The Long Knives certainly are coming out against my man Dean. In today's NYT, conservative columnist David Brooks pens an artfully crafted attack at Deans base of support entitled "Bred For Power," an attempt to link Dean and Dubya on a number of points vis-a-vis their upper class backgrounds. It's quite a hack job, if I do say so myself.
First of all, like any good smear, this column contains some kernel of truth, giving the overall impression that the author is being, well, fair and balanced. Brooks is correct that Dean's family background is similar to the Bush's in WASPy stature. From this base premise, he ventures off into the attack zone.
Most egregiously, he compare's Bush's and Dean's "Prince Hal Phase's:"
Bush drank too much at country clubs. Dean got a medical deferment from Vietnam and spent his time skiing in Aspen. Both decided one night that it was time to get serious about life and give up drinking. Dean was 32; Bush was 40.
This almost offhand comparison makes it sound like Dean and Dubya have comparable young-adult biographies. Thankfully, this is easily refuted by the facts.
Howard Dean reported to a military doctor for a physical examination as required by draft law at the time of his graduation ('71) and was rejected from service, plain and simple. As a recent college grad in a disillusioned time, he went off to Aspen to ski for about a year before returning to New York to work on Wall St.
By contrast, George W Bush used family connections to get into the Texas Air Guard as a way around serving in Vietnam. He then went AWOL from his position for nearly a year after being transferred to Alabama, and has never attempted to explain that decision or account for how he spent the missing time.
Dubya was by all accounts a serious alcoholic, drunk at noon and picking fights. It's also tacitly understood that he abused cocaine for a spell. Talk to anyone on the inside during the 70s or 80s and you're bound to here some good stories. I have.
Dean by his own admission "partied pretty hard" in college, but you'd be hard-pressed to say he was at any point a drunk. Dubya dried out in a 12-step program, part of a total born-again conversion. Dean simply stopped. He says he, "didn't like who I was when I drank."
The rest of Brooks' piece is a hazy endorsement/indictment of the WASP establishment into which both Dubya and Dean were born. He links their leadership styles and boldness as being products of a privileged yet competitive upbringing, but makes few other definitive assessments. Personally, I get the sense that some part of Brooks actually admires the good doctor, or at least wishes they were on the same team.
However, there's a lot to be gleaned from the two hard biographical data points Brooks references. Dean did what was required of him with regards to service in Vietnam. Bush used family connections to get a do-nothing assignment, then ditched that responsibility too. Bush was only able to beat his drinking habit by being born again. Dean, by then a medical doctor, made a decision based on the facts.
These basic paradigmatic distinctions -- along with the fact that Dean possesses an engaging and curious intellect -- make all the difference in the world when it comes to comparing and contrasting these two men in their capacity to perform the duties of President.
One man has a long track record of taking responsibility seriously; the other has a record of dropped balls, some admitted but mostly not. One man has a fact-based outlook on life; the other takes a faith-based approach to policy. One man struck out to make his own life and his own career in a place where his family name meant little; the other partied until he was 40 then drifted into the family business, starting a pattern of cronyism that would follow him into public office.
Brooks's basic premise that both men come from privilege and were put through an educational system meant to groom them for leadership is essentially correct, but the meaningful similarities between Dean and Dubya stop there.