WASHINGTON – Anti-war presidential candidate Howard Dean said he will not silence his criticism of President Bush's Iraq policy now that the war has begun, but he will stop the "red meat" partisan attacks that have been electrifying Democratic audiences and giving a boost to his campaign.
Dean, the former governor of Vermont and one of nine candidates pursuing the Democratic nomination, has opposed military action against Saddam Hussein without the backing of the United Nations. But on Thursday, he said he is confident of a quick U.S.-led victory, and the troops should continue the fight.
"Now that we've started it, we cannot stop," he said Thursday between speeches to two conventions of newspaper editors.
Dean has been verbally pounding Congress, including some of his Democratic rivals, and Bush for what he sees as a unilateral strike against Iraq. His Thursday speeches -- to the National Newspaper Association and the Black Press of America -- were more subdued as he directed his criticism at Bush's domestic agenda.
"I'm not going to back off my criticism of the president's policy, but I'm certainly going to change the tone," Dean said between the speeches. "There won't be the kind of red meat remarks that you make in front of partisan Democratic audiences."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio took his presidential campaign to the same newspaper audiences, but he pulled no punches in assailing the president for starting the war. He urged Bush to bring the troops home and focus on problems in America's cities, including unemployment, pollution and failing schools.
"This is a sad day for America, the world community and the people of Iraq," he said. "These are offensive, not defensive attacks, and they are in violation of international law."
Dean said the Republicans urging Democrats to unify behind the president in a time of war should agree to a moratorium on "extreme right-wing legislation" that also divides the country. He cited Bush's tax cut proposals, conservative judicial nominations and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as examples.
"The things we don't agree on, we'll put off until we are ready to criticize each other again," he said.
Across town at George Washington University, former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., said the wartime criticism Democrats have leveled at the White House was now "irrelevant, at least." But he lit into the Bush administration for beginning a war with Iraq before the Department of Homeland Security was firmly established and certain steps had been taken to ensure the nation's safety.
"What you don't do is leave your country exposed when you make that kind of commitment," said Hart, who ran for president in 1984 and 1988 and said he may announce another bid in the coming months.