Gephardt Draws Dean Blood Over Medicare
Dick Gephardt may have finally found a way to slow down the Howard Dean juggernaut. In a campaign swing yesterday in Iowa, Gephardt dragged out comments made by Dean when he was head of the National Governors Association in 1995, wherein Dean echoed to a degree attacks by the GOP at the time on Medicare.
Moving to blunt a surge in the Iowa polls by a presidential campaign rival, Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri mounted his first aggressive attack on Howard Dean today, accusing him of siding with Republicans in calling for reduced spending on Medicare and Social Security during the 1990's.
Standing before a crowd of union members, Mr. Gephardt said in particular that in 1995, while he and other Democrats were fighting to protect both programs, Dr. Dean, who was then governor of Vermont, supported the efforts of a new Republican majority in Congress to curtail their growth.
Making his point plain, Mr. Gephardt linked Dr. Dean to Newt Gingrich, who was reviled by Democrats as speaker of the House, and produced several quotations in which Dr. Dean described Medicare as "one of the worst federal programs ever" and "one of the worst things that ever happened."
"This," Mr. Gephardt told cheering supporters, "is not what we stand for as Democrats."
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Dr. Dean did not dispute that he had criticized Medicare and Social Security, but said he had never called for ending them. He said his rivals were simply jealous of his momentum in the polls, an accusation that Mr. Gephardt denied.
"You'll see that Howard Dean's beliefs about Medicare extend beyond merely disliking it," Mr. Gephardt said. "He's actually advocated cutting it and turning it into a wholly managed care program. And that's something that I will never agree to."
Dean’s campaign responded with a lame defense, unable to deny what Gephardt claimed Dean actually said, but decrying that Gephardt attacked Dean for saying it.
However, Gephardt wasn’t the only competitor who tagged Dean yesterday for something Dean said that was questionable.
That criticism stemmed from a CNN appearance on Wednesday in which Dr. Dean, asked by the interviewer about Israel's assassination of Hamas militants, said, "There is a war going on in the Middle East, and members of Hamas are soldiers in that war, and therefore it seems to me that they are going to be casualties if they are going to make war."
Mr. Kerry pounced on those remarks today, arguing that they were evidence of Dr. Dean's lack of understanding of Middle East affairs. "Hamas militants are not soldiers in a war — they are terrorists who need to be stopped," Mr. Kerry said.
In response, Dr. Dean said: "Obviously I oppose terrorism. Obviously Hamas are terrorists. The reason I answered the way I did is because it was a way of saying the assassination policy against Hamas is justified."
Kerry, like Gephardt, may have found a way to gradually undermine voters’ faith in Dean’s ability to handle foreign affairs, when he brings up the argument that Bush has proven that on-the-job training is no longer an option in this new post 9-11 world.
"One remark like this from the lips of a president would send the peace process into a tailspin and endanger innocent lives," Kerry said. "George Bush has shown that the presidency is no place for on the job training -- now Howard Dean has proved it."
Kerry said, “Dean insults the memory of every innocent man, woman, and child killed by these suicidal murderers. Hamas militants are not soldiers in a war — they are terrorists who need to be stopped.”
Frankly, the comments by Dean, during the Gingrich ascendancy, are bad. Even though Dean is a doctor, any seasoned policy person in this field knows that managed care is not an option in many parts of the country, even back in 1995. Worse yet, to malign Medicare as one of the worst federal programs ever" and "one of the worst things that ever happened" is unfair, wrong, and not cognizant of the benefits Medicare had made in improving the lives of seniors for decades.
Dean’s campaign will see more and more of this unearthing of past statements and hammering about current statements. But for the Dean folks to try and dismiss this as nothing more than “tag-teaming” as Joe Trippi said yesterday against the front-runner is a little too dismissive.
And Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, said "the Washington tag team" was ganging up on Dean because of his meteoric rise and grass-roots appeal. He predicted it would backfire. "This has a lot more to do with what's happening in the polls now than with anything that happened in 1995," Trippi said.
Dean slammed a major federal program that had helped millions of seniors in the run-up to the GOP-led shutdown of the federal government in 1995. Aside from questioning the content of the remarks, the timing sucked as well, when a Democratic president was fighting for his life. And Gephardt seized on this yesterday.
Saying there were "very real differences" between him and Dean, Gephardt took a line Dean has used throughout the campaign, that he represents the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and turned it against the former governor, saying Dean was with the GOP during a crucial battle in the 104th Congress, just after Republicans came to power.
"1995 was the time for the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to be counted," Gephardt said. "I led House Democrats as we joined with President Clinton and we stopped the Medicare cuts."
Gephardt will keep using this over and over. The Deanies had better be ready for more of this, and to do a better job than this. If not, there will be gradual reconsideration of support for Dean by the base constituencies in the party.