DEAN INVITES MORE SCRUTINY BY SWITCHING KEY STANCES
This article is in conjunction with my previous posting on John Kerry's lies. It seems that Doctor Dean is also inviting more scutiny for his own (ahem) political flip-flopping and less than honest Politricks. Again, everything that is said about Dean and Kerry are EVEN MORE TRUE for all the other leading Presidential Conmen including: Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards, and Baby Bush himself.
Politicians, ya gotta hate 'em.
Dean Invites More Scrutiny By Switching Key Stances
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 30, 2003; Page A01
Howard Dean, who sells himself as the presidential campaign's straightest shooter, is starting to throw voters some curves.
As he transitions from insurgent to the man to beat in the Democratic primary, Dean is modifying or switching his positions on several political issues. In recent weeks, Dean, the former Vermont governor, has softened his support for lifting the trade embargo on Cuba -- an important issue in voter-rich Florida -- and suggested he might opt out of the public campaign finance system he endorsed weeks earlier.
Dean also has backed off his support for raising the age at which senior citizens can collect their full Social Security benefits, a change that would save the government money by trimming monthly payments to thousands of older Americans. Dean initially denied he ever supported raising the retirement age, but later admitted he did.
While it's not unusual for politicians to flip-flop, massage or tailor their positions to placate politically important audiences, Dean is inviting greater scrutiny and criticism by running as a truth-teller who doesn't bend to prevailing political winds, campaign strategists said.
With Dean pulling ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and surging nationally, several rival campaigns are gearing up to hammer him for switching positions over the years for what they consider purely political reasons. They hope to dilute Dean's appeal as the anti-politician in the crowd .
"He has sold himself as the straight-shooting candidate, the truth-teller, the one who will say what's hard and unpopular," said Jim Jordan, campaign manager for presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "In truth, he's a very crafty politician, very calculating."
Dean said what differentiates him is his willingness to speak his mind, change his positions and admit when he's wrong. "They won't beat me by claiming I switched positions," Dean said in an interview Wednesday. "They better come out with better ideas." Dean said he has no qualms about "changing his mind" when facts warrant it.
Others disagree. Dean is "raising the bar" for consistency and truthfulness by campaigning as a straight-talker, said Rick Davis, who managed the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2000. McCain campaigned aboard the original "Straight Talk Express."
"The danger is you . . . trade political reality for straight-talking, and it comes back and bites you," Davis said. He should know: McCain, he said, took a hit when he chose politics over principle and refused before South Carolina's primary to speak his mind in firm opposition to the flying of the Confederate battle flag in that state. Davis said it was the "biggest mistake" of the campaign because it made McCain look a typical politician.
After the campaign, McCain took the extraordinary step of going back to the state to declare publicly he opposed the flying of the flag.
So far, Dean has largely escaped criticism for his new positions, but he expects his rivals to come after him hard during next week's debate in New Mexico.
Dean appears most vulnerable on Social Security, the popular retirement program for seniors, according to Democratic strategists. Because seniors are more likely to vote than younger Americans, it's hard to win national elections by calling for reductions in Social Security payments. That's why it's known as the third rail of politics -- if a candidate touches it, he dies.
As governor, Dean endorsed raising the retirement age to 70 as a prudent step toward balancing the budget. And this June on NBC's "Meet the Press," Dean again referred to the age at which full Social Security benefits can be collected, saying he "would entertain taking the retirement age to 68." Currently, the age at which one can get full retirement benefits ranges from 65 years and two months to 67 years, depending on when you were born.
But during a candidate debate two months later, Dean denied he ever supported an increase in the retirement age. Now Dean said he misspoke in August and is opposed to raising the retirement age at all. Dean said his campaign has "crunched the numbers" and found better ways to protect the long-term health of Social Security than raising the retirement age.
Dean is also considering becoming the first Democrat ever to opt out of the public campaign finance system, which provides candidates taxpayers' money in exchange for limiting their spending to $45 million during the primary.
In March, when Kerry was considering opting out and spending personal money, Dean said it would be a "huge issue" if any Democrat made such a move because most primary voters "believe in campaign finance reform." At the time, he voiced his strong support for the public system. In the interview Wednesday, Dean said he was talking specifically about Kerry spending his own money, as opposed to cash raised from individual donors. "We are faced with a different situation," he said.
Dean is raising more money than any other Democratic candidate and much more than he ever expected, so he is toying with opting out. This would allow him to raise unlimited funds for the race, which many Democrats said he could use to more than offset negative publicity from accusations of flip-flopping on the matter.
In the interview, Dean said he has not made a final decision, but if raising unlimited funds from "small donors" can help him defeat Bush, he will consider it. "We'll do whatever it takes to win the nomination," he said.
Last weekend, Dean shifted his position on the trade embargo against Cuba. Dean, who had supported rolling back the embargo to foment human rights improvements, said he has become convinced such a move would be unwise. Cuban Americans, who generally support the embargo, are an important voting bloc in several states, including Florida. Bush won four out of every five Cuban American votes in 2000, but Democrats are hoping to chip away at that support before the election.
Dean said his new position reflects nothing more than his pragmatism. He said Fidel Castro's recent crackdown on dissidents in Cuba makes it impossible for the embargo to be lifted anytime soon without it looking as though the United States is "rewarding" his oppressive regime.
At several recent rallies, Democrats in attendance seemed enamored with his tell-it-like-it-is approach. It's unclear how they will react if it starts to appear that Dean is shifting positions on important issues as campaign finance and Social Security. His campaign advisers think it only enhances his image as an atypical politician willing to adjust his thinking to new realities.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
See also "Howard Dean: Hawk in Dove's Clothing? " by Stephen Zunes
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