Interview on "Face The Nation" with Bob Schieffer
August 14, 2005
BOB SCHIEFFER, host:
Today on FACE THE NATION, Howard Dean and the future of the Democratic Party. What does the Democratic Party stand for these days? That's the big question facing the new leader of the party, the former presidential candidate and governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. Should the party fight the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court? Was it a mistake for most leading Democrats to support the war in Iraq? And who's the leading candidate for president in 2008? We'll ask all those questions and more. John Harris, political editor of The Washington Post will join us. And I'll have a final word on airline security. But, first, Howard Dean, on FACE THE NATION.
Announcer: FACE THE NATION with CBS News' chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. Governor Dean is in the studio with us this morning.
Good morning, Governor.
And also joining in the questioning, John Harris, the political editor of The Washington Post, and author of the new national best-seller "The Survivor," the story of Bill Clinton in the White House. Welcome to both of you.
Governor Dean, polls are showing that people are losing confidence in the president's handling of the war in Iraq. A minority--a majority now believe it's left us more vulnerable, rather than less vulnerable, to the terrorists. But what do Democrats propose to do about it?
Dr. HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Former Governor, Vermont; Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Well, I think, first of all, we need a plan. The saddest article, in a series of very sad articles about people losing their lives--the saddest article I saw was in The Washington Post this morning, talking about the insiders of the administration saying, `Well, now we misjudged. We really can't achieve any of the things--or many of the things we said that we were going to achieve when we went.' Eighteen hundred and fifty Americans lose their lives because the president can't figure out what he's going to do, had no plan when we got there and has not plan when we get out.
First thing we need to do have a plan for leaving. And the second thing we need to do is to make sure that to the best of our ability we can influence the writing of the constitution. It looks like today, and this could change--as of today, it looks like women will be worse off in Iraq than they were when Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq. That's a pretty sad commentary on this administration's ability to do anything right.
SCHIEFFER: Well, when you say, `We need to have a plan,' you mean a plan to leave?
Dr. DEAN: We do.
SCHIEFFER: A plan to get out?
Dr. DEAN: We need to have a plan to leave.
SCHIEFFER: Should we leave now?
Dr. DEAN: I think that's going to be very problematic. I mean, I think we've gotten in there, we've made a huge mess in there, we've created a terrorist danger for the United States where one did not exist before. But to pull out before they even have a chance to write their constitution I think is wrong. But I do think that time is coming very quickly. And if it turns out that this constitution really does take away the rights that women have enjoyed in Iraq before, then I can't imagine why we're there.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I'll go back and ask you about that in a minute, but I know the president said, and I think it was just this week, giving a timetable for leaving Iraq would be the worst thing we could do because it would just tell the people who oppose us there, `Look, all we have to do is hang in till they leave, and then we're OK.'
Dr. DEAN: We need to leave. We're not going to be there forever, I hope. We're not going to be there forever. So the question is: What is a reasonable way to get out? And that's--we have no answers from the president on that at all. He keeps saying--well, his administration appears to be divided. Some of the generals have said, `Well, we can withdraw some of the troops, perhaps as many as 30,000, after the elections.' We have others saying, `Well, we're not going to leave.' These people do not know what they're doing. They didn't know what they were doing when we got in, they had no plan then. They have no plan now. They do not know what they're doing.
Mr. JOHN HARRIS (The Washington Post): Governor, you're the political leader of the Democratic Party. As you well know, many of the--your people in Congress, Democrats in Congress, voted for the war in 2002. Next year, 2006, do you expect this will be a good political issue for Democrats to run on, what you consider the president's failures on Iraq?
Dr. DEAN: Well, we don't-- I can't imagine using 1,850 lost American soldiers, who have died in defense of their country, using that as a political issue. I think there's a lot of-- I think this is certainly going to be an issue of disagreement and it's going to question the president's credibility, the president's competence. But I-- you know, using it as a political issue, I think is-- I don't think the Democrats are going to do that.
Mr. HARRIS: And what about this woman, this mother, down in Texas, Cindy Sheehan?
Should the president meet with her?
Dr. DEAN: Sure, he should. I mean, he's-- he asked her to give up her son. She did give up her son. There's been many American women and men who've lost their lives and we're trying to understand for what.
Today-- today, also in your paper, there was an article that said that this--the troops still don't have the proper equipment. What are these people doing that are running the armed forces?
I'll tell you what they're doing. People like the president, and people like Secretary Rumsfeld, are ignoring the career experts like General Shinseki who told them before we went in that we needed adequate equipment and adequate troops. They thrust that aside. These people do not know what they're doing that are running this country. They have no conception of what it's like to fight a war because none of them ever have. And that's the great-- that would have been the great positive that John Kerry would have brought to the presidency.
