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Bookmarking Dean on the issues

Itís amazing how much you can learn about a presidential candidate just by paying attention to what he says. Howard Deanís campaign autobiography, Winning Back America, isnít going to garner any literary awards (see "Donít Quote Me," page 14). But if political reporters had read it as soon as it came out, in late November (official publication date: December 3), they might not have been quite so surprised by the former Vermont governorís recent attempts to explain himself.

For instance, political junkies sat up and took notice on Christmas Day, when Sarah Schweitzer reported in the Boston Globe that Dean had decided to be more open about his Christianity. In her lead, she described Dean as someone "who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state." She added that Dean had told the Globe that he was "a committed believer in Jesus Christ," and that he expected to talk about religion more as his campaign progressed.

Schweitzer had a legitimate scoop. Even as her story came out, the New Republic was on the newsstands with a cover story by Franklin Foer about "Howard Deanís Religion Problem." Wrote Foer: "Howard Dean is one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history."

Yet Dean had already addressed religion in his book. On pages 82 and 83, he writes: "Iím a fairly religious person though I donít attend church or temple. Iím a Christian.... I pray just about every day. I have a prayer for everyone who is in trouble. I also believe that good and evil exist in the world, and I thoroughly disapprove of people who use religion to inflict pain on others."

On January 8, the Washington Postís Jim VandeHei wrote a piece that made much of a Dean statement linking his support for civil unions for gay and lesbian couples to his Christian beliefs. VandeHei quoted Dean as saying, "From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people." VandeHei explained, "Dean has been expanding on his religious views in a series of conversations with reporters, but his remarks Tuesday and Wednesday were the first time he has talked about how faith has influenced his policymaking."

Significant? Yes. News? Well, not exactly. Hereís what Dean wrote on page 157 of Winning Back America: "I believe that all people are created equal, certainly in the eyes of God. Therefore, they should be equal in the eyes of the law. Thatís why I knew I had to work for civil unions."

Then there is the matter of middle-class tax cuts, which Dean had allegedly opposed. On January 7, Michael Kranish reported in the Boston Globe that Dean was getting ready to switch his position. Wrote Kranish: "After months of touting his plan to repeal all of President Bushís tax cut, former Vermont governor Howard Dean is moving toward embracing a tax relief package for middle-income Americans, which would amount to a major revamping of a centerpiece of his Democratic presidential campaign."

A "major revamping"? Well, Kranish was correct in noting that Dean, in public appearances, had regularly called for full repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts. Indeed, two days after Kranishís piece appeared, Globe columnist Scot Lehigh had some fun at Deanís expense in a piece headlined DEAN FINDS RELIGION ON TAX CUTS.

But here, too, Dean had paved the way in his book more than a month earlier. Hereís what he says on page 147: "There are four basic areas of support for working families: health care, help with kids, retirement, and tax relief." Page 150: "The fourth area where I think government has to help working families is with tax relief." Dean offers no specifics; in fact, he still hasnít. But the point is that though the Kranish piece may have represented a reversal when compared to Deanís standard rhetoric, it was perfectly in keeping with what the candidate had said in his book.

Issue Date: January 16 - 22, 2004
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