First contender declares for 2004

First contender declares for 2004

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

While the reticent Al Gore remains largely invisible, but still the official front runner, and a host of other Democrats tapdance on the sidelines, sniffing the wind, one has flatly declared he’s running for the White House in 2004.

That early contender is Howard Dean, governor of Vermont. Unlike his uncommitted, poll-watching competition, Dean has declared some definite positions on national issues.

Dean talked about his campaign with Hugo Young, a columnist for the British newspaper, The Guardian. He seems to have gotten little, if any, U.S. press.

Young said Dean may be just the one to remind Americans that there is something other than what Young termed “Bush’s incoherent nationalism and vested interest economics” to consider.

Dean says he is much more conservative on fiscal matters than Bush is. He has had a balanced budget in Vermont for 11 years. Bush has quickly eliminated a budget surplus and boosted the national debt to unpayable proportions.

“This federal government,” Dean said, “is no more responsible than Argentina.” No Republican president has balanced the budget since Richard Nixon.

Dean stands firmly opposed to federal gun control. He says gun control is a local matter. He used to oppose the death penalty, but has shifted his views to approve of it for child killers and slayers of on-duty police officers.

It was a difficult choice, he said, but “I’ve made my call and that’s what I’m going to stick with.”

Dean said he believes middle Americans “want to hear from someone who’s not timid about the direction the country should take, and is not about nuances and shades of difference.”

The Vermont governor is a medical doctor and has provided health insurance coverage for more than 90 percent of Vermonters, including children. He says he knows how to do the same thing for all Americans and believes a health insurance program and a balanced budget could be winning initiatives on the national stage.

He differs sharply from Bush in the area of foreign policy. Dean has visited 60 countries whereas Bush, before he took over the White House, had hardly been anywhere. Consequently, Dean has a much different world view than Bush.

“Bush has said we shouldn’t be engaged in nation building,” Dean said. “I think we must.” He opposes an invasion of Iraq unless Bush can show, as Kennedy did in the case of Cuba, that weapons of mass destruction are a real and immediate presence in Saddam Hussein’s country. He also said Bush should make clear to the American public that this would entail a decade-long, nation-building commitment.

“This president,” he said of Bush, “has the capacity to do more harm to America than any other individual. For the first time, we have a man in the White House who can neither manage economic affairs prudently nor foreign affairs wisely.”

Dean doesn’t have the big bucks for a national campaign at this point, and he comes from the wrong kind of state. Yet Carter and Clinton made it, even though they hailed from states with relatively small constituencies. There’s also the fact that four of the five past presidents have been governors.

If Dean can get the ear of the U.S. voter, he may just be the one to persuade the electorate that the Republic is not yet dead.

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