An Open Letter to Michael Dukes
From one Toronto Native to Another


Dear Michael,

It was brought to my attention that a letter from a local was in the January 22 issue of USA Today. Now I don’t usually read the USA Today, it being (in my opinion) the newspaper equivalent of the Weekly Reader. However, since a hometown name was going to be featured, and since the issue was one that I have a particular interest in, I decided to read your thoughts.

First, let me say that you represent yourself well. Your letter was succinct (something that this reply will not be) and it was brief – mercifully brief.

But I am afraid that the briefness and succinct style of your point was all that I could find to like in your letter. You begin with an observation that I find wholly insupportable. “For the past few months,” you say, “Howard Dean has been arrogantly smug on the campaign trail.” Dean has been confident, and he has been ambitious, but smug? Arrogantly smug?

Most dictionaries define smug as being self-congratulatory, overly complacent or self-important. And arrogant is also defined as self-important (which makes “arrogantly smug” redundant), but it is also defined as a disposition to make exorbitant claims about one’s self. I don’t know that Mr. Dean ever did that. It’s true that he often began statements with phrases like, “I’m the only candidate who'” But it was always true. For example, he is the only candidate who had ever balanced a budget. He is the only candidate to have ever provided a segment of the nation with a nearly universal healthcare program. Etceteras.

Besides, all candidates tout their achievements (when they have them.) It’s called running on your record.

You then mention that, “He garnered infinitely more exposure than any of the other Democratic nominees. Yet he placed a measly third in Iowa. Why?”

Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your use of the word “infinitely” was hyperbole. You then note that he finished a “measly” third in Iowa, and you ask (as if the question is rhetorical) why. But a third place finish in a caucus race of six is not exactly beans. And why he lost the caucuses is complicated. Part of it was due to a dishonest smear campaign by Dick Gephardt which probably cost both candidates. Another part of it was that he had criticized the caucus process in the past. (And I think he was right to do it, at the time.)

You next make a blanket assertion. “Dean,” you say, “is way too liberal for the ordinary American.” Sir, the ordinary American is too liberal for the present administration. And Dean is not as liberal as you and the media would choose to paint him. True, he is not a centrist, but neither is he an anti-establishment, freelove dropout. He believes in the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection. So does the Iowa winner, John Kerry. He believes in a strong military. So does Kerry. He believes in universal medical coverage. So does Kerry.

But let us continue with your letter. Your next observation is that Dean, “wants to rescind all of President Bush’s tax cuts, which I believe essentially would raise taxes on the middle class.” First, this is not entirely true. Dean has backed off of his plan to repeal the entire Bush tax cut. But considering how irresponsible the cuts were in the first place, this should hardly be an issue of contention. Most Americans when polled say that they would give up the tax relief if it meant guaranteeing important government programs like Medicaid and Social Security.

Second, there really was no middle class tax cut. Not when you factor in the fact that the cuts led to raised state and local taxes, as well as increased tuitions and other raises in the costs of various government services.

Your next point is that, “Dean used too many attack ads, which turned off voters.”

I haven’t been to Iowa lately, so I could be wrong, but it is my understanding that Dean was the victim of a reaching attack campaign primarily because he was the front runner. He responded, but history has shown that responding defensively is worse than responding offensively. Kerry may have benefited by simply letting the others do the dirty work for him. But if that is the case, then had Kerry and Dean gone into Iowa in reversed positions, it would have been Dean who benefited from the attacks others waged on Kerry.

You then say that you, “hope supporters of the former Vermont governor will face reality. Their candidate has no shot whatsoever at beating Bush in the general election ‘ and Dean’s poor performance in Iowa exemplifies that.” Now, it is at this point that I have to wonder what your own stake in this is. Are you a Democrat? If so, are you a Kerry supporter? Are you an Independent or a Republican? If so, would you vote for Kerry in the general election?

If you are a Democrat and a Kerry supporter, you’ll understand if I take your advice with a grain of salt. If a Republican, the salt grain becomes a lot harder to swallow. Bill Safire gave almost exactly the same advice this week, and he did it in a column where he again tried to color Wesley Clark as a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton. The credibility of his beneficence is strained to say the least.

On the other hand, if you are an Independent, perhaps you really do want to see a candidate who can beat Bush. But as a democrat, and a Dean supporter, I can tell you that we do not support a candidate based on his winability. We support him based on his heart, and on his intentions, and on his progressive ideals. I’ll vote for Kerry before I’ll vote for Bush, certainly. But Howard Dean has the qualities I look for in spades when compared to John Kerry.

As for Dean’s performance in the Caucuses of Iowa exemplifying his status as a loser, that remains to be seen. Iowa is one very small state. In 2000, one state was allowed to choose the president. We democrats will be damned if we will allow one state to choose his successor.

When Dean lost in Iowa, he called the troops together, nobley conceded the state to John Kerry, and then began to rally for the next step in the campaign. He was not giving in. He wasn’t about to. And this so worried the establishment and those who aim to beat him at any cost that they took that exuberant rally and turned it against him.

As Russ Baker wrote, “It’s true that Dean yelled at his Monday night rally in Iowa. And so what? Basically, at a pep rally, he yelled like a football coach. This is described as being “unpresidential.” But says who? Besides, what’s the definition of ‘presidential?’ Isn’t giving insulting nicknames to world leaders unpresidential? Isn’t sending hundreds of American soldiers to die for uncertain and misrepresented ends in Iraq unpresidential’or worth considering as such? Isn’t having an incredibly poor grasp of essential world facts and an aversion to detail and active decision making unpresidential?”

Michael, you ended your letter by saying, “Kudos to John Kerry on caucuses well won. He’s a moderate, a war hero and the democratic party’s best shot at beating Bush come November.” I began by saying that I had found little to like in your letter. Except for the Kudos (which are of course deserved) I can’t even agree with this recommendation. If the best shot at beating Bush is a moderate who voted for the war and the PATRIOT Act, then Bush (or at least the idea of Bush) will not have been beaten at all. He will simply have been replaced.

Joe Humbleo

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