Have you noticed that politicians often have to talk in code in order for their views to be palatable to the American people? The first rule of politics seems to be if you hold even a slightly controversial view (though supported by a majority of the public AND grounded in the U.S. Constitution or scientific fact) you’d better couch it in code or you’ll get in trouble. Howard Dean is a case in point.
Howard Dean on the campaign trail
Here’s what Jodi Wilgoren had to say in Dean Attacks Bush on Research in yesterday’s New York Times:
Howard Dean criticized President Bush on Friday for saying Christianity had influenced his opposition to stem-cell research.
“I think we ought to make scientific decisions, not theological and theoretical decisions,” Dr. Dean said at a town-hall-style meeting in Rochester, N.H.
While those on the Right might take issue with the above statement, I think it seems patently self-evident, and that many if not most of my fellow citizens would accept what he said as true (especially if they or anyone in their family suffers from a life-threatening disease that could be cured by the advanced stem cell research that Bush is stifling with his Neanderthal stem cell Presidential Order).
Yet, Dr. Dean isn’t about to get a free-ride on this or anything else he says. Wilgoren continues:
Dr. Dean made the statement three days after saying that his own religion had guided him in supporting civil unions for gays while governor of Vermont.
He said the difference between his action and Mr. Bush’s was in their effects on people.
“I would differentiate it from my support of civil unions.” he told reporters in the afternoon, “because I didn’t deprive anybody of anything by supporting civil unions. That was really a choice that had to do with, many people would say, morality or ethics. That’s a different thing, I think, than applying your religious beliefs, with the result of depriving people really, literally, in some cases, a very long disease-free life as opposed to one that has significant complications.”
I would have defended his statement completely differently. Dean should have referred back to his earlier correct comment that politicians who attempt to make scientific decisions make for bad science. In addition, these politicians damage real lives of real people–as they have in this case by stifling the full and free development of stem cell research.
Dean’s support for gay civil unions is in a different category entirely. This question has an ethical (or religious) component and a political component. Both of these are up for debate. Neither side can prove conclusively through scientific data that they are in the right. Therefore, religion and politics are a perfectly appropriate prism through which to view this issue.
When religion or politics enter into the debate over science policy then bad science and bad health are the result. But the case of gay civil unions is ripe for both religious, moral and political debate.
This isn’t the only time that Howard Dean’s “straight-shooting” has gotten him into ‘trouble.’ Jodi Wilgoren again reports in the Times that tapes from a PBS program, The Editors, show that Dean in January 1998,
speculated that there would “probably be good and bad” if the Islamic militants of Hamas take over the Palestinian leadership.
Yasir Arafat, he said, “is going to leave the scene.” He continued: “When that happens, I think Hamas will probably take over. There will probably be good and bad out of that. The bad, of course, is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. However, if they have to run a quasi-state they may actually have to be more responsible and start negotiations. So who knows what will happen.”
This statement, which pundits and wags are now tut-tutting is, of course, a totally reasonable surmise which other Mideast experts have posited well before Dean. The history of revolutionary or insurgent movements shows that many if not all that actually win their struggle and assume power in their societies transform themselves from rigidly terroristic and ideological entities into pragmatic parties capable of governing. While no one knows if this would happen in the case of Hamas, it is a perfectly reasonable idea.
Finally, Dean got into hot water for having the temerity to say that Osama bin Laden, when found, deserved a trial by jury. Imagine! Howard Dean actually thinks that Osama Bin Laden deserves to have a trial before we take him out and shoot him! Here’s what the candidate said to the Concord Monitor as quoted by CNN.com in Dean: Bin Laden guilt best determined by jury:
“I’ve resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found,” Dean said in the interview. “I will have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials.”
Dean added he is certain most Americans agree with that sentiment.
Apparently, lots of Americans believe that when U.S. soldiers find Sadaam they should tie him to the nearest tree or rock and let loose with their M-16s. Howard Dean couldn’t take the heat generated by his statement and released this qualifying statement in order to prove that his blood was as red as the average vengeance-loving American:
Later, Dean released a statement clarifying, “I share the outrage of all Americans. Osama bin Laden has admitted that he is responsible for killing 3,000 Americans as well as scores of men, women and children around the world. This is the exactly the kind of case that the death penalty is meant for.
I am glad that in this mealy-mouthed statement Dean did not back away from his prior insistence that even the worst criminals deserve a trial by jury (a position long abandoned–if he ever held it–by that civil liberties champion, George W. Bush).
His Democratic opponents are attacking Dean for his supposed “shoot from the lip” approach to politics. I, for one, welcome Howard Dean’s refreshing willingness to say things that most politicians believe, but are too afraid to say. Dean is right: religion should stay out of politics and science; Hamas might some day make a more pragmatic partner for peace than Arafat; and Osama Bin Laden deserves a trial before his guilt is determined. Dean has nothing to be ashamed about and nothing to apologize for. He speaks the truth. Those who don’t like it, too bad. Go back to reading your Bible. And while you’re at it, why don’t you take along a copy of the U.S. constitution?