Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Anatomy of a whisper campaign

There's apparently been something of a whispering campaign going on behind the scenes with respect to Howard Dean. It goes something like this: Dean got a medical deferment during Vietnam (classified 1-Y) because of an unfused vertebrae. He then went off and skied for 80 days in Aspen. Implication: Dean used his money to buy a medical deferment and then went off and partied for three months while other bright young American boys died in the mud of Vietnam. There's been some talk about this on the Dean Coffeehouse mailing list (a mailing list set up by the Dean campaign for Dean supporters to share thoughts on the campaign). Here's what people have been able to determine so far: 1) Dean did get a 1-Y deferment. This kind of deferment means that the individual is draftable only in times of declared war. Vietnam was not a declared war. 2) Dean's condition was apparently caused by a back injury as a youth and has caused him chronic, though not necessarily severe, back problems for years. It may explain why he sometimes seems a little stiff when he walks around. 3) This medical deferment does not mean that Dean was infirm at the time he got it. It only meant that he was at increased risk for infirmity if he were put through the physical exertion of humping it through the delta. The army generally didn't want to take people like this unless it was necessary because they didn't want to be saddled with the medical expense if he did become infirm. 4) Since Dean was not infirm, there was no physical reason why he couldn't engage in activities like skiing. Admittedly, with his condition, it may not have been the wisest thing to do (one bad fall and he could have been seriously crippled for life). But then college age men are not always known for having an abundance of wisdom. Conclusion: For now I am satisfied that there is no evidence that Dean got any special treatment. That does not, of course, mean that his political opponents won't try to use this against him. In fact, one of the mailing list posters commented that the same kind of whisper campaign was spread around against William Weld during his run for U.S. Senate. Guess who was opponent at the time? John Kerry. In other words, just because it is a whisper campaign don't assume that it is coming exclusively from the Republicans. We need to watch out for this one folks. It will pop up again repeatedly if Dean becomes a serious contender. Fortunately, the Bush camp would have a hard time making an up front attack on grounds like this because that would open up the whole question of Bush and Cheney's actions during that time. However, that won't prevent them from using it to smear Dean behind the scenes. Example push-poll question: Q - Would you vote for Dean if you found out that he got a medical deferment from the Vietnam draft because he allegedly had a bad back but that he went on a three month skiing vacation in Aspen soon afterward? Update: This topic has come up over on the unofficial dean2004 blog. Someone in the comments area said that an unfused vertebrae could be a liability when it comes to hauling around heavy loads (like the packs soldiers carry) but that it does not limit mobility and that exercise, like skiiing, might actually strengthen the muscles and reduce the risk of injury. I have no medical background so I can't confirm this one way or the other. But I might have been wrong about my previous assessment that skiiing was an unwise thing for Dean to do.


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