fundamentalist regime in Iraq because it could be fertile ground for al-Qaeda. The first thing I would do is bring in 40,000 to 50,000 other troops...It seems to me that what we need is some expertise from people who know how to police countries that are in some chaos and who understand how to administer and build the institutions of democracy."
Dean supports the war on terrorism--and the military buildup needed to fight it. "Homeland Security starts abroad," proclaims his Web site. "Governor Dean would increase military, intelligence and police focus on offensive operations against terrorists operating oversees." Dean recently warned, "The United States has to take a much harder line on Iran and Saudi Arabia because they're funding terrorism."
Antiwar activists can't back a candidate that supports the U.S. government's brutal occupation of Iraq. Nor can they support one that backs Bush's war on terrorism--a never-ending war on the world waged under the cover of "national security."