Monday, September 29, 2003

Presidential hopeful Howard Dean yesterday attacked retired Gen. Wesley Clark as a puppet of “establishment politicians” while repeatedly and explicitly comparing his own policies to those of former President Bill Clinton.

“I think what you see in the Wes Clark candidacy is a somewhat of a desperation by inside-the-Beltway politicians,” Mr. Dean said.

“You’ve got a lot of establishment politicians now surrounding a general who was a Republican until 25 days ago,” said Mr. Dean, who assumed Mr. Clark was once a Republican because he served in the military and voted for Ronald Reagan.

“I do not think that the solution for Democrats to … win again is to draft Republicans and to support people who have been in Washington for 25 and 30 years,” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Clark jumped into the race with the backing of the Clinton family earlier this month and is leading his nine Democratic opponents in national polls. Previously, Mr. Dean, the former governor of Vermont, was leading the pack and also leading in the heated rhetoric against President Bush and the war in Iraq.

Mr. Dean is now embracing Mr. Clinton’s name and positions relating to Social Security, Medicare, NAFTA and balancing the budget. He invoked the two-term president’s name eight times in just more than 10 minutes on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“The person I supported was Bill Clinton,” Mr. Dean said.

Responding to charges he sided with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, in wanting to slow the growth of Medicare and resulting spending, Mr. Dean said, “what I supported was what Bill Clinton signed, which saved $200 billion out of Medicare and saved it.”

When asked repeatedly by host Bob Schieffer why he would deny the charge when the positions were the same, Mr. Dean said “I’m not going to be compared to Newt Gingrich by my rivals.”

“They can say anything they want about me. I did support slowing the growth of Medicare, and that was a good thing. It worked out well, Bill Clinton signed the bill, and Medicare is still solvent because of that,” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Dean said he supported NAFTA “partly because Bill Clinton supported it,” and did not want to raise the retirement age because “Bill Clinton has shown that when the economy gets better and people start paying payroll taxes, Social Security becomes solvent.”

Asked if he was shifting his stance on these issues because he once supported cutting Social Security, raising the retirement age, and cutting Medicare, veterans pensions and defense spending, Mr. Dean said, “I wasn’t alone in talking about those things.”

“There were a lot of Democrats that were talking about those things. Now, Bill Clinton has showed us you can balance the budget without doing any of the things that we were desperately clawing around for,” Mr. Dean said.

Asked about charges that he is flip-flopping on the issues, Mr. Dean said changing his mind is “one of the hallmarks of who I am.”

“I have no complaint and no embarrassment about changing my positions at all,” he said.

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