Politics & Policy

Dems, Behind Closed Doors

What are they saying about Dr. Dean?

Howard Dean is great and redolent spice on the political scene. He has been rebuked by senior figures in his own party for his string of recent remarks in which he likened Republicans to poisonous snakes, never mind that he quickly added that he was not opposed to all poisonous snakes. Exactly what those senior Democrats said to Dr. Dean at their closed-door lunch has not been divulged, but we can imagine the scene . . .

One (anonymous) junior senator thought to break the ice by quoting Dean’s statement that many Republicans “have not made an honest living in their lives,” and then adding, “it all depends what you mean by ‘an honest living.’” Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska aborted all laughter by saying that in his view, all senators, even Republican senators, “make an honest living.”

Dr. Dean was then confronted by Senator Nelson, who wanted an explanation of the charge that the Republicans were made up of “white Christians” who are “not very friendly to different kinds of people. They’re a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same, and they all look the same.” Senator Nelson said he knew personally that Republicans “from the other side of town” had welcomed into the Nebraska GOP two Tutsis, “who said they had had long experience in dealing with diversity.”

That didn’t satisfy Dr. Dean, who, however, was interrupted, this time by Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, himself a former Democratic chairman. Senator Dodd said that he had “often made remarks” he “regretted” — but that these hadn’t caught the attention of the press because when he made the remarks, Mr. Clinton, a Democrat, was in the White House. Dr. Dean greeted that observation impatiently — “Christ, Chris, what does that have to do with it?” At this point Minority Leader Harry Reid broke in and said Senator Dodd had a point. Dr. Dean reacted dismissively: “You know, I think this is exactly what the Republicans want, and that’s a diversion.”

“Tell us what you mean by that,” Senator Nelson said.

“I’d be glad to. We haven’t had any discussions about what’s going on that’s important. What we should be focused on is how to have a decent Social Security system, how to have a strong national defense, how to have jobs in America again, how to deal with incredibly high gas prices and get a decent energy bill which actually will do something about gas prices.”

One voice in the room–it wasn’t possible to detect whose it was–said, “Howard, what are you taking about? The president has been talking about Social Security since January. What is it the press is hiding, this defense policy that Democrats are trying to get noticed? You say, ‘how to have jobs in America again’–Howard what in the hell are you talking about? Unemployment is down to five percent!” . . .

The New York Times report on this fractious meeting attempted to piece it all together. Reporter Anne Kornblut wrote, “The question of Dr. Dean’s temperament has followed him from the start of his failed presidential bid and was embodied by the infamous scream he delivered after losing the Iowa caucuses, which Republicans used to portray him as an extremist liberal.”

Intensive interrogation of Democrats who consented to talk about Dean found that on only one matter was there pretty solid agreement. The most important question is: How much money will the Democrats raise this year?

If they do better than the Republicans, Dr. Dean will be exonerated. But he can’t count on Republican donors holding back funds. As Dean might put it, even men who have not made an honest living in their lives still have money to finance their party.

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