Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates’ biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, and claims to fame. This series assesses the story that supposedly shows each candidate at his worst. Here’s the one told by critics of Howard Dean—and what they leave out.
Charge: In 1971, Dean, who had been a wrestling team captain in high school, received a draft deferment for an unfused vertebra in his back. In the Aug. 15, 2002, Aspen Times, Dean said he “skied 80 days” in Aspen during the winter of 1971-72. The Times reported that Dean “loved skiing bumps,” otherwise known as moguls. (Some health publications note that moguls can put particular stress on the spine.) “It was a great time to be a kid and do something relatively fun,” Dean recalled. He added that he also worked that year “pouring concrete.” Time reported on Aug. 11, 2003, that Dean spent the year “skiing and bumming around. … He hit the slopes, tried pot, washed dishes, poured concrete and drank impressive amounts of beer.” On June 22, 2003, Tim Russert asked Dean on Meet the Press, “Why were you able to ski on Ajax Mountain, pounding your back, and pouring concrete, and not serve in the military?”
Defense: Dean told Russert, “I was given an examination. I had a previous back problem, which is evidently congenital, which prevented me from doing any sustained running, a problem that I’ve had since then, since that time, which requires that when I get out of the car I often have some pains up and down my leg and back and so forth. But I have been able to exercise [and have] a vigorous athletic life except for some things. One of those is long-distance running, which is how the problem came to my attention in the first place. I noticed the pain when I was in high school running track. … After the physical, I received a 1-Y deferment, [which] means you can only be called in times of national emergency. I didn’t have anything to do with choosing any draft deferment. … The United States government said this is your classification. I’m not responsible for that.”
In the May 25, 2003, Washington Post, Dean’s campaign manager, Joe Trippi, said, “[Dean’s] view is, ‘Look, I went in, got a physical and was rejected, and then I went on with my life.’ “