Memo To: Dr. Howard Dean, presidential contender
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Meet the Press interview
To tell you the truth, Dr. Dean, when I first heard of the possibility you would run for the Democratic presidential nomination I did not take it seriously. That’s not because you are a relatively unknown ex-governor from Vermont, a small state. You can easily overcome that problem. It’s because the little bits and pieces about you that got through to me in the news media seemed to add up to an eccentricity that would not wear well in the Democratic primaries.
The reason I’ve decided you are a very serious contender is because I watched Tim Russert interview you yesterday morning on Meet the Press. And the reason I decided to watch the whole hour of the interview is that Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group said she thought you had a 70% or 80% chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination. If she saw that in you, I knew there had to be something there, and she is certainly right. I like the way you think and the way you express yourself cleanly, without reaching into the back of your head for some programmed response. You actually persuaded me that your opposition to parental notification made some sense in context, that your mixed views on gun control also made sense in context and that your support of capital punishment has taken place over a decade of agonizing, and that it is a position I can agree with. You were most impressive in your foreign policy views, with an extremely well-thought-out philosophy that stresses diplomacy over force, the exact opposite of the Bush Doctrine.
I’ve already praised Russert for a wonderful job in his interview as his tenacious questioning brought out the best in you. The Times today reported that you “equivocated on several issues,” as if this were a political no-no, but I found your complex answers to difficult questions refreshing. The American people are not going to respond to the other Democratic contenders in the field who try to decide from one day to the next what they believe. You are being compared to George McGovern in his 1972 contest against Richard Nixon and in a way the comparison is correct. McGovern was an honest man, expressing the honest concerns of a great many Americans. He lost badly in the Electoral College, but the Democratic Party did well, retaining control over the House and Senate.
I knew McGovern and liked him a lot, but his anti-Vietnam War stance was not enough to do much more than elevate that issue while his economic platform was a joke. Do you remember the McGovern “demogrant,” which would send $1000 to every American under the median income level, in hopes it would spur consumer demand and dig the economy out of the doldrums. The problem was that Nixon had gone off the gold standard in 1971 and the floating dollar was wrecking the US and the world economy. Remember “bracket creep,” as the inflation pushed ordinary workers into tax brackets originally designed for the Rockefellers?
With all due respect, Governor, I think that while your strengths are considerable and have persuaded me that they might actually carry you to the nomination, your weakness is economics. It is a problem for all the other Democratic contenders as well. The fact that you have changed your mind on so many policy issues over the years, on the other hand, tells me you do not mind telling the voters you made a mistake and will correct it. The electorate is never angry at a President who tries his best, changing course in a trial and error process. Franklin Roosevelt was the best example of a President who tried everything to dig the US economy out of the Great Depression, while Republicans on the sidelines never realized that it was the Herbert Hoover policies that brought about the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
The fact that you have 35,000 volunteers that have signed up because of your website suggests there is the possibility of a grassroots brushfire, but you will need a little help at the margin in figuring out how to grow the U.S. economy. I’m a former Democrat who voted for President Bush and might do so again next year, but I have made it a practice over the past 25 years at Polyconomics to offer advice without payment to political candidates of both major parties and to independents as well. You admitted to Russert that you are not an expert on national security and would as President call upon experts who agree with your basic philosophy. That’s hardly equivocation. The same is true of macro-economics. As a medical doctor with a successful hands-on experience as the governor of a state, you can safely make changes in your economic platform as you go along and draw upon the expertise of people who can help you manage the national economy as you have managed Vermont’s. Good luck today, which I understand is the day you officially announce your candidacy.