Howard, Dean, M.D., made a fund-raising trip to Las Vegas Tuesday and, as usual, pandered to the locals. This time the erstwhile booster of the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump turned evasive, claiming he had "seen the light" on the issue -- meaning? Before deciding whether to ship the nation's nuke waste to Nevada, he'd make sure the site was safe. Which is indistinguishable from the "unconscionable position of the Bush administration on Yucca.
Or is it? As my buddy Steve Sebelius points out in his column (link TK), Dean has been tight with the nuke power industry for years, and actually pushed to greenlight a low-level nuke dump in Texas that was eventually rejected on -- wait for it -- scientfic grounds. (His backing of the project, which would have been located in the poor, Hispanic town of Sierra Blanca, led some anti-nuke activists to accuse Dean of environmental racism.) Whatever your view on Yucca, Tuesday's spectacle is yet another example of how the so-called straight-shooter is nothing more than a mealy-mouthed pol.
Which makes the fledgling "libertarians for Dean" movement of the past few weeks even more confusing. I hate to take issue with my former colleagues at Reason magazine, but why do anything other than show this guy the door? As attractive as the notion of a return to "divided government" might be, has the good doctor demonstrated even lip service to any aspect of libertarian/classical liberal philosophy -- or to any steadfast principles of any sort?
So there's guns. He probably wouldn't order the feds to conduct house-to-house raids to seize individuals' firearms (unlike, say, most of the Democrats in their fantasy worlds.) But is he more likely to respect the rights of firearms owners than Bush? Is his attorney general likely to uphold Ashcroft's view that the 2nd Amendment is a statement of individual rights ... and translate that into policy?
Affirmative action: Al Sharpton smacks Dean for a statement he made years ago that federal preferences should be based on financial circumstances rather than race. While defensible, this view is hardly libertarian, that is if libertarian is still synonymous with individual rights. But when Sharpton launched this attack, Dean immediately went into full retreat mode, defending racial set-asides and all sorts of race- and gender-based apartheid.
Welfare reform? Years ago, Gov. Dean suggested that Medicaid and some other federal entitlement programs might need to be reined in ever-so-slightly, lest they bankrupt state treasuries (not to mention individual taxpayers). When Dick Gephardt said that makes Dean sound like Newt Gingrich, again, Dean slinked away.
The war? Dean wouldn't immediately cut and run and bring the boys home. Among Dems, only Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich (last seen hanging in the same alternative universe as fellow Hair Club for Men member Jim Traficant) have advocated that, which would be a geniunely noninterventionist position (setting aside how disastrous that would be for the United States on countless levels). But it's not what Dean advocates.
So why "Libertarians for Dean"? In part (I hope), it's a temper tantrum by people who are feeling neglected, or perhaps betrayed. Bush spent a lot of time courting people in the free-market community on the campaign trail. They either left him alone, said nice things about him, or went to work for him. Bush takes office, and he spends like Lyndon Johnson ... or is it Richard Nixon? He talks free trade while imposing tariffs. Rather than closing the Education Department, he signs onto the biggest federal takeover of K-12 schools in history. He's ready to endorse a massive expansion of the Medicare entitlement. Most, if not all, of these moves were cynical ploys, designed to buy votes, and they have serious implications, near-term and for years to come.
And then there were the tax cuts, which have totally discombobulated sensible left-liberals like Matt Miller. (That's a good sign that, if made permanent, they really will "starve the government," making market-based entitlement reforms essential.) Would Dean one-up Bush here? Get real. It wouldn't surprise me if Bush still pushes for individual Social Security retirement accounts. Liddy Dole and Lindsey Graham, among others, demonstrated the political viability of that issue -- one that also has significant implications. What Would Howard Do?
Granted, there's the War on Terror, and the legitimate erosions of civil liberties that are likely. The Transportation Security Adminstration is a cruel joke. But again, how would Dean do things differently? Would he close the TSA, allow/encourage airline passengers to arm themselves, or instruct airlines that they are responsible (legally and financially) for the safety of their passengers? Please.
Name a single libertarian principle (other than gay civil unions) to which Dean demonstrates significantly more fidelity than Bush; I can cite a half-dozen in which the Bush administration and its policies are head-and-shoulders above the positions of the good doctor. As I've pointed out earlier, Bush offers plenty of causes for concern. But at the margins, a second Bush term enhances individual liberty; a first Dean term erodes it. I just don't understand.