Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Integrity

Howard Dean appeared on last nights Charlie Rose and gave what I think was his best one-on-one interview yet. He seemed much more relaxed and even seemed to win over Rose despite the latter going at him with some pretty tough questions. One of the most interesting moments in the interview was when Rose pressed Dean on the whole "Democratic Wing" stuff. Dean made the point that I have been making for some time that his claim to representing the "Democratic Wing" has more to do with his determination to fight for core Democratic principals (universal health care, union support, etc.) rather than any broad-based support for leftist positions. It's a call to action rather than a statement of position on any individual issue. Rose then pressed him on the question of whether Dean, by criticizing the performance of the rest of the Democrat party, including his fellow candidates for the nomination, was, in effect, calling into question the integrity of those candidates. Dean stumbled a little bit on this point because he obviously did not want to get into a "gotcha" game (Rose, to his credit, admitted that it was a "gotcha" type question). But he eventually recovered when he pointed out that the problem for the other candidates was not whether they lacked integrity or not but whether they were perceived to lack integrity (I'm paraphrasing here). The point being that if your position on an issue appears to change depending on who you are talking to or the tenor of the times (war is popular, so you support war ... war becomes less popular, so you start criticizing war) it will be much harder to defend yourself against a charge of waffling. Sticking with one particular position despite the criticism is the best defense against criticism about integrity. Dean mentioned that this is probably the main reason why the American people perceive Bush as having integrity, even if they don't necessarily agree with him on the issues. Dean specifically pointed out that Joe Lieberman has been consistently for the military action in Iraq and is thus safe from criticism on this point. He did not name names, but it was obvious he was implying that Kerry would be in trouble because his support for the action in Iraq has been to equivocal. I don't think Dean is saying that Kerry has no integrity on this issue or that he is simply voting based on where the polls are. I think he is saying that Kerry does not have a strong enough opinion one way or the other on the matter and it shows in his subsequent statements on the issue. If we are to win over the muddled middle then we need a spokesman who will assert his position without equivocation, whether it be one way or the other. It's the expression of uncertainty that turns the voters off, much more so than the statement of a specific opinion.

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