Berkshire Eagle Online - Editorials - "The Real Howard Dean"
When Howard Dean was anointed the Democratic front-runner this week with the endorsement of Al Gore, the party's standard bearer in 2000, Republicans chortled with glee and conservative Democrats wrung their hands. Mr. Dean, the conventional wisdom has it, is a Northeastern liberal who would raise taxes, expand the welfare state and return to the timid foreign policy of the Clinton years. It is predicted he will suffer the fate of George McGovern in 1972 at the hands of the massively financed and ruthless Republican juggernaut.
The conventional wisdom has Howard Dean all wrong. In his 11 years as governor of Vermont, longer than anyone except Ethan Allen, he governed according to the blueprint laid down by his Republican predecessor, Richard Snelling. He kept income taxes low and fought the growth of the state bureaucracy, much to the annoyance of Democrats in the state Senate and liberal newspaper editors. But last year, as Massachusetts, New York and California were drowning in red ink, Vermont still had a budget surplus.
At the same time, he expanded the state's Medicaid program to cover every child whose parents lacked health insurance. He presided over a reform of education funding that forced the two dozen rich towns to share their property tax wealth -- partly fueled by the ski boom -- with the rest of the state. Vermont avoided the standardized testing trap so many other states have fallen into; students and schools are rated based on their actual classroom achievements in what are called portfolio assessments. In the election of 2000, with a progressive candidate running to his left, Mr. Dean still got 50 percent of the vote against a far-right Republican candidate with heavy backing from out of state.
Democrats lie awake at night worrying that Karl Rove will scourge Mr. Dean from coast to coast with the issues of gay marriage and the Iraq war. But Mr. Dean never supported calling it marriage, and when he signed the landmark civil unions law he framed the issue in strict civil rights terms -- the common benefits clause of the Vermont Constitution forbids extending a right to a certain group of people and denying it to another. Mr. Dean never said he thought the war wrong or immoral, only stupid. In this, his position differed very little from that of former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Mr. Dean's campaign has broken new political ground in its use of the Internet as an organizing and fund-raising tool, and the astounding amount of money he has raised from small donors testifies to the breadth and depth of his support. His rivals have tried without success to emulate him, and their attacks on him look increasingly shrill and desperate. Mr. Gore's endorsement merely confirmed Mr. Dean's front-runner status, and revealed much about the internal dynamic in the Democratic Party. Those who see it as a left-right split are only half right. By supporting the empty suit candidacy of Wesley Clark, the Clintons indicate they believe Mr. Bush cannot be beaten next year and they want to keep the field clear for Hillary in 2008. Mr. Gore thinks that's too long to wait. We agree with him there, and we share his view that Howard Dean is a more formidable threat to George W. Bush than a lot of people think.