Interview on CBS' "Face The Nation"
September 3, 2006
RUSS MITCHELL, HOST:And good morning, and welcome again to the broadcast. Bob is off this morning.
Joining us now from Burlington, Vermont, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, and with us from Louisville, Kentucky, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell. Going to begin first with Governor Dean.
Governor, good morning to you.
Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Russ, thanks for having me on.
MITCHELL: Since September 11th, 2001, the Republican election playbook has pretty much been, `Take the national security issue and hammer Democrats with it.' It worked in 2002, it worked in 2004 against all odds. What makes you think that things are going to be different this time around?
Mr. DEAN: Because the truth is that the Republicans look increasingly incompetent in defending our nation. Five years into the Bush presidency and a Republican majority, we see Iran is about to get nuclear weapons, North Korea not only has them, but is expanding the number of nuclear weapons, Osama bin Laden is still at large. And I think the American people realize that Iraq was a war of choice, and that the real war is the war on terror.
The Democrats want a new direction in our defense policy. We want to fight the war on terror. That means capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, focusing on the terrorists in northwest Pakistan. And we don't think that the Iraq war is the right way to fight the war on terror, because it simply was-- has nothing to do with the war on terror.
MITCHELL: Governor, Republicans say the Democrats are quick to criticize, but thus far they've had no plan of their own, no specific plan as to how to fight the war on terror, how to end the war in Iraq. Will you announce...
Mr. DEAN: That's actually...
MITCHELL: --Will you announce a specific plan before Election Day?
Mr. DEAN: That's actually completely untrue, and I think you can ask Senator McConnell, who voted against a Democratic proposal to increase money for first responders so they can synchronize their radio, voted against the proposal-- with many of the other Republicans-- for more port security, more aviation security, more rail security. In many ways, the Republicans have turned down the suggestions that the Democrats have for improving our ability to defend our homeland, and we think it's time for a new direction.
MITCHELL: When you see what happened with Senator Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, a moderate Democrat who lost the Democratic Party nomination there, do you see moderate Republicans have-- or Democrats, rather, having a rough time over this Iraq issue?
Mr. DEAN: I think anybody who's supporting President Bush's policy's going to have a rough time, and that includes an awful lot of Republicans. You see them scrambling to get away from the idear that-- I think somebody this morning said that-- a leading Republican said that Rumsfeld should resign. Chris Shays has said that we ought to have a timetable to get out of Iraq. Republicans are leaving a sinking ship, and the sinking ship is the Republican approach to the war in Iraq, and to the war on terror.
MITCHELL: Well, do you think Secretary Rumsfeld should resign?
Mr. DEAN: Of course I think he should resign. He's fundamentally incompetent, and he's also not very smart politically. Sixty percent of the American people believe the war in Iraq was a mistake. Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney have gone on television saying people who disagree with the president are essentially like Nazi appeasers. You know, when you start attacking voters out of your frustration, that is not a good thing for winning elections, and I think that's one of the reasons the Republicans are in trouble. We need a new direction. Staying the course for a failed strategy is not a good direction.
MITCHELL: In your mind, do you want Rumsfeld to stay in there? In the Democrats' mind, does he have a target on his back? Is he going to be a whipping boy for the Democrats this time around?
Mr. DEAN: What we want is a new direction for this country, and not just a new direction in the war on terror. I think what we haven't talked is about the Republicans' war on the American family. We've seen real wages go down $2300 since the president's been in office. Every year a million new Amer-- middle class Americans lose their health insurance. The Republican majority has reduced Pell Grants and made it harder for middle class kids to go to college. We need a new direction, both at home and in defending America.
MITCHELL: In your mind, what is the biggest hurdle the Democratic candidates are going to have to overcome this election?
Mr. DEAN: I think, you know, the Republicans have a good machine. They know-- they may not know how to govern, but they do know how to win elections. For a long time we were not fighting back. Now we are. We know what we want, but we've got a lot of work to do. We've got great candidates, but we've got a lot of work to do. We have-- you know, we're a little rusty at winning elections.
MITCHELL: Your party needs 15 seats to gain control of the House. When you look at the landscape right now, how realistic is that?
