WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Why when things have been going so swimmingly on the campaign trail did Dr. Howard Dean heave off a gratuitous lie to an Iowa newspaper?
Moreover it was an obvious lie, the kind of lie a mischievous adolescent might tell. Dr. Howard Dean, the leading moralizer in a field of moralizers, all primping and curtsying to win the Democratic presidential nomination, was asked to identify his "closest living relative in the armed services." Dean identified his brother, a young man who anyone familiar with Dean's biography knows, disappeared while a tourist in Laos in 1974.
Like Dean, he never served in the military. Dean, The Washington Post tells us, had a student deferment until 1971, whereupon he "presented evidence of a bad back and was rejected (from the draft). He subsequently spent nine months in Aspen, Colo., skiing and working odd jobs, such as washing dishes and pouring concrete." With a record such as that, Dean had best not be cavalier in answering questions about service in the military.
Of course, the Democratic frontrunner is not the only candidate in the field to be snagged in petty lies. There is Sen. John Pierre Kerry, who now ducks every time he hears the term "fact checker." Remember in early November when he astounded reporters by claiming, "I saw a poll the other day that showed me about 15 points ahead of her (Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton)." No one could find such a poll, though reporters did find a Quinnipiac University poll that had Mrs. Clinton 36 percent ahead of her delusional colleague.
There have been other scrapes with the dreaded fact checkers. This spring, Kerry was caught lying about his maiden speech on the Senate floor. Hoping to snag the pro-abortion vote, he frequently claimed his first speech in the Senate was in praise of Roe vs. Wade. The fact checkers found that it was actually in opposition to the Reagan administration's construction of 21 MX missiles.
Then there was the self-inflicted wound over his ethnic heritage. For some weird reason Kerry found himself claiming that he had been "clear as a bell" for years that he was not Irish, despite his Irish name. Alas, a Boston Globe rigorist found the senator's 1986 statement in the Congressional Record proclaiming to a St. Patrick's Day gathering: "For those of us who are fortunate enough to share an Irish ancestory (sic), we take great pride in the contributions that Irish-Americans ..." blah, blah, blah.
I suspect that it is the impulse to boast about oneself that has gotten these two driven careerists into their difficulties with the truth. Boasting about things that earlier generations of candidates would be reluctant to mention seems to be a weakness with several of the Democratic presidential candidates.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina goes around bragging about what a toughie he was on the playground. The 50-year-old candidate tells a reporter that his rural upbringing was "very much the law of the jungle," and he dramatizes: "'This kind of fight,' he says, holding his right fist to a reporter's nose.'" Pass the Valium.
Thus, retired Gen. Wesley Clark must feel right at home in the Democratic field. Within weeks of announcing his candidacy, he was ensnared in fibs. He told the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., that he registered as a Democrat "on or about Sept. 3," but on Oct. 2 The Washington Times quoted an aide saying the boss had yet to register. About this time, he got into a flap claiming Karl Rove had not answered Clark's calls to the White House. Rove claimed his telephone logs showed no calls. Then, too, there are Clark's shifting positions on the war in Iraq. First, he said he probably would have voted for the congressional resolution on war in Iraq. A day later, he contradicted that statement.
All this gets me to wondering how he would have measured up against Edwards on the playground. In his most recent controversy, he was taped bragging that if President George W. Bush or one of his Democratic opponents questioned his commitment to the military, he would "kick the" fecal matter out of them.
So goes the fantasy that is the Democrats' march to the White House.