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August 8, 2003

A Tale of Two Democrats


Dean Knows the Road to the Presidency Runs Through AIPAC HQ

by Anthony Gancarski

"I don't have to get elected to a bloomin' thing. And I don't have to do things that are politically correct. The hell with everybody. I'm free at last."

– Ernest Hollings, 1992.

I'm going to miss Fritz Hollings, the 81 year old Senator [D-SC] who announced on August 3 that he won't stand for re-election. Not that I agreed with him on every issue, or even a majority of them. There's no one in Washington I can say that for, save Ron Paul. That said, Hollings, like no one else in the Senate except for Robert Byrd, was in the habit of speaking his mind.

The Charlotte Observer recently compiled an all-too-brief selection of Hollings' quotes, and I spent last night reading them to everyone who visited my apartment for cocktails. A few highlights: in 1983, he spoke for more people than not when he referred to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition as the "Blackbow". In 1996, Hollings claimed that President Clinton was "as popular as AIDS in South Carolina"; when Clinton's poll numbers rose, Hollings tartly amended his remarks, saying that if Clinton's approval rating breached 60%, then Clinton "can start dating again."

Hollings has been around for generations, and someone with that tenure not only sees through cant, but calls out charlatans for the public record. Typical of Hollings' acid tongue was when he referred to former Senator Howard Metzenbaum [D-OH] as "the Senator from B'nai Brith." As a political animal, Hollings knew South Carolina well enough to know that he was undefeatable, and has carried himself throughout the years as a principled, statesman-like figure, worthy of the legacy of men like John C. Calhoun.

But what does all this have to do with foreign policy? Howard Metzenbaum, surprisingly to this column, is back in the news. The "Senator from B'nai Brith" has put his chips down for 2004, and he's backing Howard Dean, despite fellow Buckeye politico Kucinich being an active candidate.

Considered outside of a larger context, that's not very interesting news. Dean does have momentum, if one believes the polls, and funding that has materialized "from the internet" [hopefully, his fundraisers aren't Nigerian]. Metzenbaum claims to like Dean because the former governor of Vermont "is the only one standing up for the principles of the Democratic Party and exciting Americans about the political process."

The only one! Metzenbaum's word is good enough for me; I'm no Democrat. That said, what are those "principles"? And which Americans are becoming "excited by the political process"?

The Forward, a political magazine written in both English and Yiddish, is no stranger to taking strongly-worded positions. An example from the most recent issue:

"The simmering dispute over Israel's so-called West Bank separation fence includes more than enough hypocrisy to go around on all sides. The Sharon government, after two years of ideological obstructionism and bureaucratic foot-dragging, has finally yielded to overwhelming public opinion and begun an earnest effort to fence off Israel's scandalously porous eastern frontier. Now come America, the West and the Arab world and declare themselves shocked – shocked! – at the project. After more than two years of ceaseless moralizing over Israel's iron-fisted efforts to crush terrorism at its source, they've managed to work themselves into fits of righteous indignation as Israel undertakes the one other measure that can stop the terrorists. "

Say what you will about the Forward's position, but at least it's clear; that may have been the most energetic defense of what some are calling an "apartheid wall" yet.

I bring the Forward up because they conducted an November, 2002 interview with Candidate Dean that bears mentioning, given the support Dean has gotten from both poll respondents and the corporate media. Back then, Dean was still a "lower-tier candidate", jousting for poll position with the Sharptons of the Democratic field. This interview, I believe, grants insight into why Dean's national profile has increased so dramatically in the last few months.

The title of the November 2002 piece says a lot: "In Prexy Bid, Vt. Gov Taps AIPAC Vet Married to Jew, Courting Others". The title is refreshingly blunt, implying that Dean even then was quite willing to "go the extra mile" to strengthen his base.

Many quotes in the Forward article are worthy of examination; here are a few. Howard Dean refers to himself as an "internationalist" who accepts "AIPAC's view" of foreign affairs. As President, Dean would endeavor to "bring democracy and freedom to Muslim nations". Those endeavors, one would expect, would be influenced greatly by "AIPAC's view", as Dean feels a "visceral" attachment to Israel.

"Dean spoke with the Forward shortly after naming Steven Grossman, a former head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to a top campaign fundraising post." Dean told the Forward that he was "traveling to Israel for a week at the end of [November] with the American Israel Educational Foundation, AIPAC's educational arm, to meet with Israeli officials and Arab leaders."

A cynic might suggest that former long shot candidate Dean's collaboration with AIPAC – indeed, his aggressive courting of the lobby's support – enhanced his national visibility more than any other position he's taken. "In order for him to be totally credible to the Jewish community in issues, people will want to see a well-developed foreign policy on Israel and the Middle East and be supportive of Israel's effort to maintain its qualitative edge," Grossman said to The Forward. "He will have to address this and no doubt will. Based on private conversations I am absolutely confident about where he is ideologically and substantively in bringing him to the American Jewish community."

Is Dean "totally credible"? He certainly seems to have made the effort, and it certainly looks as if that effort has paid off to this point in the campaign season; he is now treated less like LaRouche-lite and more like someone Who Can Win.

Many people who should know better than to hitch their stars to an all-too-unknown commodity like Dean are doing so. Pat Buchanan and Bill Press, on their MSNBC program, rarely go a day without mentioning the Vermonter's campaign. Scott McConnell, of The American Conservative and this site, claims that Dean's "remarkable fundraising surge, his unusual ability simultaneously to galvanize liberals, intrigue non-liberals, and say 'no' to core Democratic constituencies without alienating them renders him the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination", though he adds that "it's not clear what Dean's actual political coloring is." [Dean, in the Forward, claimed likewise that "I'm very loyal to my friends", adding that "nobody should read anything into my ideology"].

Even Justin Raimondo, the main writer here on Antiwar.com, has extolled Dean's virtues. Raimondo claims that Dean's greatest opposition comes from the "war party", adding that Joe Lieberman's depiction of Dean as an "extremist" is nothing short of a "viciously subliminal implication." Arguably, though, Raimondo saves his strongest advocacy of Dean for the conclusion of "Dean Vs. Loserman":

"The smearing of Howard Dean is part of a continuing attempt by the neoconservatives of both parties to make sure the American people never get a chance to veto our policy of global intervention. Bush 43 ran on the merits of a 'humble' foreign policy and look what we got. The Dean campaign is a populist movement against the War Party's political monopoly: quite apart from Dean, the personality and the politician, the insurgency inspired by his candidacy is a harbinger of hope."

A harbinger of hope? As the old saying goes, piss in one hand, hope in the other, and see which one fills up the quickest. Aside from Dean's position on the Iraqi war, I don't see much in his candidacy that makes me feel hopeful, but then again I take AIPAC very seriously, having seen what they've done to politician after politician who didn't toe their line. A cynical observer might argue that Dean recognized early that the road to the Presidency runs through AIPAC headquarters, and that he's doing whatever is necessary to make that passage as smooth as possible.

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Anthony Gancarski, the author of Unfortunate Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch, and LewRockwell.com. His web journalism was recognized by Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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