Mr. DEAN: I think it's very realistic because we're gonna win in places like Indiana, we're gonna win in places like Arizona where we've got a couple of seats across the board. And of course, the Northeast, everybody talks about, but there's some real potentials for winning all across the country.
MITCHELL: Let's talk about the Senate now. You need six seats in the Senate to gain control of that. When you look at that, how optimistic are you?
Mr. DEAN: Well, again, I'm optimistic. It's gonna be a tough fight. You know, the-- you know, the Republicans are a worthy opponent. When it comes to elections, they know what they're doing. They've been working on this for 30 years. We need to bring our party back into the fray, and I think we are. We've raised a lot of money. We've put in a good field organization. We've got terrific candidates-- better, than I-- better, I think, than the Republicans. And they're in trouble because they've got the culture of corruption they have to contend with. In Montana, I think Senator Burns has taken an enormous amount of money from Jack Abramoff and his folks. But this is a tough race, make no mistake about it. These races are going down to the wire.
MITCHELL: Now, when you look at these races across the country, are Democratic candidates going to be able to win, in your mind, on individual or local issues, or are these national issues going to be in large part at play?
Mr. DEAN: This is going to be like 1994. People want a new direction. Sixty-seven percent of the people in this country think we need a change. So this is a national election and it's a referendum on the Republican rule. The Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House and I think people want a different direction, and we want a different direction. We want real change in this country.
MITCHELL: The fifth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks is coming up next week. Republicans are expected to pass several bills in Congress commemorating that and other activities will take place as well. How do the Democrats combat this...
Mr. DEAN: Well, again...
MITCHELL: ...in terms of the Republicans coming out and saying, 'Look at what we've done for national security? There has been no major attack on US soil in five years.'
Mr. DEAN: America is a much more dangerous place since 9/11-- excuse me, the world is a much more dangerous place, and America is in danger. The fact of the matter is, the Republicans have refused to fund adequate port security, they've refused to fund adequate first response security. Our nuclear plants and our petroleum and chemical plants are still not safe, and things are going badly for us around the world. Our troops deserve better than this.
If the Republicans would listen to the military before we go on these adventures, rather than afterwards, then we'd have a better shot. But the truth is, Iran poses a greater danger, North Korea poses a greater danger, and the president has done very little about these things. And I think that's going to be an issue.
I think security's an issue that now finally works for the Democrats. They've been there for five years, these Republicans, and the question is, are we safer now? And the answer is no.
MITCHELL: Let's talk about the economy. Even though there's a lot of anecdotal evidence out there that the economy is doing poorly, the numbers seem to indicate that the economy is doing much better. How do Democratic candidates fight that?
Mr. DEAN: Well, again, most-- 80 percent-- for 80 percent of Americans, the economy is not doing better. Now the fact is it's harder to send your kid to college. We don't have a health care system in this country that covers everybody like 36 other countries in the world do. Our average wages have gone down for the last five years. So for ordinary Americans, they're suffering for this. They see the Republicans giving away money to the oil companies and HMOs in the middle of the night, these huge tax breaks, but they don't see anything for them. They see their lives getting harder.
People know the Democrats are better on education, on Social Security, on pension security, on health care. I think the big battle here is not to convince Americans that we're going to set new direction in those areas, they know that. The big battle is gonna be, will the Democrats set a new direction in security? And the issue is, yes, we will.
MITCHELL: Mr. Dean, I know you've been very busy. Let me ask you very quickly, in the next few months, how busy are you going to be? What's job number one for you?
Mr. DEAN: [Laughs] Oh, job number one for me is go all over the country and try to raise a little money and get our troops in order, not just in the states that I know we're going to do well, like Connecticut and Pennsylvania, but in states that we haven't done well in the past and we're going to do well in the future: Montana, Colorado where I expect to win the governor's office; Arizona where-- and Tennessee where we can pick up Senate seats.
MITCHELL: Mmm hmm.
Mr. DEAN: These are a lot of states that have trended Republican in the past and I think that's gonna change.
MITCHELL: Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. Thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.
Mr. DEAN: Hey, thanks for having me on, Russ.