Interview on Chris Matthews' "Hardball"
August 23, 2006
Chris Matthews, MSNBC Host: We go now to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, or as Bush calls it, the Democrat Party, Howard Dean. Thank you, Governor, for joining us.
“A day at the beach”—that‘s a hard shot from John McCain. He‘s doing a better job of taking on Bush than your party is.
Howard Dean, DNC Chairman: I think that the president is probably getting all he can handle from all sides. It‘s amazing how everybody leaves the ship once the policy is clearly heading the wrong direction.
But, you know, Senator McCain has got his own problems with this war. He was a huge booster of it all along until now, I guess things are getting a little hot in the kitchen, so he decided to get out.
Matthews: Well, let me defend him a little bit: Isn‘t he the guy that said from the beginning, “We need more troops. It‘s a tougher job than the president said it was?”
He's been consistent on that line.
Dean: He has. But he certainly was a big defender of the war policy, and--
Matthews: He still is.
Dean: And the truth is, the policy is the wrong policy, and 61 percent of Americans know it's the wrong policy. The president has made a mess of this.
Matthews: Should we get out?
Dean: Sure we should get out. We can‘t get out tomorrow. We can‘t...
Matthews: Give me a date?
Dean: Well, I can‘t give you a date.
Matthews: How about in a year? How about in five years? How about in 10 years? Can you narrow it down?
Dean: No, no, no, no no. I think the big difference between the Democrats and Republicans on this one is we know we shouldn‘t be there. The Republicans insist on being there. And furthermore, if you‘re one of the 61 percent of Americans who disagrees with the president, the vice president and the president think you‘re a sympathizer with Al Qaeda. This administration is looking more and more ridiculous every day.
Matthews: Let me question your position: You say not right away.
What‘s to be gained by us staying in that country another six months?
Dean: Well, we need to withdraw carefully and thoughtfully. As you know, we‘re talking about redeploying our troops. We‘re talking about keeping a force in some country in the Middle East to maintain, to deal with the terrorism problem that the president‘s policies have created. So I don‘t think we‘re talking about a precipitous withdrawal.
But I think that most Democrats would agree that we ought to be out of there by the ‘08 elections.
Matthews: Well, what‘s to be gained by staying? I still don‘t get your point. You‘re saying we shouldn‘t get out now, so you‘re saying we should stay.
Dean: What I‘m saying—no...
Matthews: Why should we stay in Iraq? I don‘t get the point.
Dean: No, no, Chris, I‘m not, of course, making any such— you know very well that I‘m not arguing that we should stay in Iraq.
Matthews: Well, you‘re saying not get out right away, so you‘re saying stick around a while. What do we accomplish in that little while?
Dean: What I‘m saying is we need a reasonable, thoughtful policy to redeploy our troops from Iraq, and that‘s where the president is so wrong, with his 'stay the course'. You don‘t make a permanent commitment to a failed policy.
We need— if you try to bring 135,000 troops home tomorrow, first of all, you couldn't physically do it. Secondly, there need to be some modicum of stability as we bring the troops out. But I don‘t think anybody that I know of thinks we can bring all 135,000 of them home tomorrow.
Matthews: Well, if the president said we‘re getting out by the end of the year, would you criticize that decision or go along with it?
Dean: I would probably go along with it.
Matthews: Well than, why don‘t you just propose it then?
Dean: Because the president has access to intelligence that we don‘t have, and I think you have to have a sensible foreign policy. This president hasn't had a sensible foreign policy, but if lightning should strike and he should suddenly develop one, I would hope that the Democrats would support him.
Matthews: OK, who should a voter vote for if they're out there trying to decide trying to decide which party to vote for this November and they want to get our troops home as soon as possible, logically possible? Who should they vote for?
Dean: I think you should vote for the Democrats because there‘s a clear difference. We believe the war was a mistake, along with most of the rest of the American people. We believe that the president wasn't telling the truth, along with the majority of the rest of the American people. And we do not believe, as the president has repeatedly said, that these troops ought to be staying and let's leave this problem for the next president. This president created this problem. He needs to deal with this problem.
Matthews: There‘s two interpretations of what Senator John McCain said yesterday when he talked about the president saying it would be 'a day at the beach' going into Iraq. Either he was misinforming us, knowing better, or he knew less and he was misinformed himself. Which reading do you take on it?
Dean: Well, I don't pretend to know what goes on inside Senator McCain's mind, or the president's.
But, we can remember Secretary Rumsfeld saying that the oil revenues would pay for all of this. We can remember the vice president saying we would be greeted with open arms as a liberator. Those things just simply aren't so.
Matthews: Let me ask you about this thing in Virginia. The president is going to be at Ed Gillespie's house over in Virginia tonight, actually. That's across the Potomac here. He's going to be helping to raise money for George Allen.
Are you satisfied with George Allen's apology to the young man, Sidharth, for having called him 'macaca'?
Dean: Look, I served with George Allen when he was governor. I don't think he belongs in public service, to be honest with you. There are Republicans who are capable and smart, thoughtful people, and he's not one of them. So you know, the people of Virginia are going to do what they want to do, but I--
Matthews: You make him sound like a knucklehead. Is that what you think?
Dean: I'm not going to use those kinds of words.
Matthews: Well, what words are you saying? You're saying he doesn't belong in public service, because of what?
