COLUMBIA, South Carolina--It could have been worse.
Saturday night's tossed salad of nine Democratic presidential candidates and their 60-second thoughts on war, peace and other things might have occurred in a state that a Democratic presidential candidate has a prayer of winning. Fortunately, the event of dueling sound bites will not affect next year's outcome here, where the last successful Democratic presidential candidate was Jimmy Carter, seven elections ago.
The six serious candidates must endure these events until caucuses and primaries weed out the unserious. Carol Moseley Braun is trying to use as a stepping stone to the presidency the ambassadorship to New Zealand, where she went after failing to be re-elected to the U.S. Senate from a state, Illinois, that has elected only one Republican--her 1998 opponent--to the Senate in the last eight elections. The Rev. Al Sharpton, theologian and thespian, offers his career in the street theater of perpetual New York City protest as his claim to presidential considerations. Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only presidential candidate to have presided over the bankruptcy of a major American city? (Cleveland, where he was mayor from 1977 to 1979.) His big idea Saturday night was to ``get the profit out of health care,'' which certainly would change the incentives to provide health care.
Of the serious candidates, one certainty is that Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, will not be elected Mr. Congeniality by the other members of this moveable feast of political maneuvering. Or Mr. Consistency.
It was perhaps severe for Sen. John Kerry's campaign to accuse Dean of ``pathological recklessness with the facts,'' but Dean has been wrong or tricky with some accusations against fellow candidates, on matters ranging from the war to taxes. And the day Baghdad fell, Dean said of Saddam's fate, ``I suppose that's a good thing.'' But Saturday night ``suppose'' had been supplanted by Dean's being ``delighted'' that Saddam is gone.
Delighted, but he fears Iraq will now be more dangerous to the United States. He also has said America ``won't always have the strongest military.'' But here he said ``no commander in chief would ever, and I am no exception, willingly allow our military to shrink.'' Got that?
Dean, who says he represents ``the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,'' may have become inebriated by the rapturous reception he has received from his party's left-wing and antiwar activist cadre. Florida Sen. Bob Graham introduced himself as from ``the electable wing of the Democratic Party.''