SCHIEFFER: Why do you suppose it is, though, Governor, that while people are losing confidence in the president's handling of the war that-- and every poll suggests that-- why do you suppose that people are not buying what Democrats are saying? They don't seem to be taking too much to the Democrats on that.
Dr. DEAN: I think they are buying what Democrats are saying. I think people believe that we need a plan to get our troops to come home. I think that people do understand now...
SCHIEFFER: But if may say so...
Dr. DEAN: Sure.
SCHIEFFER: ...I mean, saying we need a plan. I mean, sure, you need a plan, but do you have a plan? Is anybody working on a plan? What would you propose?
Dr. DEAN: Well, Bob, the president of the United States is commander in chief. It is up to him to come up for a plan. You can't expect a congressman and senators who don't have the same access to intelligence as the president does to come up with a plan to withdraw our troops from Iraq.
We-- look-- the president got us into Iraq 'cause people were willing to trust the president, even some Democrats were willing to trust the president in assuming he knew what he was doing. The problem is now that there's ample evidence to say that they didn't understand what they were getting into and they still don't know what we're doing there. They changed their goals. The troops are still not properly equipped. The constitution looks like it may take away freedom from the Iraq people, at least half of them, instead of added to them.
What we need is a plan from the president of the United States. You can't expect a particular senator or particular congressman to have a plan. Only the president can do that.
Mr. HARRIS: Governor, the other big Washington story this summer obviously John Roberts, the nomination for the Supreme Court. We've had a month or so since the nomination to learn about it. What do you think of this nomination and are Democrats showing enough backbone? Many Democratic senators have made it clear unless there are some surprises, they're going to probably approve this nomination.
Dr. DEAN: I think that we need to wait and see here. Here are my concerns about Judge Roberts. First of all, he seems to be an engaging personality which certainly helps because judicial temperament matters. And I think there are some folks on the Supreme Court such as Justice Scalia, for example, who don't possess judicial temperament. I know something about this. I actually appointed a large number of judges when I was governor. And that's one of the first things you always look for. And Judge Roberts has judicial temperament.
What he does not have is apparently the interest of civil rights at hand by judging by his early writings. What he does not have is much sympathy for women and young girls who get into sports in terms of equality under Title IX. What he does not have is a full understanding of why the Voting Rights Act was necessary. He took the far-right position in the Reagan administration which he ultimately lost inside the administration. What he does not have yet is the credibility he needs. He needs to explain how he denied being in a Federalist Society when the Federalist Society was touting him as a leader in that society. So there's a lot of questions that need to be answered. These can only be answered if the White House will release documents that we've asked for.
Mr. HARRIS: Right. What about the filibuster? Should that stay on the table for Senate Democrats?
Dr. DEAN: I think they made an agreement. I would expect the agreement to be kept. And that is that if the president is not able to explain some of these concerns that we have about Judge Roberts, then I think the filibuster could be used, but again, I'd be careful what I say. I don't have a vote. I'm not in the Senate. You asked me for my view on Judge Roberts. My view on Judge Roberts is that he has a winsome personality which is good but that there are four or five areas which are of deep concern to the American people such as enforcing women's rights, Title IX-- excuse me, civil rights, the Voting Rights Act and I think we need an explanation of what's going on in the Federalist Society.
Mr. HARRIS: You're familiar, Governor, with that NARAL ad that ran last week and even many Democrats said it went over the line, went too far, and they took it down. Do you think it went too far?
Dr. DEAN: You know, I'm not even going to get into that, and I'll tell you why. There's been a lot of stuff that's gone too far. And the Republicans really are great authors of that kind of stuff. This is a diversion. The issue is: Will the White House release the documents so that we can find out who Judge Roberts really is? Judge Roberts is likely to be on the bench for perhaps as many as three decades. That is very important to the American people. We need to know who this man is and what he believes before he's confirmed.
SCHIEFFER: What's fair to ask Judge Roberts? Is it far to just say: Are you for or against abortion? Some people say, you know, that we shouldn't ask about specifics.
Dr. DEAN: I'll tell you what I did when I was governor. I would never ask about a pending case. I would ask about somebody's judicial philosophy. I always ask, `How would you have voted on such-and-such a case?' And Judge Roberts has said that Roe vs. Wade was overreaching. We need to know how he would have voted on that case and why. And the 'why' is more important than the yes or the no.
So I think it's very fair, and I always used-- I never used to ask anything about a pending case when I was interviewing potential judges, but I always used to ask, `How would you vote in this case?' Whitney vs. Griswold is a privacy case from the 1950s in Connecticut, very important. We want to know if John Roberts is going to stop the Republicans from continuing to invade people's personal lives. That's very important to people.
Mr. HARRIS: Governor...
SCHIEFFER: Go ahead.
