Robert Novak

Being overworked is a poor excuse for Dean's holiday gaffes. They began last Friday when the Concord (N.H.) Monitor published an astonishing interview with Dean. After reiterating that capturing Saddam Hussein did not make America safer, he asserted in regard to Osama bin Laden that "we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials." Dean usually will not budge from his bloopers, but his staff was so shaken by this that on Friday he tried backing away. He told the Associated Press he advocated the "death penalty" for bin Laden under "the rule of law."

Two days later in a Sunday meeting with reporters in Iowa, Dean was even more puzzling. Scolding McAuliffe for not protecting him from other candidates, he said: "If Ron Brown were the chairman, this wouldn't be happening." As DNC chairman in 1992, Brown did not lift a finger as other candidates savaged front-runner Bill Clinton.

In the same Sunday session, Dean warned that "if I don't win the nomination," his million and a half supporters are "certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician." Echaveste found it difficult to explain these outbursts.

Yet, the most disturbing of Dean's holiday gaffes came before Christmas. Answering a questionnaire from the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, asking his "closest living relative in the armed services," Dean listed his brother Charles -- actually neither alive nor ever a military veteran. He disappeared at age 23 in 1974 while visiting Laos as an anti-war civilian as part of a world tour, and his body was discovered last month.

I asked Maria Echaveste off camera Monday why the governor would make such a mistake. "That's an old story," she replied. While there is no statute of limitations on gaffes, this one appeared in print only Dec. 14. What bothers James Carville and other loyal Democrats about their prospective nominee is what this pattern portends for the future.

Robert Novak

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

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