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Howard Dean Is Not Smart
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Forty-Six
by Brian S. Wise
09 January 2004Howard Dean

What else could it mean when a presidential candidate reduces 9/11 to a matter of tabloid fodder?

Interesting that Nominee Dean has, excepting some internet chatter and a few cable news asides, gotten a pass for saying the sort of things that would have gotten Nominee Bush tied to an ant hill.

Here’s a fun mental exercise: Imagine the tables are turned and we are now entering the fourth year of the Gore administration.  Now imagine that in the middle of his campaign (let’s pick a random Republican and call him frontrunner), Rudolph Guiliani contends that Osama bin Laden, of all people, is entitled to the same presumption of innocence we would afford a pickpocket.  Or that, according to a popular rumor going around, President Gore had foreknowledge of the Tragedies and did nothing to prevent them.  Or that America isn’t safer with Saddam Hussein in captivity, and for that matter his removal may only be of tangential benefit to the Iraqi people.  These were, of course, all recent Deanisms. 

At issue: What’s Howard Dean’s problem?  The circumstances: When asked two simple questions – Should Osama bin Laden be tried in the United States? and, Should Osama bin Laden receive the death penalty? – Dean explained that he couldn’t make a judgment as to the fate of bin Laden before a jury does.  Fascinating, given his ability to pass judgment on anything and everything else, from the performance of the President, to the health of the economy, to the viability of various programs and theories, et cetera.

And speaking of theories, have you heard The Theory?  Dean on NPR: “The most interesting theory I have heard so far, which is nothing more than a theory, I can’t think – it can’t be proved, is that [President Bush] was warned [about 9/11] ahead of time by the Saudis.  Now, who knows what the situation is.”  Later, when asked by Fox News Channel to clarify the point, Dean said he advanced The Theory because “there are people who believe that.  We don’t know what happened on 9/11.”

Actually, the only people who believe the president had foreknowledge of the Tragedies and did nothing to stop them are the same mulch-brained jackasses who believe the World Trade Center collapse was just the modern equivalent of the Reichstag fire, and that the president has invoked the memory of the twin towers to bring the United States a new, Republican Nazism.  (Speaking of which, if you’re that sort of liberal – of the MoveOn persuasion – do everyone a favor and throw yourself down a flight of stairs and get it over with, already.)  Are we seeing now that Nominee Dean is one of these?  And if not, why would he even say such a thing?
Senator Kerry suggested a candidate best answers the questions by saying “Yes and yes,” and leaving it at that. Representative Gephardt went one better, saying the next president must have “steady hands,” which is difficult when every new day forces upon the Dean camp the need to clarify half of the things said the day before.  Gephardt is talking about intellectual and emotional steadiness, and he’s right to a point without saying what must be said, namely that the longer this sort of nonsense goes on, the more likely it is that Howard Dean is … well … not smart.
An unkind thought, one of those accusations levied at every Republican of distinction since Lincoln, and rarely at Democrats.  Those who took such sensational delight in outlining the supposed flaws in George W. Bush’s intellectual acumen have remained oddly silent regarding Dean.  Now, you can say whatever you want about the President – the fact is, his touch is much too soft on everything but terrorism and he has a lot of bad ideas – but no serious, thoughtful man ever answers the 9/11 question by lending credence to a rumor, no matter what qualifying statements are slipped in there.
Look: There are very good cases to be made for frivolity, incumbent bashing and partisan cheerleading while on the campaign trail, and clearly there is a place for silliness (as Al Sharpton has so vividly displayed).  But not on the back of the Tragedies.  That Dean was willing to reduce 9/11 to a matter of tabloid fodder means uncomfortable things, namely that nothing – not decency, not a respect for the dead and those left behind, not even the fact that, as president, Dean would be presiding over three pieces of hallowed ground he seems to not take too seriously – stands above frivolity, incumbent bashing and partisan cheerleading.  Which is unfortunate, and unintelligent.

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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