Launch the Dean counterattack

Posted: Aug 30, 2003 12:00 AM

A shocking Zogby Poll this week had former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at a giant 21-point lead over former New Hampshire primary front-runner Sen. John Kerry. That's more than two-to-one with a 38 percent to 17 percent margin. Dean is the clear front-runner and may well lead the Democrats next year. So, this is a wake-up call for the Bushies. It's time for all the president's men to aggressively defend Bush's policies and attack Dean's extreme left-liberal positions.

So far, Dean has been relying on a relatively narrow base of voter support -- largely Bush-hating, anti-war liberals who make up about half of the Democratic Party and a third of the electorate. But Dean is well-funded, and he has quickly become the darling of the liberal media.

Following his successful rally in New York's Bryant Park this week, The New York Times saw fit to run a huge front-page story with a color picture of the candidate. Meanwhile, a story on Bush's excellent speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention -- where he emphasized a stay-the-course commitment in Iraq -- was placed below the Dean story with a much smaller headline.

In the long Times piece on Dean, you had to go 23 paragraphs deep to find a statement on the candidate's basic policy positions: universal health insurance, opposition to the Iraq war, balanced budgets, tax-cut repeal, affirmative action and gay rights. This is not a winning combination, as numerous moderate Democrats point out. Still, if Dean's the one, administration spokespeople should start underscoring the extremism that defines his campaign.

For example, Dean's universal health care is Hillarycare. It's the same government-paid health insurance that's been a disaster in Western Europe and Canada. And it's the same socialist proposal that was defeated handily in a Democratic Congress 10 years ago.

True patient power requires health-insurance choice and market competition along with tax reform. It will be incumbent on the administration to state this clearly. That means coming out in favor of the House bill on Medicare and prescription drugs and strongly opposing the all-government-all-the-time Ted Kennedy version in the Senate. Linking Dean to Sen. Kennedy makes sense -- not only on health care but also on taxes and the war. The Vermont liberal is very much in Kennedy's far-out orbit.

On the economy, a strong recovery is building momentum. But the president's economic advisers are not aggressive enough in touting the rebound. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew a surprising 3.1 percent in the second quarter, with hefty consumer and business spending increases. Many economists now expect 4 to 5 percent economic growth between now and next year's election. Yet Bush advisers seem reluctant to tout the obvious turnaround in both the economy and the rip-roaring stock market. Because of their reticence, media headlines continue to sow economic doubt.

Newspapers, meanwhile, exclaim that new budget-deficit estimates are another chink in the Bush re-election armor. The headline "Leap in Deficits Instead of Fall Is Seen for U.S." was on the very same Times front page that featured Dean's giant color photo. But the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates show a huge drop in projected deficits beginning in 2005 and extending for the next eight years. By 2010, the deficit is projected to be less than 2 percent of GDP. By 2013, the CBO estimates a $211 billion surplus.

At roughly 4 percent of GDP currently, the U.S. budget gap is only slightly larger than the fiscal red ink posted by France and Germany. Of course, they didn't fight a war.

Importantly, the CBO underscores the point that slumping economic growth is the largest source of the problem, and recovering growth is the largest source of the solution. The Bush strategy of across-the-board tax cuts -- which are responsible for only one-fifth of the temporary deficit bulge -- were the correct economic-growth solution for fiscal imbalance and the recession cycle.

Yet if Dean's high-tax policies were actually put in place, they would wreck the recovery and doom the stock market rise. His liberal domestic-policy proposals would also have grave consequences, inflating the size of government to Ted Kennedyesque proportions.

As for foreign policy, Dean would destroy American credibility for at least the next 50 years, giving global terrorists a green light to threaten our safety and security. Culturally, Dean would destroy the traditional American family and the social values that keep our society intact.

Howard Dean's left-wing uprising should be squelched before it gains any currency in the public mind. Standing above the fray is no way to do it. Neither are caustic put downs. The Bushies must dig in now. They've got to pull out some serious policy analysis and some long knives -- before this Dean thing gets out of hand.