The last thing Howard Dean wanted to do on Sunday’s Meet the Press was defend the process in the Democrats’ presidential nominating process. That’s what he was forced to do, though, thanks to this quote from Ed Rendell:

GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): The popular vote is, to me, a much fairer indicia than the pledged delegates because the pledged delegates are elected in a very undemocratic way.

Here’s Dean’s reply to Russert’s question:

MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?

DR. DEAN: Well, no, I don’t. First of all, I don’t agree with it. And secondly, look, we have a set of rules. My job here is not to side with one candidate or the other and talk about pledged delegates or superdelegates or any of that stuff. My job is to take the rules that everybody started with and enforce the rules without fear or favor of any candidate. The–somebody’s going to lose this with 49 percent of the delegates in Denver, and that person has to believe that they were treated fairly if–otherwise, we can’t win. Look, John McCain is a weak candidate. He’s wrong on Iraq, as far as the American people are concerned. We don’t want to stay there for a hundred years. He’s wrong on the economy; it wasn’t the mortgage holders that, that, whose fault this was. He’s wrong on healthcare. We should have health insurance for all our kids. He is not a strong candidate.

The only thing that’s going to beat us is if we’re not unified. And my, in order to be unified, both the losing candidate and the winning candidate have to feel like the system was fair. So Senator Rendell may say–I mean, Governor Rendell may not like the rules, but the rules are what we started with. Most of them have been in place for the last 25 years. That’s what we’ve got to go by, whether you like the rules or you don’t like the rules.

Dean’s got a point that both sides knew the rules going in. That said, Gov. Rendell is justified because he’s saying that it goes against the Democrats’ own principles. How can Dean’s Democrats justify Hillary winning Texas by a healthy margin but Obama getting more delegates than Hillary? How can they call that proportional apportionment? That’s what Al Gore called fuzzy math throughout the 2000 campaign.

Dean’s answer isn’t pure spin but it’s close. Dean’s calling John McCain a weak candidate isn’t close to the truth. Though Dean will attempt to paint Sen. McCain as a George Bush double, the truth is that that’s an uphill fight for Democrats. They’d have better luck selling parkas in Miami than selling John McCain as a Bush clone.

I’m left questioning why he’s even attempting that tack, especially given all the articles that’ve been written about McCain the maverick, the biggeest thorn in President Bush’s side. Howard Fineman was on Chris Matthews’ show all the time talking about how much trouble Sen. McCain was supposedly causing him. I never bought into that meme, though the internet is littered with those types of stories. (For all the heartburn Sen. McCain was supposedly causing President Bush, the list of achievements on President Bush’s resume is rather lengthy.)

Here’s proof that Gov. Rendell is right about the undemocratic methods used by Democrats:

MR. RUSSERT: The candidate with the most elected delegates is not guaranteed the nomination?

DR. DEAN: The rules say that the candidate with the most delegates gets the nomination, and I support the rules.

MR. RUSSERT: So that the superdelegates could, in effect, overrule the elected delegates?

DR. DEAN: That, you know, you shouldn’t think of it that way. So-called “superdelegates” are, in fact, elected by exactly the same people who vote for the elected delegates. This is just–this is like an–a representative democracy. You elect a–80 percent of the delegates, and they have to do what you ask them to do. The others, the 20 percent you elect, essentially do what’s in their best judgment, just like the House and the Senate does. Sometimes you like it, and sometimes you don’t. But these folks are elected, all, all of them, almost all of them are elected. A tiny minority are not elected; they’re appointed. But most of them are elected. They’re elected by the same people who went to the–who go to the conventions and go to the–vote in the primaries. They’re governors, senators. A lot of them are, are, are DNC members. There’s 21-year-olds there, there’s–50 percent are women and so on, and on, on it goes. So this should not be looked at as some bunch of cigar-smoking folks in the back room slapping each other in the back and electing the next president. It doesn’t work that way.

Is it just me or is Gov. Dean doing an excessive amount of tapdancing around these questions? Personally, it sounds like Gov. Dean would rather be taunting a cobra than facing Mr. Russert. To be fair, he should be nervous. Both Democratic candidates have been exposed, one as a lightweight with questionable judgment, the other as someone who can’t give a straight answer if her life depended on it.

This exhange will give you mental whiplash if you think it through:

MR. RUSSERT: But the elected delegates were elected because they ran supporting the person that won the primary or the caucus. What should be the criteria of a superdelegate when they make their judgment as to who to vote for?

DR. DEAN: Well, I’m not going to say what their criteria should be because that’s not what the rule–the rules don’t give you a criteria. They’re supposed to vote their conscience. My personal belief is they’re going to vote for the person they think, think can beat John McCain, which is what I think a lot of these voters are voting for. I think a lot of these folks are going to the polls and are going to go the week after next in Indiana and North Carolina are saying, “Which one of our folks, of our folks, Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, can best beat John McCain?”

MR. RUSSERT: So your personal view is that even if someone has won more elected delegates, if you think the other person would be a stronger candidate against John McCain, you’d opt for the other person?

DR. DEAN: Tim, that is not my personal view. My personal view is, I am the chairman of this party, we have a set of rules that have been in place for a year and a half, and I am the person who’s in charge of upholding the rules whether I like them or not. Are there some rules I might change next time around? Yeah, maybe so. But right now we’re focusing on the rules we have. Look, that’s all we’ve got. No–I feel like I’m the referee here at the NCAA finals. You know, you make some calls, but if you stick to the rules and do the right thing according the rules, you’re going to end up with a decent process. And that’s what we have to do.

There you have it. Gov. Dean was for voting the superdelegates voting their conscience until he was against the superdelegates voting their conscience. That was Gov. Dean’s personal belief until it wasn’t his belief 20 seconds later. Was Gov. Dean lying the first time when he said that it was his personal belief that the superdelegates were “going to vote for the person they think, think can beat John McCain” or was he lying when he said that that wasn’t his personal belief? Or is it just that he’s tapdancing as frantically as any political party chairman has ever tapdanced?

Whether it’s A, B or C, it’s indisputable fact that Gov. Dean’s appearance hurt his party by sounding so incoherent.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

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