Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Steve Murphy, Rep. Richard Gephardt's campaign manager, this week professed to being baffled. How is it possible, he wondered, that Howard Dean's bizarre comments about Osama bin Laden attracted so little news media attention? The answer is that apart from being obscured by the holiday season, the Democratic presidential front-runner's words got lost in his own stream of unusual remarks.

Dean's post-Christmas comments that he could not suggest a penalty for the terrorist leader and author of the 9/11 catastrophe until he was judged guilty had no time to sink in before he began saying things that stunned his party's faithful. He sniped at Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe for not protecting him from the party's other candidates, and warned of his 1.5 million supporters defecting if any other Democrat is nominated for president.

Dean's holiday performance reflects the yearlong pattern by the former governor of Vermont. To characterize Dean's remarks as leftist tilt that can and will be corrected by a quick pivot to the center is a faulty diagnosis of the doctor's disease. James Carville this week summed up the Dean problem: "He seems to not appreciate the glory of the unspoken thought."

For Carville to make this comment on national television gets the attention of Democrats, including Dean and his campaign staff. Carville, making no pretense at objectivity, is a passionate partisan emotionally committed to George W. Bush's defeat. As architect of Bill Clinton's 1992 election victory, he is in demand for party functions nationwide and a vigorous fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Carville, neutral in the race for the presidential nomination, rarely speaks ill of a fellow Democrat. But he did on CNN's "Crossfire" Monday: "I'm scared to death that this guy just says anything. It feels like he's undergone some kind of a political lobotomy here."

Maria Echaveste, a Dean adviser who was President Clinton's deputy chief of staff, sat across the table from Carville looking like a deer caught in the headlights. "Not every candidate ends up being president from the day he walks out there," she said. "They mature. And this is what this man is doing." Off camera, she suggested Dean needs a little rest.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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