It’s perfectly all right to point out that Howard Dean makes over-the-top statements, but this Robert Novak column holds him to a bizzare standard.

He has described the Republican leadership, in various venues, as ”evil,” ”corrupt” and ”brain-dead.” He has called Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, a ”liar.”

Novak links all these quotes together, boom-boom-boom, but the Santorum quote was by no means over the top. Here’s the context.

On (ironically enough) Meet the Press in February, Santorum had this exchange with Tim Russert.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, your Republican colleague from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, said the president’s elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak is unacceptable.


MR. RUSSERT: Do you share that view?

SEN. SANTORUM: I would agree with–it’s not…

MR. RUSSERT: So you’re going to fight it?

SEN. SANTORUM: It’s not acceptable to me, either.

Santorum parsed the question, but gave the impression he would stand with Arlen Specter and oppose Amtrak cuts. Then he voted to cut Amtrak. This became a not-minor story in PA media for a few days. When Howard Dean came to PA in march, he picked up on it.

Dean, a former Vermont governor and former Democratic presidential candidate, called Santorum, a Republican who is up for reelection in Pennsylvania in 2006, a “liar” and “right-winger” who actually lives in Virginia.

“He doesn’t tell the truth,” Dean told a gathering of about 150 at Bluezette on Market Street.

Dean said Santorum had voted to kill Amtrak, an important service in Pennsylvania, and had then turned around and written a piece for The Inquirer saying he supported Amtrak.

That’s the context in which Dean called Santorum a liar. I think it’s totally fair.

The usual gang of idiots have tried to make something out of the remark, but it hasn’t had any salience in PA, where people know the context and Santorum has been falling in the polls. And really – calling a politician a “liar” is beyond the pale? I’d like a refund on the 1990s, please.

This irritates me because it embodies the faux-controversy I hate in mainstream political reporting. I’d be surprised if half of Dean’s MTP interview isn’t devoted to words and sentences he’s uttered over the last five months. Who cares, especially when they’re likely as robbed of context as Novak’s snit here?

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