George Will

WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean is no fool. He is, however, not much of a thinker. His talk flows as rapidly as a mountain brook, but is no deeper than one of those.

He is the candidate of America's professorate and others whose strongest passion is as much aesthetic as political -- intellectual contempt for George W. Bush. But Dean's bantam-rooster pugnacity is not unlike Bush's shoulders-squared jauntiness that critics consider an enraging swagger. Bush's imperturbable certitude infuriates Dean's supporters because they believe it arises not from reflection but from reflex. Actually, Dean really resembles his supporters' idea of Bush.

Appearing on ``Hardball'' with the human Gatling gun, Chris Matthews, Dean said that in terms of legal rights there is no practical difference between same-sex civil unions and marriages. Matthews: ``So why are we quibbling over a name?'' Dean: ``Because marriage is very important to a lot of people who are pretty religious.''

So, the argument about the public meaning of marriage is merely a semantic quibble important only to the ``pretty religious''? Dean has said of his faith that ``I don't think it informs my politics,'' and that he became a Congregationalist ``because I had a big fight with a local Episcopal church about 25 years ago over a bike path.'' Fine. His faith, whatever it is, is his business and no disqualification for the presidency. But his qualifications supposedly include a searching intellect. Where is the evidence?

Asked by Matthews whether he supports state right-to-work laws protecting the right of workers not to join a union, Dean said no. But he also said ``I very much believe that states ought to have the right to recognize -- to organize their own laws. So I'm not likely as president ... to order states to change them.'''

Order states? Imagine the media derision if Bush ever suggested such an understanding of federalism.

In his next breath, Dean said that if Congress sends to his presidential desk legislation denying states that right that he ``very much'' believes they ought to have -- the right to have right-to-work laws -- ``I'd sign it in an instant.'' This is the intellectuals' candidate?

If Osama bin Laden is captured, Dean says ``it doesn't make a lot of difference'' whether he is tried in America or the International Criminal Court. After all, ``we are allowing the Bosnian war criminals to be tried'' in the Hague. Question: Is it relevant that the Bosnians' crimes were not committed in America?

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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