Interview on "The 700 Club"
Recorded May 2; aired May 10, 2006
David Brody, CBN Interviewer: Give me a sense of where the Democrats are on their vision for America come mid-term elections 2006.
Howard Dean, DNC Chairman: I would say-- we have six things which I can talk about. But I would say the most important actually is values-based. We've gotta have honesty and openness back in our government again. We've gotten too far into the partisan politics. We need to speak to each other. We're not always gonna agree with people, but there's one America, not two Americas, and that's I think the most important thing for us to do is to really heal America and listen to each other with respect again.
Brody: Hm. Let me ask you about some-- these GOP numbers we're seeing in the polls, I mean, are horrible. The GOP has made mistake after mistake here, and it's hurt them with their base, and obviously, independent voters too. How much are the Democrats banking on some of that discontentment (sic) among Republican voters as it comes to midterm elections?
Dean: Discontentment among Republican voters is not enough to elect Democrats. We're gonna offer them something. One, we are going to have an honest, open government again. Two, we want a strong national defense but you've gotta tell the truth to our soldiers and our citizens before you send them someplace. Three, we want American jobs to stay in America and we use energy independence as a new way of generating jobs. We want a health care system that works for everybody. Thirty-six countries in the world have that. We've gotta have a public school system that has opportunity and optimism again, and we want real retirement security. I think that's a pretty good message about what Democrats would do. We can get into the specifics about it, but that's really what we're gonna focus on.
Brody: When will this message-- you've referred a lot about when this message may be unveiled. Do you have a sense of the timing of all this--
Dean: --It's already been unveiled. Last weekend we did a million homes. We knocked on a million doors. I believe, and frankly we've learned this from the Republicans, I believe that personal connections with people is what wins elections. Television is all fine and good, but the truth is, you've gotta look somebody in the eye and you've gotta have some feeling about who you are as a human being, and that's what we're doing. So a million homes last weekend; we're gonna do more... we'll do this three or four more times before the election.
Brody: Let me ask you about--
Dean: --We're hanging this platform on their doors if they're not home. And if they are home, we give them this platform. So basically, we've already unveiled this message to the American people.
Brody: Let me ask you about these polls because the polls that are really hurting the GOP right now in the numbers, also suggest that people wanna know what the Democrats' message is, and though you've said that it's out there. Obviously it's early. But it hasn't necessarily-- there are voters that are concerned that Democrats may not have a message for 2006. How do you get traction there?
Dean: What you do is the way we just did it last weekend. You gotta knock on doors. I need all 435 Congressional Democrats knocking on the doors in every district, introducing themselves, saying who they are, handing folks the basic message.
Brody: Okay. Lemme ask you about this President for a second, George W. Bush. Is there anything-- you've been critical, obviously, of him, and many Democrats have--
Dean (grins): --Probably my job.
Brody: Is there anything that you feel like he has hit the mark on, that he has done right at all?
Dean: Ah-- in terms of public policy, he's really struggled.
Look, I know him. I served with him for six years as governor. I can tell you some things about him from a personal point of view. He's a good family person. He has a nice sense of humor. He is someone who does believe that all people are created equal and he practices that in his life, although not in his political life, which I think is one of the problems.
But from a policy point of view, we've got a big problem. We've doubled the size of the deficit. We've got folks in Iraq who probably shouldn't have been sent there. We've got a culture that's still heading in the wrong direction.
You know, one of the things that-- I think there are a lot of-- one of the misconceptions about the Democratic Party is that 'oh, we're godless, we don't have any values.' The truth is, we have an enormous amount in common with the Christian community, and particularly, the evangelical Christian community. And one of the biggest things that Democrats worry about, is the materialism of our culture, what's on television that our kids are seeing, and the lack of spirituality. And that's something we have in common.
I was-- I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, because of this interview, and because we're doing a big faith outreach program. And there are enormous problems that confront America, and I'll bet you the Democrats know what those problems are just like the more conservative Christians.
Brody: Mm hm. Speaking about the evangelical community, within Democratic circles, within those inner strategy meetings, what sort of talks have there been about reaching out to the evangelical community?
Dean: Well, we-- actually, our chief of staff happens to be a Pentacostal minister, which is-- I'm sure most people wouldn't... most of your viewers would be surprised at. We actually do a big outreach program. I've personally met with some folks, like Reverend Tommy Compolo (sp), Luis Cortez, Nueve (sp) Esperanza, Reverend Thurston of the National Baptists. We've met with a group of people, and we're going to continue to do a very vigorous outreach program, not just to evangelicals, but also to Catholics. And we think that there's some shared values.