Mr. HARRIS: ...(unintelligible) activist in your party, you spent a lot of time traveling. What are the activists in your party expecting from senators on the Roberts' nomination? As I said, as long as I've been listening to you speak, your message has been consistent. The party's got to start fighting, stop getting along to go along, show some backbone.
Dr. DEAN: I think what activists are expecting is for them to be tough but fair. And hallmark of the Republicans is, say anything. If you keep saying it people will believe it even if it's not true.
Mr. HARRIS: Does that work for them?
Dr. DEAN: I think it has worked for them because we haven't stood up and said, `This is absolutely not true and therefore, you ought to be embarrassed to be saying so.' And we need to say that every single day.
So we want to be tough but we want to be fair. I think the damage the Republicans have done to this country not just in the largest deficits in the history and this bumbling stuff that they've done in Iraq. The real damage they've done is they've undermined people's belief that democracy can work and the way to fight this is to be tough but fair.
SCHIEFFER: I want to ask you about some politics in a minute. I want to go back to one international question. The president said earlier this week that if diplomacy fails, that we may have to resort-- he said every option will be on the table including military action, concerning Iran, if they go ahead with plans that-- and we begin to think they're building a nuclear weapon. What's your response to that?
Dr. DEAN: My response that that's the proper thing for any president to say. When I was running for president I said the same thing. You can never take any option off the table.
The problem with this president is he doesn't have the credibility either at home or abroad to make that into a believable statement. The problem is the president's got 138,000 people pinned down in Iraq. He doesn't have the capability to do anything in Iran nor the international support to do anything because of his extraordinary blunders so far in defending the country. So while no president can ever take any option off the table, this president's words are-- can't be take seriously by people either at home or abroad. He has allowed a real danger to the United States, which is an atomic or nuclear-armed Iran to be-- to go for five years while he has focused on what I frequently refer to as the...
SCHIEFFER: But if he said we may have to resort to military action, you can see circumstances where you would support that.
Dr. DEAN: What I-- I didn't say that, Bob. What I said was...
SCHIEFFER: No. I'm just asking.
Dr. DEAN: Well, that sounded like a statement, not a question. I think obviously you have to look at what the circumstances are. The problem, again, with this president is he squandered our resources in Iraq, which was not a danger to the United States. He doesn't have much left to fight a country that is a danger to the United States. So while he-- any president should always say, Democrat or Republican, that no option should be taken off the table, he lacks the credibility both here and abroad to actually exercise that option. He shouldn't say it, because it can't be delivered upon.
SCHIEFFER: OK. Let's take a break. We'll continue this is just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: We're back now again with the chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean.
Governor Dean, what is the Democratic message? I mean, I think that's a question-- and I think it's a legitimate question...
Dr. DEAN: Sure.
SCHIEFFER: ...that a lot of people are asking.
Dr. DEAN: Well...
SCHIEFFER: Clearly, people didn't understand what the message was last time out.
Dr. DEAN: Right.
SCHIEFFER: What did you do wrong then, and what needs to be done now?
Dr. DEAN: Well, I think the message actually might-- you know, we're going to have a-- we're going to work through all this stuff and we're going to have a national message, because one of the things we haven't done in a long time is run comfortably as-- a Democrat in Alabama can stand on the same platform you can in California. We need to be able to do that, and that takes a lot of hard, nitty-gritty work, which we're doing.
I think if we had a three-word message right now it'd be, `We can do better'-- four-word message. We can do better. We will do better on the deficits. Only president to balance the budget in the last 40 years: Bill Clinton. We need to balance the budget in this country. Harry Truman, 1948, health insurance for all Americans-- we need to keep that pledge. We need a strong defense that's compatible with working with our allies and not going off halfcocked without understanding what we're getting into.
So it will be around the issue-- now that's not a national message. An issue-- a national message is not a list of issues. But the issues that we'll build the national message around are most likely to be a strong defense, a strong economy with a balanced budget, health care and public education. That'd be my guess as to what Democrats have in common in Mobile, Alabama, and in San Francisco.
Mr. HARRIS: Were you troubled by President Bush's endorsement that intelligent design should be taught alongside the evolution to schoolchildren?
Dr. DEAN: The president has been anti-science for a long time. This is the most antiscientific regime that I've seen in America in my lifetime. I'm a trained physician, as you're aware. I'm insulted by that. It's going to harm America. What serious business is going to invest in America if a scientific education is influenced by politics? Science ought to be taught as science. If you want to teach religion, that's a separate debate. But science should be taught as science.
SCHIEFFER: What is intelligent design? What do you think of that idea?
