WASHINGTON — Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday defended his recent harsh criticism of Republicans, including his observation that they are “pretty much a white, Christian party.”
Dean noted that he, too, is a white Christian. But he said the GOP is too narrow in its scope and the Democratic Party is far more diverse.
While even prominent Democrats in recent days have distanced themselves from some of his comments, the outspoken Dean, appearing on NBC's “Today” show, said criticism of him is meant by Republicans to divert attention from the country’s problems and make him the issue instead.
Dean told a forum of journalists and minority leaders Monday that Republicans are “not very friendly to different kinds of people, they are a pretty monolithic party ... it’s pretty much a white, Christian party.”
Challenged on that during the NBC interview, Dean said “unfortunately, by and large it is. And they have the agenda of the conservative Christians.”
“This is a diversion from the issues that really matter: Social Security, and adequate job opportunity, strong public schools, a strong defense,” Dean said.
Asked about it on the “Fox & Friends” show, GOP Party Chairman Ken Mehlman joked that “a lot of folks who attended my bar mitzvah would be surprised” he heads a Christian party.
“We gotta get ourselves beyond this point where when we disagree about politics, we call the other guy names,” he said.
The former Vermont governor also recently raised eyebrows when he told a group of progressives that Republicans “never made an honest living in their lives,” a comment he was forced to explain a day later.
The one-time presidential candidate also said that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who has not been accused of any crime, ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence.
Some Democrats distance selves
On Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that while Dean was "doing a great job" as party chairman, "I don't think the statement that the governor made was a helpful statement."
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She later added that it "is not a fair assessment to characterize the Republicans" the way Dean did.
Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday that Dean is doing a good job, but is not the party’s spokesman.
Last weekend, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards criticized Dean for his recent remarks, saying he doesn’t speak for them.
Biden, asked about Dean Wednesday during an interview on the Don Imus radio show, also said the chairman is doing a good job.
“A lot of things he does say, I agree with,” Biden said. But he also said that Dean “has views that are slightly different than mine ... But look, he’s a lightning rod. ... It’s probably good that there’s a guy out there that’s a lightning rod ... .”
Biden, however, added that he thinks “the rhetoric is counterproductive.”
“I think this country has a purple heart, not a red heart or a blue heart,” Biden said. “If we can’t bring this (country) together, man, boy, we’re really in deep trouble.”
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