No one who's glad that George Bush is president can insist with a straight face that articulateness is a requirement for a successful president. But I'll take Bush's verbal fumbles over the disco-ball of incoherence that is Howard Dean's brain.
Lest you think I'm being unfair, let me first admit that I myself am prone to the occasional embarrassing misstatement. For example, I used to produce a public television series, and one of the conceits of the show was that we invited only serious authors and scholars to participate. In one meeting, a colleague suggested we invite former New York Mayor Ed Koch on the show. I quickly, and I admit haughtily, objected: "He doesn't really have the sort of academic pedicure we're looking for, now does he?"
To this day my friends make fun of me about it. They ask whether I think such-and-such scholar has nice toenails, whether I'm going to get my corns looked at before my book comes out, etc.
In other words, I can sympathize when stupid things inadvertently fly out of your mouth.
But it's one thing for me to blurt "pedicure" instead of "pedigree." It's something else entirely if I were to stand my ground, defend the relevance of foot hygiene in highbrow debate and question the intelligence of those who would second-guess my stance on scholarly feet. That, in effect, is what Howard Dean does.
Sure, he often just flatly denies reality as when he insists, despite a crystal clear record indicating otherwise, that he wasn't a supporter of NAFTA or that he ever said Saddam was a threat.
But what's far more interesting is when Dean's explanations are weirder than the original gaffe, as when he recently explained his statement that we shouldn't "prejudge" Osama bin Laden's guilt. Dean clarified that he was sure Osama would get the death penalty, but a presidential candidate should stand for the "rule of law." In other words, Dean was saying, I have to assume he's innocent but whether he is or not, he's going to fry.
On the issue of religion, Dean is as legible as fistful of spaghetti splattered on the wall. For months Dean said he didn't "think religion should be part of American policy" and that the Democrats must move away from "having our elections in the South based on race, guns, God and gays."
Then, when his secularism became a political liability, particularity in South Carolina, he started talking about God. "I am gradually getting more comfortable to talk about religion in ways I did not talk about before." But, he explained, he would only talk about God in the South.