Suddenly a Centrist

With Dean on her left and Gingrich on her right, Hillary comes across as a moderate

By:  Rachel Marsden

If Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, then former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is its Jerry Springer.  When his primal scream at the Iowa primaries became one of the biggest public relations meltdowns ever seen in a political campaign, I figured the Democrats would wrap him up in a self-hugger and toss him in a rubber room.

I was wrong, having underestimated the gun-control-loving party's affinity for machine-gunning its own feet. By February of this year, this carnie barker had been voted in as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

But there's an advantage to making Dean the public face of your political party: Everyone else appears sane by comparison.

Last year, while speaking at Northwestern University in Illinois, Dean compared President Bush's tactics to those of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic - now on trial at The Hague for genocide and war crimes.  He said that Bush engaged in "gay-baiting," and appealed to racism, sexism and homophobia - all of which apparently are rampant in America, given that Bush won by three million votes.

Speaking last week at a D.C. event called "Take Back America 2005: The Conference for America's Future," Dean complained about the United States "pick[ing] on dictators who are irrelevant to the United States [while] leav[ing] nuclear powers like North Korea and Iran alone”, and suggested abortion was a form of "health care.”

Clearly, abortion and health care are not the same thing. Just try substituting one for the other in a sentence. For example, you could say that Howard Dean’s disastrous emergence onto the national scene has been a ‘political abortion’, but not ‘political health care’. See? Doesn’t work.

But Dean is not the only radical in his party. In a 2002 presentation to schoolchildren, Sen. Patti Murray (D-WA) described Osama bin Laden as a man with a humanitarian side. Chappaquiddick swim team captain, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), appeared to be sharing talking points with radical Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr last year when both compared America's effort to liberate and rebuild Iraq as another Vietnam. (Is it any wonder that, as Kennedy told a congressional hearing on homeland security last year, his name ended up on no-fly lists at the airport?)

As for Dean, he continued his assault on Middle America voters last week by saying that a lot of Republicans "have never made an honest living in their lives" - even though the only income class that strongly favoured Democratic candidate John Kerry over Bush was composed of those earning less than US$30,000, many of whom likely eke out this "honest living" by latching on to the government teat.

But while Dean's outbursts may serve to paint the entire party as a bunch of wackos, they could also help make radical lefty presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton look positively Churchillian by comparison - as in: "We have Howard Dean on the left and Hillary on the right."

Clinton has undergone a public transformation in recent months, designed to appeal specifically to Republican voters - from quoting the Bible, to adapting a page from Tom Cruise's playbook by hooking up with a "political beard" - Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich - on non-partisan aspects of health care. Obviously, she's seen the 1972 horror flick for far-lefties called "Nixon-McGovern," and doesn't care to be featured in a sequel.

Clinton's highly public pilgrimage to the center has served to obscure the fact that she's one of the most liberal politicians in Washington. Last year, Clinton rated a zero (on a scale of 0 to 100) with the right-wing American Conservative Union, received an 'F' grade from the National Taxpayers' Union, a score of 10% from the Americans for Tax Reform, and a lifetime rating of "hostile" (7% - the lowest score in the entire Senate) from Citizens Against Government Waste. (They're the sort of grades that - according to transcripts released this week - should give John Kerry 'Nam-style flashbacks to his days at Yale.)

Yet there's some hope for her. On controversial partisan issues, Clinton often has the good sense to go M.I.A. while some of her potential GOP opponents have been busy making unfortunate public displays. Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), for instance, mucked around in the Terri Schiavo feeding-tube frenzy, rather than leaving the case up to the courts where it belonged. And fellow Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain played footsie with Democrats this week, handing control over Bush's judicial nominees to the party that voters thought they'd rejected.

Republican presidential hopefuls need to start behaving the way people who voted them into office expect them to. Otherwise, with Newt "Katie Holmes" Gingrich on her right arm and Dean thrashing about on her left, Hillary could end up riding these optics right back into the White House.