Kerry, Lieberman, the GOP’s pet pundits — there’s room for everbody on the dump-on-Dean bandwagon.

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“Our world is complicated, and the challenges we face demand a president who knows what he’s saying and knows where America needs to go.”

This is how Sen. John Kerry has decided to make his case with voters in New Hampshire — pumping up his own ‘steady’ competence by attacking Howard Dean’s credibility, character, and policy acumen. In repeated stump speeches, Kerry is arguing that Dean is too erratic and irresponsible to be president. As the Associated Press reports:

“He reminded an avid crowd in Manchester that Dean had commended the capture of Saddam Hussein one day, then on the next asserted that it did not make America any safer. “It raises serious doubts about both his realism and resolve,” Kerry said.

‘When he spreads unfounded rumors about the administration having prior warnings of Sept. 11 and then passes it off because someone had posted it on the Internet, it leaves Americans questioning judgment and sense of responsibility,’ Kerry added.

‘After every episode comes a statement trying to explain it away,” he said. “So we’re left asking, will Americans really vote for a foreign policy by clarifying press release?'”

The strident tone and the singular focus on Dean are both a departure for Kerry — to date, such attacks have primarily been the province of Kerry’s senate colleague, Joe Lieberman. In fact, Lieberman still seems unwilling to talk about anything but Dean. As The Washington Post reports, when a New Hampshire Democrat asked Lieberman “how he planned to win in the South and Midwest, his response seemed to refer back to Dean, as did many of his statements Sunday. ‘First we have to convince people in the South and Midwest that we have a candidate who is at least as capable of keeping us as safe and secure as George Bush,’ Lieberman told her.”

So, how is the frontrunner responding? In part, Dean’s campaign is using allies to fire back. Campaigning with the former Vermont governor, Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, argues that his Washington colleagues should be emulating Dean, instead of undercutting him.

“‘We all say we want honesty from the people who are representing us,’ said Menendez, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. ‘Then when we get it, we say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a weakness?’ I think that this is part of what I find refreshing about the governor … he’s straightforward and he’s honest.'”

The Dean corps has also been brushing off the attacks as “whining” and suggesting such tactics will only turn off voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere. As Dean spokesman Jay Carson told the Boston Globe: “It’s a little Dean-obsessed, isn’t it?”

Of course, the Dean staffers have become relatively used to responding to attacks like those leveled by Kerry, Lieberman, and others. After all, conservative pundits and other Bush administration cronies have been saying many of the same things ever since Dean became the favorite. (Maybe that’s why Dean has suggested that Lieberman, Dick Gephardt, and their so-called ‘centrist’ allies are little more than the “Republican wing of the Democratic Party.”) And the right-wing nabobs aren’t about to stop their sniping. Mona Charen, doing her best Ann Coulter impression, takes a particularly vindictive swipe at Dean in her most recent column.

“I don’t want to hate the Democrats’ choice. If they nominate Dick Gephardt or Joe Lieberman, the country can have an honest debate, and bitterness need not reign in the land. Both candidates are honest, and even winsome.

Not Dean. His arrogance is so hot it throws off sparks. Speaking of hate, his campaign has so far been about little else. One searches in vain for any flicker of humor, and his relationship to the truth is showing signs of Clintonitis. The latest example: Last August, the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa, circulated a questionnaire to the Democratic candidates for president. The newspaper asked the candidates to complete the following sentence: “My closest living relative in the armed services is – .” Dean wrote: “My brother is a POW/MIA in Laos, but is almost certainly dead.” In point of fact, Dean’s brother Charles, whose remains have recently been returned from Laos, was not in the armed services. He was a tourist, visiting Laos as part of a one-year world tour. The Quad-City Times editorially expressed dismay at Dean’s mendacity. Instead of apologizing for misleading readers, Dean dashed off an indignant letter to the editor.

What seemed so clear to outsiders – that the Democrats’ best bet was a war-supporting liberal like Gephardt or Lieberman – did not seem to sway the nominating wing of the Democratic party. They are thirsting for a Bush-bashing, small-America liberal – someone who will genuflect before the United Nations. But Dean is more than a liberal, he is a liar and a narcissist.”

So, what do we make of the conservatives’ seemingly non-stop campaign of belittling and besmirching Dean? What do we make of Kerry imitating those same right-wing satraps? Paul Krugman, styling his column as an open letter to journalists, suggests that such partisan attacks are being forged into fact by lazy reporters unwilling to check the claims.

“Look at the candidates’ records. A close look at Bush’s record as Texas governor would have revealed that, the approved story line notwithstanding, he was no moderate. A close look at Dean’s record in Vermont reveals that, the emerging story line notwithstanding, he is no radical: He was a fiscally conservative leader whose biggest policy achievement – nearly universal health insurance for children – was the result of incremental steps. Don’t fall for political histrionics. I couldn’t believe how much ink was spilled after the Gore-Dean event over Joe Lieberman’s hurt feelings. Folks, we’re talking about war, peace and the future of U.S. democracy – not about who takes whom to the prom.

Political operatives have become experts at manufacturing the appearance of outrage. In the last few weeks the usual suspects have been trying to paint Howard Dean’s obviously heartfelt comments about his brother’s death in Laos as some sort of insult to the military. We owe it to our readers not to fall for these tricks.”


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