Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Dean Method

William Saletan seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to figuring out Dean's method: when there is the perception that you are weak on something, attack your opponent as the one who is really weak. In other words, put them on the defensive. And where did Dean learn this technique? Many places, but perhaps from the master himself: George W. Bush.

Let's recap. A guy who has no foreign policy experience, opposed the war in Iraq, and went skiing after he escaped the Vietnam draft because of a bad back is calling a wartime president soft on defense. And despite cries of outrage from Republican pundits, luminaries, and party organs, he isn't letting up. Monday on Hardball, Dean said, "This president, I don't believe, has any idea how to fight terror. … This president has wasted 15 months or more doing nothing about the fact that North Korea is almost certainly a nuclear power, [and] we can't tolerate North Korea as a nuclear power." On Crossfire, Dean adviser Steve McMahon reiterated that Bush had tried to cut veterans' benefits. Coming to McMahon's aid, Democratic pugilist James Carville charged that Bush has "stretched our military to the point that we're weaker today. And he's created terror."

Where did Dean and his lieutenants get this kind of gall? Maybe from the guy they're attacking. In February 2000, Bush, a governor with no foreign policy experience, faced ex-POW John McCain in the do-or-die South Carolina Republican presidential primary. What was Bush's military record? He had joined the Texas Air National Guard to escape the Vietnam draft. [...]

Was Bush chastened by his embarrassing history? Not a bit. On Feb. 3, 2000, he staged a rally in Sumter, S.C., to trumpet his support from veterans' groups. According to firsthand reports, Bush stood by smiling as Tom Burch, the head of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, accused McCain of opposing health care for Gulf War veterans and efforts to locate POW-MIAs in Vietnam. Bush followed with a speech in which he warned, "We must have a commander-in-chief who understands the role of the military." The Los Angeles Times reported that "Bush, continuing his offensive at a news conference … then accused McCain of not doing enough for veterans suffering from ailments related to military service, such as Gulf War Syndrome." When he was asked about Burch's comments, Bush replied that the veterans who had spoken at the rally "looked at both of us and they have chosen me to be the nominee. I'm proud of that."

[...]

It's been said before that Dean and Bush share an aristocratic Yankee heritage. To the unwary, this means they're soft. Democrats learned the hard way that when it comes to politics, if not war, Bush has no shame and takes no prisoners. Now Republicans will learn the same about Dean.

If nothing else, Dean could forever bury the stereotype that north-eastern liberals are wimps.

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