Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Dean: History as Prediction?

Confined Space has refrained from officially endorsing any one of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. All of them have good positions on workplace health and safety policies, and issuance of an ergonomics standard.

David Broder argues today in the Washington Post that to understand how a presidential candidate will behave as President (especially those who were former governors), one must look how they governed their state.

I am somewhat skeptical of this theory, especially with the current incumbent. He argues, for example, that George Bush "gave plenty of evidence about the buddy-buddy relationship of George W. Bush and the corporate power structure in Texas."

True, but looking at Bush's gubernatorial story-line, one might also have predicted that he would govern in a bi-partisan manner, "a uniter, not a divider." Yet his administration has proven to be the most partisan and divisive in recent American history.

Broder cites a new book about Howard Dean's record as governor of Vermont and finds "the Dean who emerges from these pages is a more complex and interesting politician than the man on the stump this past year -- less strident and in many respects more impressive."

Yet, he also cites something that may serve as a warning for Confined Space readers when working in the coming years with President Dean:
The chapter on his environmental record, titled "Green and Not Green," by Hamilton E. Davis, the former managing editor of the Burlington Free Press, is a model of balance. "A clear fault line runs down the center of Howard Dean's stewardship of Vermont's environment," Davis writes. "On one side is his strong support for the purchase of wild land that might otherwise be subject to development; during his 11 years as governor, the state bought more than 470,000 acres of such land. . . .

"On the other side of the fault, however, is Dean's record on the regulation of retail and industrial development. His critics charge that his preference for the interests of large business over environmental protection sapped the vitality from the state's regulatory apparatus, especially Act 250, Vermont's historic development-control law, and from regulations pertaining to storm water runoff and water pollution."

Even more intriguing than the analysis of his record in vital policy areas are the insights into his governing style. Davis's take begins with the observation: "Say this about Howard Dean; he is his own man.
I record this not as an argument against or for Governor Dean, but only as a reminder. No matter which Democrat is elected in November -- a Howard Dean or a Joe Lieberman -- we can never let down our guard and assume that our policy goals are his policy goals -- no matter what their current platform says. We will need to keep organizing from the outside and convincing from the inside. There are many who believe that the Clinton administration would gladly have let the ergonomics standard drift on into bureacratic oblivion if labor and friends in Congress hadn't kept the pressure on.

Bottom line: Democrat or Republican, Dean or Lieberman -- there are no free lunches...or ergonomics standards.