I'm a Democrat because of my values. My values include inclusiveness, they include not leaving more debt to our kids than we have ourselves. My values include wanting our values to drive our public policies. My values include not having kids go to bed hungry at night. Now those are values that I bet I share with the vast majority of evangelicals.
Brody: What about, though, the other values that the evangelicals speak out a lot about, which is the abortion issue, pro-choice--
Brody: -- and also, the gay marriage issue. These are very heartfelt issues for the evangelical community. How do you reach them when many Democrats don't necessarily have those same positions?
Dean: Let's discuss abortion first. I was on the board of Planned Parenthood for five years. I don't know anybody who's "pro-abortion". I don't know anybody in America who's "pro-abortion". I think what we have in common with the evangelical community is that we oughtta have a lot fewer abortions than we do. The abortions have actually gone up in the last five years.
Brody: Mm hm.
Dean: We should have far fewer abortions. We should reach out to help women who have unwanted pregnancy (sic). We oughtta make sure that-- it's not just abstinence but family planning is used to get rid of abortion, and that's something that we share. Now the difference is, that we don't think that making criminals out of doctors and women is a good idear.
So, what I would say is, let's reach out to all those who would like to reduce the number of abortions, and reduce 'em! And there's a lot of things that we could do to reduce those abortions. And then-- the honest truth is, you can get rid of Roe versus Wade, it's not gonna stop abortions. Abortions were around before. But what we agree on, is that abortions are not a good thing, and we oughtta have fewer of them.
Gay marriage: The Democratic Party platform from 2004 says marriage is between a man and a woman. * That's what it says. I think where we may take exception with some religious leaders is, that we believe in inclusion, that everyone deserves to live with dignity, and respect, and that equal rights under the law are important.
You know, there's a lot more common ground, and I'm not saying we're saying we're gonna agree with everything, between the more conservative evangelicals and the Democrats, but I think there's a lot more common ground than most people realize, and we're willing to work with the evangelical community to reduce the number of abortions. And we also would like to work with the evangelical community in terms of including everybody in the American Dream, and giving everybody equal rights under the law.
Brody: A lot was made in 2004 about the "value voter"--
Brody: How much do you make-- as we look at 2006, how important is it to tap into this "value voter"/evangelical community to win in 2006--
Dean: I think it's important, and I think it's a good idear for the Democratic party, anyway. Even if we didn't need evangelicals to win, we oughtta be communicating with the evangelical community for two reasons.
First, you shouldn't-- and you're not gonna do a good job-- you shouldn't govern if you're ignoring a whole section of the population. Whoever wins is gonna be the President of all the people. I think one of the reasons this President has gotten himself in so much trouble is, he didn't think half the people in the country mattered. And that's not true. Everybody matters. And whether you're on the right or the left, or you're religious or non-religious, you're an American. And whoever pays the salary of the President is entitled to have the President consider their views respectfully.
The second reason is, Democrats need to talk about their values. Values motivate lots of voters. Not just evangelicals, but values motivate all kinds of voters. People wanna know who you are.
Yeah, they want good education, they wanna make sure that their retirement is OK, and they think we oughtta be good stewards of the Earth. Those are important things. But the most important thing is, what's in your heart. And we need to speak to people from our hearts, and that means talking about our values, our personal values.
Brody: Lemme ask you about 2006. Where do you think your best chance-- I mean, obviously, you would love to see the House in Democrats' control, you would love to see the Senate in Democrats' control. Give me a sense of at least on May 2nd, 2006, where you stand in terms of, do you think it's more realistic that you'd get the House or the Senate?
Dean: I think one depends on the other. I think if we're gonna take the Senate back, we have to take the House back. The reason is a little political. That is, if you look at how a minority party can get its message out, you can't just buy television ads. The majority party can define themselves by having the President stand up and say 'here's what we stand for.' The minority party has to do it by talking to people-- lots and lots of people, millions and millions of people. There are 435 House members. If they will all take the time to talk to their neighbors about what Democrats believe, then I think we can pull a majority of the House back to the Democratic side, and also the Senate as well.
Brody: I know this question has been out there a lot, but I have to ask you: Who do you think the leader of the Democratic Party is, exactly? Especially when it comes to policy?
