Friday, January 27, 2006

Dean Defensive on Abramoff

I've never met Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, but I bet his breath smells like Kiwi shoe polish.

Check out this exchange between Dean and CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either. There is no evidence...

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

Often wrong but, of course, never in doubt. Apparently he didn't check the FEC reports closely enough, as he would have found the Dorgan donation. And to presume that a corrupt guy like Abramoff is going to report bribes is ridiculous.

This very hyper-defensive and irrational exchange reveals first, that Dean has the self-control of a Jack Russell Terrier, but more importantly just how much the Democrats have invested in this scandal. Rather than being interested in getting to the bottom of it and weeding out all of the corrupt politicians irrespective of their party, Dean needlessly circles the wagons. Probably the best answer would have been "The Abramoff story has yet to be told, and while it seems that the vast majority of the legislators on the take were Republicans, if there are Democrats, they will be dealt with just as appropriately."

But Dean is not one for moderation, and his lack of restraint betrays his intent. His responses indicate that he is salivating. And he also knows that if some Democrats get thrown into the mix, his mantra that this is a purely a Republican scandal goes down the tubes, along with its usefulness for the 2006 elections. And by playing it so hard, he does his efforts damage in at least two ways.

First, we know that some Democrats, including Dorgan, have had their dealings with and receipts from Abramoff. What is most interesting is that Dorgan denies knowledge that he received a $67,000 donation from Abramoff. Just to be very clear, when a candidate gets a donation of that size, he knows when it arrives, from whom it comes, and he is always sure to thank the donor personally. But why deny, as there is nothing illegal with that receipt on its face? Certainly Dorgan returned the cash to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but such a potentially inculpatory denial that flies in the fact of the facts makes one wonder what Dorgan has to hide. And I'm certain that Dorgan wasn't the only Democrat involved with Abramoff. I'm also certain that most of the money given through Abramoff was entirely legal, to both Democrats and Republicans. But for Dean to categorically eliminate the possibility of any Democrats getting swept up in the scandal in the usual terminal language that he uses, creates a second problem.

The scandal might still have had some political value for the Democrats if Dean and his ilk had not played it up to such a fever pitch as an exclusively Republican matter which infects the entire party. Because if it is anything less than the apocalyptic picture that Dean and the Democrats paint, it will not meet expectations and will gain minimal traction. Worse yet, if Abramoff fingers some Dems, Dean and the Democrats have lost the ability to demagogue the issue without looking utterly foolish. It would have been better for him to keep his options open by keeping his historically self-destructive mouth shut.

But the reason that Dean is so adamant about defending this potential scandal is that the Dems have staked their hopes for the 2006 election on the outcome of this matter.

They remain the "party of no" with absolutely nothing to offer America aside of anything but what the Republicans intend to offer. They have no plan but opposition, and so a scandal gives them the opportunity to make some inroads. But absent a bombshell, which seems a little less likely given what we've heard of late, the Dems will actually need to offer a vision other than "The Republicans Are Awful".

And the circling the wagons strategy seen by Dean's frenzied defense of Dorgan and flat denial that any Democrats even took campaign money from Abramoff is exactly what Dean ought not to do. The Republicans are selecting a new House Majority Leader to replace the embattled Tom DeLay who unfortunately has become the poster boy for cozy Congressional/lobbyist relations. In so doing, they leave a very strong impression that they will not tolerate corruption in their midst, or even the perception of it, thus working a potentially successful end run around Dean's fairly feeble opposition. But Dean's comments to Blitzer imply that while he is all too eager to embrace any claims by Abramoff of Republican wrongdoing, he is unwilling to believe similar charges against Democrats, and will defend against them. I could be wrong, but Dean leaves very little wiggle room in his apoplectic rhetoric.

It is not very wise to make terminal pronouncements at this stage of the game, before the facts are revealed and when they can come back to bite. But Dean has never been accused of being able to use wisdom or exercise restraint. And now he's on record.

Dean gets to dig himself in deeper on Fox News Sunday, where he will face a much less relenting inquiry by Chris Wallace. Whatever Dean may think of his ability to reason, he might want to be careful around Mike Wallace's kid, who really doesn't let much get past him. And we may get yet another opportunity to see why Dean frequently refuses any invitations to critically discuss and debate issues on national shows.

It will be little more than a display of ignorance and demagoguery, followed by a bunch of pink talking points. A perfect allegory for what his party has become.

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