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Dean Stands Up For Native Americans

Dean Appearance Draws Large Crowd To NCAI

Surrounded by some high profile Native Americans past and present, Dr. Howard Dean addressed several groups of Native Americans at the 60th Annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Wednesday morning in Albuquerque, NM.

... Dean also appointed to [sic] disparties in health care and said Indian Health Service (IHS) spends 1/3 of what is spent on medicare recipients. He said Indian people need better facilites to meet those needs.

He told the main convention he would settle the Cobell trust fund lawsuit within the first two years of this administration.

"The facts are not in dispute, this country did not take care of Native American peoples' resources," Dean told the audience.

Obviously you're not going to go in front of a Native American audience and tell them you don't think the trust fund case should be settled, but it sounds here like there were a lot of noncommittal weasel words he didn't use, and he made a concrete promise. Contrast this with John Kerry's statement, which was big on nice-sounding rhetoric but lacked specifics. Good on Dean, if he has the skill and commitment to accomplish it. My sense is that Dean's more likely than anyone else running to be able to whip agencies like the BIA and Forest Service into shape.

The rest of the article deals with yet another example of people dredging up past statements that Dean made -- this time, a comment opposing casinos. Dean's response paralleled his handling of his past support of the Yucca Mountain waste facility, NAFTA, and assault weapons. He pleaded federalism, saying that opposition to casinos was what was good for Vermont, but that he supports other places taking a different approach.

I think Dean's shift indicates something about how democratic politics works: voters are parochial. Elected officials face a demand to do what's best for the entity they represent, not what's best for the world. That's why pork barrel projects are so common -- Congresspeople know that the way to get reelected is to do things for their district, not to do things for the country. These past statements reveal that Dean's populist side has tended to get the better of his straight-talking idealism. The two sides sit uneasily together, as he tells supporters "you are the campaign," then insists that he doesn't care if his stances are popular. Hopefully Dean's lack of connections with entrenched Washington bureaucratic interests (who are the most important players in resisting a settlement of the trust fund suit) will mean that he continues to see doing right by Native Americans as the best course of action for America.


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