- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

When former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean’s presidential candidacy yesterday, he embraced an agenda that, on key issues, is the complete opposite of what he and Bill Clinton advocated in 1992.

Mr. Gore defended and promoted many of the centrist-leaning initiatives in Mr. Clinton’s campaign agenda, but he has turned more sharply to the left since his electoral defeat in 2000. Democrats say his political metamorphosis is what drew him to Mr. Dean’s angry antiwar, antiestablishment insurgency.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore successfully campaigned on an agenda calling for expanding free trade, lowering taxes for the middle class and maintaining a strong defense.

After his election, Mr. Clinton delivered on his free-trade agenda by signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, but backtracked on his tax-cut pledge and ended up cutting defense spending significantly. Still, his supporters maintained that these three issues defined him as a New Democrat that provided his party with the formula for winning back the White House.

The Dean agenda is “an anti-Clinton agenda,” said a senior adviser to one of the former Vermont governor’s chief rivals for the Democratic nomination.

“Dean has turned sharply critical of free-trade agreements, he wants to repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, including those that help the middle class, and he has raised concerns in the party that he is weak on national-security grounds because of his opposition to the war in Iraq,” the adviser said.

These are at the heart of the ideological divide between the Democrats’ liberal, antiwar protest wing and the Clinton wing that believes that supporting free trade, helping the middle class and protecting national security are crucial issues their nominee must support to get elected.

Democrats close to Mr. Clinton have grown increasingly critical of Mr. Dean in the past few months. Many observers say their complaints reflect the former president’s views about Mr. Dean’s weaknesses as a candidate.

One of these Democrats is Mr. Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, Leon Panetta, who told The Washington Times that he was hearing growing concerns throughout the party “about Dean’s ability to appeal to the entire country, particularly on national-security issues.”

Other Democrats were echoing this warning yesterday.

“Obviously if our candidate is seen as being weak on defense and pro-taxes, we’re not going to win next year,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network.

These concerns about Mr. Dean are Mr. Clinton’s concerns, too, say other Democrats who have talked with him, although the former president has kept his personal views on the candidates largely to himself — with one exception. In an interview published last month in the American Prospect, a liberal monthly magazine, he warned Democrats, “We can’t win if people think we’re too liberal.”

Democrats yesterday said they did not think Mr. Clinton, the only one who can trump Mr. Gore’s endorsement, would enter the primary fight by endorsing an alternative to Mr. Dean.

“I haven’t seen any indications that he will endorse anybody,” said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who managed Mr. Gore’s 2000 campaign.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dean said his election strategy is based on appealing to the Democratic base first — unions, blacks and other segments of the party faithful — and “then work on the very small percentage of people who are not already signed up with Karl Rove or floating around in the middle.”

The Democrat Leadership Council (DLC) took Mr. Dean to task for refusing to answer questions on “Fox News Sunday” about religious values, homosexuality and abortion, saying he would rather talk about jobs, education and health care than “all this controversial social stuff.”

“We’re not sure which is more doomed to fail — the naive hope that if we just change the subject, divisive issues will go away, or the condescending idea that Americans who care passionately about ‘all this controversial social stuff’ should move on and care about something else,” the DLC said.

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