Dean: Because he's always shooting from the hip. He never thinks through what he means, and he caters to the wrong instincts in people. And I think using derogatory terms to people of color is certainly something that a public servant ought not to do.
Matthews: Do you know what 'macaca' means?
Dean: [with chagrin] Yes, I do.
Matthews: What's it mean?
Dean: You know what it means as well as I do. It refers to a monkey, and it's also a racial epithet used in some parts of the world.
Matthews: Let me ask you about the Lieberman campaign: If Joe Lieberman wins this general election, he's on the ballot as of today...
Dean: And let me just say...
Matthews: If he wins, will you accept him as a Democrat again? Is he allowed to come back like the prodigal son?
Dean: Let me just add one thing to the Allen controversy. We happen to have a great Democratic candidate who is only three points behind George Allen-- his name is Jim Webb. Served in the Reagan administration with distinction. There is a Democrat that the people of Virginia can be proud of, and the people of Virginia can vote for.
Matthews: Are you going to give him enough money to win?
Dean: Well, how much is enough? We'll see.
Matthews: Fifty percent.
Dean: As far as the Lieberman--
Matthews: --Let me ask you about this Lieberman race. I've gotta ask you about Joe Lieberman, because your brother is out working for Lamont. Lamont is an impressive candidate. Lieberman, of course, is an impressive guy. Would you be happy if either one won, because either one would become a Democrat once they got back in the Senate? Wouldn't you be just as happy with both of them?
Dean: Well, Ned Lamont is a Democrat. And he's a terrific Democrat. He built his own business from nothing. He understands balancing the budget. He understands defense. He understands the Middle East. And I think Ned Lamont is the future.
Joe is a good guy, but Joe is the past. And I think we need a real new direction in this country. And it's not just the Lieberman-Lamont race. It's all over the country. People are looking for a different direction for the country, a new direction, a change. And I think the Democrats can bring that kind of change, and we've got candidates like Ned Lamont all over the country doing that.
Matthews: Would you welcome him back into the party if he joined the Democratic Caucus next November?
Dean: Sure. If Joe were to win, which I don't think is going to happen, but if he were to win, we would welcome him back in the Democratic Caucus. We're a big tent party, and we accept all kinds of folks, and we're happy to have them. But I think Ned Lamont's gonna win this race. He's the Democratic candidate. He won a tough primary, and he's a smart guy.
Matthews: You know, one of the concerns I have as a voter is the two parties tend to be looking more like each other for one reason— you're both getting money from the same people. The more money the Democrats tend to raise, it seems to me, the more they become like Republicans. Do you think your party would be purer and better off if it didn't rely on all this money from big shots?
Dean: I've long believed that we ought to have public financing of campaigns. We had it in Vermont until the right wing Supreme Court threw it over. And I think we ought to have it again. We need to get the big money out of politics.
But in some ways, we have made a big stride. The Campaign Finance Reform of 2002 was a big stride forward. So you know, reform doesn't happen overnight, but I think we need to keep working at it. They've done it in Arizona; they've done it in Maine. And we'll do it in some other places as well.
Matthews: You might have a clearer statement on foreign policy in terms of the Iraq war if you had a clearer ideology behind your party. You don't seem to have a clear ideology.
This president knows what he's doing in Iraq. I still don't hear a clear statement from you, Governor, as to what you would do if you were president tomorrow, in Iraq. What would you do?
Dean: Chris, I can speak for myself as president and if I were president. But that doesn't answer what the Democratic Party stands for. What we stand for is a different direction in Iraq, which means bringing our folks home in a reasonable thoughtful way. What the president stands for is staying in Iraq at least until the next president comes— it's a very clear difference.
Matthews: That seems like a political answer, that's why I wanted a non-political answer from you.
Dean: It's not a political answer; it's a very clear difference.
Matthews: Well, saying 'they'll stay until I'm out of office' is a political statement.
But let me ask you, if the only difference between the number of years we stay there is how many casualties we take and how many Arabs we kill and the only reason to stay there is so you can come out of there somewhat— I don't know what the reason is to delay it unless you have a mission.
What is our mission in Iraq right now, Governor? Why are we still there?
Dean: I don't think they have a mission in Iraq.
Matthews: Then why don't you call for the troops to come home?
There's no mission.
Dean: I just did.
Dean: I just did.
Matthews: Are you going to run for president in 2008? Are you going to run for president?
Matthews: Is that a Sherman-esque statement? If nominated, I will not accept.
Dean: That's a Sherman-esque statement. I'm not running for president in 2008.
Matthews: I didn't get to finish it—if elected, I will not serve.
Dean: And I will tell you how I think we personally ought to get out of Iraq. But it's not a statement for the Democratic Party.
I've long advocated the Korb/Katulis plan which is, as you know, Larry Korb was the undersecretary of defense for Ronald Reagan. He has a terrific plan which gets us out of Iraq in a very sensible way. It's called the troop re-deployment. Jack Murtha explained it. The press didn't write about it, but he explained it properly.
Matthews: I understand.
Dean: I personally think that's the right way to get out of Iraq. But the Democrats in general have a very clear difference between our position and George Bush's position. I think that's what the voters want to know. A new direction, that's what we want.
Matthews: OK. Thank you very much, Governor Howard Dean...
Dean: Thanks, Chris.
Matthews: Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.