Dean: Well, it's one of the problems that we have, of being a minority party. There's lots of different sort of things that we do. I'm the leader of the Democratic National Committee, Harry Reid is the leader of the Senate, Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader of the House, Bill Richardson is the leader of the Democratic governors... so it's, you know, you sort of go through this list, and there isn't one leader of the Democratic Party. It's always the advantage that the party with the President has, is they have a real person, one person which you can identify and we don't.
Brody: If the Democrats take back the House and the Senate, would you be in favor of some sort of impeachment hearing?
Dean: No. I'm sure there'll be investigations, 'cause there's a lot of bad stuff that's going on that needs to be brought to light. But if we get elected to take back the House and the Senate, I can't imagine that that's gonna be our first order of business.
(The) first thing we want to do is unify the country.
The second thing we wanna do is make sure that we do have honest and open government again and some of the abuses are dealt with and disappear. But there's health care, there's the environment, there are problems with jobs in America, there's Iraq. I mean, we're gonna have our plate full, and I don't think that the first thing on our agenda is gonna be to get in a big partisan fight about whether the President should be impeached or not.
Brody: Let me ask you about some of the-- how upset do you get at some of the criticism that comes your way, you know the -- David Broder here, and I've got it here, basically had said, and if I can find it here, he said that-- and this is no conservative by any stretch of the imagination--
Brody: --called Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and yourself, he "cannot recall three less effective party spokesmen in my lifetime." And then he had said, and let me go on, "the GOP" (this is the GOP speaking), that "Howard Dean is the best thing to happen to the GOP in ages." How do you deal with some of that criticism?
Dean: You know, when I ran for President, I quickly realized that the wisdom in this country is not in Washington, it's outside the Beltway. And I also realized that there are very few votes in Washington. So I correspondingly pay more attention to what goes on outside Washington than what goes on inside Washington.
The currency in Washington is criticism. The currency of America is doing something. There are some serious problems in this country. They need to be fixed. We need everybody, whether right, left or middle, to contribute to that fixing. We need to understand how we look at the different solutions differently. And that goes way beyond criticizing or back-biting. I just-- Bill Clinton once told me, "don't read anything that's written inside the Beltway," and I usually don't.
Brody: (chuckles) Let me ask you about the GOP and Bill Frist and others. How disappointed have you been in their leadership and some of their policy initiatives?
Dean: Well, the problem is, I don't disagree with the characterization of the problems, but nothing seems to have happened. I don't think it's right to criminalize clergy, doctors, lawyers, and people who help others, regardless of the fact that, whether they're illegal immigrants or not. I think we have to-- look, I'm for border security. We need to have some of that, and we haven't had any for five years. But, I also don't think we-- to criminalize a member of the clergy, who helps somebody? That's not the job of the clergy, to ask for somebody's identification papers before they decide whether they should counsel somebody or not.
So we need a more thoughtful, kinder approach to how we treat our fellow human beings. That's on the immigration bill.
Many of the solutions that they have are solutions that I don't think work for most Americans. The debt-- budget deficits are a huge concern. You can't keep giving money away if you don't have any, and that's what's happening now.
Obviously, foreign policy. I said during the campaign that I thought it was a mistake to get involved in Iraq. I'd like to see more done on Darfur. Here we have terrible things going on, genocide going on, and we're not doing anything about it, and we should be doing something about it. I saw the United Nations had to cut in half their food rations for folks that are not getting enough to eat as it-- now that's not the America that I grew up in.
Katrina-- I was down in New Orleans for the-- the Democratic National Committee met in New Orleans two weekends ago. We put in 700 hours of community service while we were having our meeting. I was shocked. It's much worse than you see on television. It's seven months later. I mean, this is-- this doesn't go on in America.
So I guess my biggest concern is, this is too much-- there's too much politics and not enough actual getting out and doing things, and I think that's the lesson that I think Democrats have learned, is if you want to be in power, you better deliver and do something and not just talk about it, and not just play politics all the time.
Brody: I have to say real quick, that in one of the polls that I've seen, the Democrats, in essence, kind of pulled even on this national security question.
Dean: Mm hm.
Brody: ...because before, the Republicans seemed to sort of dominate that issue. I dunno about 'dominate', but they were in the majority. Now it seems like Democrats, Republicans, now it's a tossup, in terms of who's gonna better defend this country. At the same time, folks have said that yourself, and Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid-- that there'd be a lot of concern if the Democrats come into power because they're not necessarily gonna be able to defend this country the way it needs to be.
Dean: Let me tell you what my positions on defense are, and I'm speaking personally, but this is what they were during the campaign, during the presidential campaign.
