Tuesday, December 23, 2003
The dumb doctor: Democrat presidential frontrunner Dr. Howard Dean has done something stupid.
Howard Dean came under criticism from an Iowa newspaper last weekend for an answer to a questionnaire in which he implied that his brother was serving in the military when he disappeared in Laos 29 years ago. His brother had been traveling in Southeast Asia as a tourist.
Asked by The Quad-City Times, which is based in Davenport, Iowa, to complete the sentence "My closest living relative in the armed services is," Dr. Dean wrote in August, "My brother is a POW/MIA in Laos, but is almost certainly dead."
The brother, 23-year-old Charles Dean, whose apparent remains were recovered by a military search team last month in Laos, was classified as missing in action, along with other civilians captured or killed in the area during the Vietnam War. But Charles Dean never wore a uniform, and while some family members at times suspected that he was working as a spy, Dr. Dean said he never believed that.
This comes in the wake a Dean suggestion that the American military would eventually decline (not that he would have anything to do with it). There is also reason to believe, from his rhetoric, that the strength of the military would suffer under a Dean presdiency -- at a time when we need it most.
Dean's answer to the simple question from the Quad City Times about family members who are serving or who have served in the military shows he has some difficulty with basic reading comprehension. Dean may also fear his distance from the military could have a negative effect on his candidacy. Dean apparently has no close family members who have served (else why single out his civilian brother?) and he doesn't seem like the type of guy who manages to make friends in those circles.
Dean's reply to criticism from his wrong answer to the Times' survey is also predictibly weak.
"The way I read the question was that they wanted to know if I knew anything about the armed services from a personal level," he said. "I don't think it was inaccurate or misleading if anybody knew what the history was, and I assumed that most people knew what the history was. Anybody who wanted to write about this could have looked through the 23-year history to see that I've always acknowledged my brother's a civilian, was a civilian."
Mark Ridolfi, editor of the paper's editorial page, noted that the question had specifically asked about the armed services and said of Dr. Dean's reply, "It certainly is not an accurate response."
That still doesn't wash -- his brother wasn't in the military, so how does talking about him show Dean knows anything "about the armed services from a personal level?"
Don't expect this sort of gaffe to hurt Dean in the primary; he still has the teflon Democrat candidacy. However, the general election campaign may come as a suprise for him -- charges from the GOP and President Bush's campaign will have a much better chance of sticking.