Fulfilling their obligations in the democratic process, voters in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries have winnowed the field of candidates down to at least eight.
Yeah, 3 Howard Deans, 2 John Kerrys, 2 Wes Clarks and 1 John Edwards.
Let's start in that order. First there's the 1990s Howard Dean. He's the centrist "fiscally conservative" former governor of Vermont who implored Bill Clinton to join NAFTA and admit China to the WTO. That Howard Dean spoke fondly of Newt Gingrich and favored curtailing Medicare spending. He's the one who denounced the Iowa caucuses as the playthings of special interests.
Then there's Angry Howard Dean. He's the one we've seen for most of the last year and a half. That Howard Dean thinks NAFTA was a disaster, sees no need to curtail spending on Medicare, wants to rethink the whole WTO thing and firmly believes that Newt Gingrich eats kittens. He despises "Washington insiders," the "Democratic party establishment" and other inside-the-beltway sellouts.
"It's not enough to change presidents," Angry Dean declared to hoards of young "Deaniacs." "We have to change the way Washington works - stand up to the lobbyists and the special interests and make government work for people again!"
Angry Dean lost in both Iowa and New Hampshire when he was supposed to win both by a big margin. So, rather than get angrier, Dean has become "Decaf Dean." Not only does he not yell as much, but he's fired Joe Trippi - the former genius behind Angry Dean's "youth movement" - and replaced him with Roy Neel, a consummate Washington establishment insider who worked for Al Gore in the White House and then became the telecom industry's chief lobbyist.
Then there's John Kerry. It might be slightly inaccurate to say there are only two Kerrys, considering his gift for being on so many sides of an issue. What's also confusing is that, unlike Dean who evolves into new personas and then sticks with them for a while like, say, a Michael Jackson, Kerry tends to switch between his personalities constantly in a Jekyll-and-Hyde fashion.
The best example was reported by The New Republic in 1991, which obtained two letters, both signed by John Kerry to the same constituent. The first read: "Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition ... to the early use of military force by the U.S. against Iraq. I share your concerns. On Jan. 11, I voted in favor of a resolution that would have insisted that economic sanctions be given more time to work and against a resolution giving the president the immediate authority to go to war."
The second letter - again, to the same constituent - came nine days later on Jan. 31: "Thank you very much for contacting me to express your support for the actions of President Bush in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. From the outset of the invasion, I have strongly and unequivocally supported President Bush's response to the crisis and the policy goals he has established with our military deployment in the Persian Gulf."
This has been Kerry's approach to political questions all of his life. He proudly boasts of his military service in Vietnam, but spent much of the 1970s falsely accusing his fellow veterans of heinous war crimes. He defends his vote in favor of the second Gulf War by saying that it wasn't a vote for the war. But few doubt that if the war had been a success in the eyes of primary voters, he would have bragged about his leadership on it.
According to Kerry-watchers one can find, on issue after issue, a "career-long pattern of equivocation and calculation - trying whenever possible to have it both ways, always maneuvering to leave himself an out," in the words of the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby.
As for the two faces of Wes Clark, they're pretty obvious. There's Dean-Clark and Bush-Clark. Bush-Clark was the former general who fund-raised for George W. Bush and celebrated his heroic accomplishments. That Clark spoke respectfully of the president even when he disagreed with him.
Then, someone told Clark he could become president if he could be more like Angry Howard Dean than Angry Howard Dean. So Clark suddenly started calling for the president's impeachment, declaring that he opposed both Gulf Wars, and decided to embrace Michael Moore - a man who believed the Kosovo war, which Clark commanded, to be a criminal slaughter.
So that leaves John Edwards. He appears to be the same guy he's always been, a pretty good-looking, smooth-talking liberal trial lawyer. He's doing OK right now, but he'll probably lose if for no other reason than he's so outnumbered.