I thought Iraq was a mistake. Turns out I may be right, though 'I told you so' is never a good way to run a political campaign.
Brody: Mm hm.
Dean: But I was also very concerned about Iran having atomic weapons, and said that they can't be allowed to do that under any circumstances.
You know, this gets back to what we started out with, is values. Having the moral high ground matters a lot. Because countries, even though they don't like you, and they try to push you off, having the moral-- position of moral superiority matters a lot. It influences people enormously.
I think we've lost that in the last few years, because of what we've done in Iraq, because we haven't gone in and consulted with other people, because we basically tell people, 'we're not gonna sign Kyoto', 'we don't care about international rights,' and so forth and so on. You can't behave like that. There are different people who disagree with you, and you have to deal with that, but running over them roughshod is not the right thing to do.
What I'd like to do is restore the moral high ground to the United States, 'cause it's not enough just to have the best army in the world, which we still have. You also gotta have the moral high ground, in order to say, 'this is what we believe, this is why we believe it.'
Everybody in the world knew, from the end of World War I, until 2000, that America was gonna try to do the right thing. We didn't always succeed, but we always tried. Now they're not so sure anymore, and that's a big problem for our defense.
Brody: Last question. 2006-- this party is poised for victory, in the House and the Senate?
Dean: Well, we're gonna do the best we can. You know, there's no guarantee of that. But, if we work hard, and we speak to the American people plainly about what we're gonna try to do, if we don't try to pretend we're somebody we're not, then I think we can win.
Brody: 'Don't go Republican Lite'.
Dean: If we do that, we're not gonna win. We have to stand up for who we are, and I think that if people will give us a chance, then we can show them that we can do the right thing.
Brody: Lemme ask you though, there is that quote, and I'll read it: "The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax-exempt or involved in politics," and some groups have obviously taken that to mean that you want to muzzle America's churches on policies.
Dean: I have no interest in muzzling America's churches. As I said earlier, our chief of staff happens to be a Pentacostal minister. What I was saying was very clear. It's the law. The law is, that churches, not only can play, but have played a very active role in America's politics. But, that it's not legal to endorse particular candidates, or particular parties when you're a church. Otherwise, you do lose your tax exemption.
I'm comfortable with that. I'm very comfortable with churches being involved in politics. But as often is the case, somebody says something and then it gets spun around a little bit, and before you know it it's all over the place.
I believe in the current system. I believe it's a good thing for churches to be involved in politics, but I also believe that you ought not to be advocating for a particular party, or a particular partisan candidate.
Brody: So there's a line at some point, as to where you cross that line.
Dean: Sure. Because otherwise, everybody gets to advocate. It's not just the church, it's lots of different kinds of organizations, and if you let them endorse candidates, then why not give them all tax deductions as well. So I think the current situation is good. I think having a moral leadership in politics is a very good thing. It's what drove the civil rights movement. But, I don't think folks should endorse particular candidates, as members of a particular church. If they want to do it-- or as pastors of a particular church. If they want to do it as individuals, that's their right. But it's not OK, under the current law, to get out in favor of candidates or particular parties. And, you know, I'm comfortable with that.
Brody: Mm hm. So you would acknowledge, though, that it's a challenge to reach out and make sure that this position that you've explained is out there, and especially people within the evangelical community understand that.
Dean: Well-- and it's one of the reasons that I appreciate that opportunity.
A lot of times what happens in Washington is, someone says something-- and you read the first half of the quote, which is accurate-- but then the opposition takes it, spins it around, and puts it out on one of the news networks and says, "this is what Howard Dean said." I saw what Fox News did with this. They said, "did you hear that Howard Dean is against religion being involved in politics?" Absolutely not true! Religion is very involved in politics on both sides, Americans are very religious people. I think that's a good thing.
But I also think the law is right. We shouldn't be able to do particular parties and particular candidates, as pastors in a particular congregation.
Brody: Thank you.
Dean: Thank you.
Mea Maxima Culpa Department:
On Thursday, May 11, Howard Dean issued the following statement:
"I misstated the Democratic Party's platform, which does not say that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman, but says the Party is committed to full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and leaves the issue to the states to decide. The Democratic Party remains committed to equal protection under the law for all Americans. How we achieve that goal continues to be the subject of a contentious debate, but our Party continues to oppose constitutional amendments that seek to short circuit the debate on how to achieve equality for all Americans."
From the Democratic Party Platform, 2004 (needs Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Statement regarding marriage, gay or otherwise:
"We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush's divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a "Federal Marriage Amendment." Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart."