Saturday, August 30, 2003

The facts haven't changed; Dean has.

When his stated position on an issue is no longer convenient, Howard Dean adopts a different one. Of course, he and his supporters don't admit that these are changes borne of convenience. Instead, they claim that Dean has discovered evidence that demanded a change in his position. After all, as Keynes said, "When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do?" Really, it's a virtue; Dean's willing to admit he's wrong and change his position accordingly.

I don't buy it.

Every politician is willing to admit he's wrong - especially when the wrong position is also the unpopular or inconvenient one. That's the case with Dean. Take, for example, his switch on spending limits. Early in his campaign, he attacked other Democrats for considering to refuse them. Now, he's considering to refuse them. He attributes the change to evidence of Bush's fundraising - but everyone knew that Bush would raise much more than his Democratic opponent. That fact hasn't changed. What has changed is Dean's fundraising. When he attacked his fellow Democrats, they appeared poised to raise more than him; perhaps enough to refuse spending limits. Now, he's poised to raise more than them.

He's made similar switches on the retirement age (old, unpopular: raise to 70; new, popular: remain at 65); on Cuba (old, unpopular: engagement; new, popular: embargo); on medical marijuana (old, unpopular: opposed; new, popular: supportive); and on tax cuts (old, unpopular: oppose any; new, popular; support some).

Given that Dean is, more often than not, coming around to positions that I share, why should I care if his position changes? Because there's no guarantee that every time he switches, he'll switch to a position I share - only that he'll switch to a position that's popular. Personally, I'd prefer a candidate with principles, even if I don't share a few of them. Dean doesn't appear to be that candidate; as he says - in a different context, but nonetheless tellingly - "We'll do whatever it takes to win the nomination."