The Democrats debate in Iowa.

Politics and policy.
Nov. 25 2003 3:02 AM

The Des Moines Debate

Scorecards and stinkers from the Democrats in Iowa.

Notes from Monday's MSNBC debate in Des Moines, Iowa:

Democratic Disease No. 1: Half a loaf is worse than nothing. "Nothing's been done on health care for a long time in the Congress," Howard Dean complains. "And that is why it is time for new leadership in this country and in this party." So, Republicans put together a Medicare bill that does something for prescription drugs, and how many Democrats in this debate endorse it? Zero.

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Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right. Follow him on Twitter.

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Democratic Disease  No. 2: Fiscal responsibility is un-Democratic. "Gov. Dean raised prescription costs for seniors in his state when he needed to balance the budget. He called himself a 'balanced-budget freak,' " protests John Kerry. On Medicare, Kerry tries to spin Dean: "Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor? Because that's a cut."

Democratic Disease No. 3: Zero-sum populism. Kerry inquires suspiciously, "If the drug companies win, who's losing? It's the seniors!"

Democratic Disease No. 4: It's our fault tyrants tyrannize. Moderator Tom Brokaw points out how uncooperative Kim Jong-il has been in arms-control negotiations. In response, Dennis Kucinich implies that Bush is to blame for frightening Kim. "I will go and meet with Kim," says Kucinich. "I will set forth a whole new doctrine for this United States, taking us away from unilateralism and preemption and toward cooperation."

Democratic Disease No. 5: Bogus foreign policy platitudes. Kucinich urges immediate withdrawal from Iraq, reasoning, "If it was wrong to go in, it's wrong to stay in."

Dean Scorecard No. 1: Foreign policy. At Brokaw's invitation, Kerry throws a punch at Dean: "Experience is a very important and critical issue in our ability to challenge George Bush in the time of war." Dean's retort: "Senator Kerry is talking about experience in foreign affairs. His experience led him to give the president of the United States a blank check to invade Iraq. ... I don't think that's the kind of experience we need in foreign affairs in the White House." Ouch. Round One to Dean.

Dean Scorecard No. 2: Race relations. Dean finally gets it right: "Don Payne, who's … a member of the Congressional Black Caucus from New Jersey, told me once that he thought Southern white males were the most under-represented people in Congress, because they vote for conservative right-wing Republicans. ... We have to make people understand that what we have in common is the economic problems of this country that face both African-American, white, and Latino working people. ...They need health insurance and decent health care, and they need jobs." Color of the person quoted by Dean: black. Description of Southern white males: "Southern white males." References to Confederate flag: Zero.

Dean Scorecard No. 3: Draft-dodging. Brokaw asks, "You took letters and an X-ray to your draft board because you had an unfused vertebra in your back. But then you went skiing … Why take the letter?" Dean replies, "They did not feel they wanted me in the Army. Dick Gephardt didn't serve in Vietnam. Joe Lieberman didn't serve in Vietnam. John Edwards didn't serve in Vietnam. ... I told the truth. I fulfilled my obligation." Stink factor: High. Clintonesque interpretation of duty, compounded by excuse-making distortions about opponents (Gephardt served in the National Guard; Edwards was too young to be drafted *).

Says little but looks good: Kerry. Somebody seems to have removed his pole. He talks like a normal human being, which is doubly difficult since he appears by remote feed. Demotion from the front of the pack has been good for his character.