Dr. DEAN: I think it's a religious idea. And actually, Einstein thought that there was some merit to it. Who am I to question Albert Einstein? But that is not-- a religious idea is different than a scientific design. The idea that-- and I don't think science and religion are incompatible. That's the thing that amazed me about this. You don't have to disbelieve evolution in order to be a religious person. So I don't understand why these folks continue to try to have this debate. But the truth of the matter is, intelligent design is a religious perception and a religious precept. That's fine. That should be taught wherever religion is taught, if that's the desire of those people who are religious.
Science is science. There's no factual evidence for intelligent design. There's an enormous amount of factual evidence for evolution. Those are the facts. If you don't like the facts, then you can fight against them. The Catholic Church fought against Galileo for a great many, many centuries. But it never pays to ignore the facts. Reason we're in trouble in Iraq right now, president didn't care what the facts were. Reason we have a $7 trillion, almost $8 trillion national debt, president didn't care what the facts were. The facts matter.
The truth is, you can't run a business, a state, a country or a family if you don't care what the facts are.
Mr. HARRIS: Governor, when you were a presidential candidate, I remember, you once said that the problem with Democrats during the Clinton years is they spent too much time looking at polls, too much time courting swing voters, not enough time speaking in a very direct way to the party's base. Two questions related to that. Is that still your view as party chairman? And what does that make you think about the prospect of Hillary Clinton bringing back the Clinton style of politics as the party's candidate in 2008?
Dr. DEAN: Well, first of all, I have sworn off talking about 2008 in any way. I happen to be a great admirer of Hillary Clinton, and I think she deserves an opportunity to prove herself, as all the other Democratic candidates do. But I do have to be a referee. This is a-- I was saying off the set, this is-- I'm now in a position where I can't say anything I want, and one of the things I cannot do is kibitz about the 2008 race. There will be 10 or 11-- Who knows how many candidates? I have to be the referee. I have to be impartial. Anything I say about the 2008 race is going to lend itself to somebody saying I'm for somebody or against somebody else.
Mr. HARRIS: Is it true that the party spent too much time chasing after swing voters, not enough standing up unapologetically for what it stood for?
Dr. DEAN: I think you always do better in politics if you stand up for what you believe in. And I think bringing the voters to you-- it's one of the reasons the president-- people liked the president, because he stands up for what he believes, even though it may be terribly misguided. People like somebody who's strong and wrong, rather than somebody who's right and weak. We've got to be right and strong from now on.
Mr. HARRIS: And...
SCHIEFFER: I'm sorry. John, go ahead.
Mr. HARRIS: Your party's activists love your blunt language and your confrontational style. But it seems to me that about once a month you say something that is seen as so incendiary that Washington Democrats and Congress tell you, `Look, knock it off, tone it down.' Are you trying to tone it down?
Dr. DEAN: That's a little exaggerated. I mean, Harry Reid has been fantastic. Of course, Harry's a similar kind of person. I think you got to be blunt. Harry Truman said it best. "You know, I don't give them hell. I just tell the truth and the Republicans think it's hell." That's the way it is. We are not going to win if we're not seen to be willing to stand up for ourselves, and that's what we got to do.
SCHIEFFER: So you won't talk about the Democrats in 2008. What about the Republicans? Who do you think the most formidable candidate they can put forward is?
Dr. DEAN: You know, I don't know. And I try not to elect Republicans. So I think there's a number of people that are all going to have a great time running. And they're going to probably undoubtedly have some spirited debate. There's some people I personally like. I personally like Chuck Hagel, as a human being. I like John McCain as a human being. But I-- you know, the Republicans will go through their process just as we're going to go through ours. And then we're going to figure it out, and they'll figure theirs out, and then we'll have a titanic clash in the fall.
SCHIEFFER: The other day you said something about Republicans will blame immigrants. They'll become the scapegoats, the next time.
Dr. DEAN: Sure.
SCHIEFFER: What was that about? What did you mean by that?
Dr. DEAN: They scapegoated African-Americans in 2002 by the president using the word `quota,' which was a racial quoted word. They scapegoated gays for obvious reasons in 2004. They put gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states where gay marriage was already against the law.
Now they're going after immigrants. You see it now. Tom Tancredo, the most anti-immigrant member of Congress, endorsed by Ken Mehlman-- 'We welcome his contribution to the debate.' I don't think we welcome bigotry as a contribution to any debate. You have Arnold Schwarzenegger saying he welcomes the vigilante group the Minutemen to his state in California. We have James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin, IDs and all this kind of business. So they clearly are cranking it up because Rove knows that people are mistrustful of immigrants.
The right thing to do is have the president stand up and say, `We're not going to cater to people who divide America any more,' but the trouble is he benefits from that. He benefited from that in 2004. His party benefited in 2002. In 2006, immigrants will be the scapegoats.
SCHIEFFER: All right. We'll let it go there. And we'll be back with a final word in just a minute. Thank you very much...
Dr. DEAN: Thanks, Bob.