Interview on Meet The Press
July 21, 2002
GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D-Vermont): Thanks for having me on.
MR. RUSSERT: You’ve been in Iowa seven times, New Hampshire seven times, running for president, or hoping to. I want to go through and talk about some issues.
GOV. DEAN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: First, September 11: I went back and read some of the things on how you responded and let me share with you and our viewers. “What happened on September 11 is mostly a product of the enormous disparity between those who have everything those who have nothing.”
Are you rationalizing the behavior of the terrorists?
GOV. DEAN: No, absolutely not. But we have—this comes to the fundamental disagreement I have with the president on foreign policy. The president has been an isolationist. The president had withdrawn until September 11 from the world, and to this day, still refuses to sign many of the kind of international agreements that we have. I think the United States has to be involved, and I think the United States, contrary to what the president has said, has got to engage in nation building. We have failed to do that. So there’s no rationality for the behavior of the terrorists, and they should be prosecuted and I support the president’s war on terrorism. Where I’d fundamentally disagree with the president is the fact that America has withdrawn from the world and we, for our own national security and defense policy, ought to be building societies, we ought to engage in nation building in other countries and not do the opposite.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say it’s mostly a product of the enormous disparity, Osama bin Laden’s a multimillionaire.
GOV. DEAN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: The hijackers were all middle-class. They didn’t attack the United States because they were poor and destitute. They attacked the United States because they hate us.
GOV. DEAN: That’s right. And that is—and what I said has nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. It is the ability of other populations to support the notions of Osama bin Laden. Nothing that Osama bin Laden did can be forgiven or rationalized, but what disturbs me greatly and what I was talking about in that quote is the Palestinian children jumping up and down with glee on television over the fact that 3,000 Americans have been murdered. That is a product of our withdrawal from the world, and we cannot do that. Even to this day, the president has said we should not engage in nation building. The best thing for our national security in the long term is to engage in nation building.
MR. RUSSERT: So suicide bombers or Arafat are terrorists because of the United States’ behavior?
GOV. DEAN: No. I’ll try this again for the third time. There is nothing that excuses terrorism, and terrorists ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the American ability to do so. And we’re doing so, and I think we’re doing a fairly good job of it. What has to happen, though, for a—we have to get populations to stop supporting terrorists. And what I’m interested in is changing Afghanistan, changing what’s going on in the Palestinian—among the Palestinians, so that there is no base of support for those terrorists, and that involves more than just military action.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the military operation in Afghanistan has been successful?
GOV. DEAN: Yes, I do, and I support the president in that military operation.
MR. RUSSERT: The battle of Tora Bora was successful?
GOV. DEAN: I’ve seen others criticize the president. I think it’s very easy to second-guess the commander-in-chief at a time of war. I don’t choose to engage in doing that.
MR. RUSSERT: You are a physician. Do you believe that every American citizen should be vaccinated against smallpox?
GOV. DEAN: No. I do believe, however, that we should vaccinate first responders to both smallpox and anthrax. I think it’s very unlikely, frankly, that smallpox will be used as an agent, but I think the country is proper to be prepared for that eventuality, since the consequences are so grave if that happens. I would not vaccinate every American, but I do believe first responders, people likely to come in contact with the virus early on, should be vaccinated.
MR. RUSSERT: What percentage of people who are vaccinated for smallpox die with an adverse reaction?
GOV. DEAN: There is a small percentage, and that’s why you don’t want to engage in vaccinating the entire population.
MR. RUSSERT: How about giving potassium iodide to the populace to protect against nuclear fallout?
GOV. DEAN: I would not do that. I think it’s very unlikely atomic weapons are going to be used against us in a terrorist attack. I would be more concerned about a so-called dirty bomb. To have every American have potassium iodide might cause more complications than it’s worth. We do actually give potassium iodide tablets to people around our nuclear power plants, but I would not extend that further.
MR. RUSSERT: You heard Mr. Armey’s objection to the president’s TIPS Program, where cable installers, utility workers would observe what’s going on and report anything suspicious to the police. Do you support the president?
GOV. DEAN: I tend to support the president, although I have some reservations about this one as well. All I’ve seen is what’s been on television, and I have something in me that is bothered by the notion that Americans are going to be spying on each other. So if the president is simply asking people to be alert, I think that’s fine. If the president really is encouraging Americans to spy on each other, I have a problem with that.
MR. RUSSERT: You did say after the 11th that the United States may be prepared to have to sacrifice some personal liberties and civil liberties in order to fight the war on terrorism.
GOV. DEAN: We already are. I think when I got on the airplane to come down here, it took me about 25 minutes longer than it would have a year ago. And those are the kinds of liberties that we are going to be sacrificing and there may be some other ones.
MR. RUSSERT: You are a very strong supporter of the president and first lady Clinton’s health-care plan. It did not pass. A similar plan in Vermont did not pass. You now are saying you’re for universal health care. How much would that cost?
GOV. DEAN: It’d cost about half of the cost of the president’s tax cut, which I think should be pretty much repealed. I think the president’s tax cut is costing us a fortune, is preventing us from having decent roads, decent educations. It’s preventing us from having a Medicare prescription benefit. It was a terrible fiscal mistake. Ninety-eight percent of the people got a very small benefit. Two percent got an enormous benefit. It’s going to cost us construction jobs, because the Congress is cutting highway construction across the country.
If you repealed most of the president’s tax cut, half of that could be used and every American could have health insurance. I do not believe we should have President Clinton’s plan to be our base. We’ve learned from that. We’ve learned that we cannot radically reform the health-care system, but we can take the three existing systems that we already have-Medicaid, Medicare and employer-based insurance—and simply expand them so that everybody would have health insurance. It would cost us about half of what the president cut in taxes.
MR. RUSSERT: So you would repeal President Bush’s tax cut?
GOV. DEAN: Yes. Except there’s a few little things that I wouldn’t repeal. There are some retirement investment pieces I wouldn’t repeal, although I would have to add some so that lower-income workers could help pay for their retirement, not just people like me. And I would also raise the exemption on the estate tax so that small businesses and farms and so forth could be passed along without taxes. But other than that, I think most of the president’s tax cut ought to be repealed. It’s very bad economic policy.
President Bush’s father called this voodoo economics in 1980 when President Reagan, who’s running against Ronald Reagan—President Bush in this instance should have listened to his father. It is voodoo economics. Supply side does not work, and what’s happening in Wall Street today is a perfect example of that.
MR. RUSSERT: So you will be criticized for, in effect, raising taxes of all Americans in the middle of an economic downturn?
GOV. DEAN: Tim, if you ask Americans, “Should we raise taxes,” most of them are going to say no. If you ask Americans, “Would you give up your piece of the president’s tax cut in order to have a prescription benefit for Medicare, to restore our roads, to put some real money into the education bill so we don’t have the enormous unfunded mandate the president passed on us in the education bill?” most Americans would say, “Yes, I’ll give up a few hundred dollars or the $20 or $30 that I got in that tax cut in order to have decent roads, decent schools and a decent health-care system.”
MR. RUSSERT: Politically, can you survive being called someone who’s raising taxes on all Americans?
GOV. DEAN: I’m going to be called all kinds of things in this campaign, and the better I do, the worse things I’m going to be called. I’m out there to put a story in front of the American people that I think the American people will support as compared to the story that the president’s putting out.
MR. RUSSERT: One issue that you do support is the farm bill that the president signed. This is how The Washington Times described the farm bill: “Fourteen members of Congress, and some of the wealthiest American companies... will continue to rake in huge federal crop subsidies under the $248.6 billion farm bill... Conservative free-market advocates and liberal conservationists were aghast at the pork-barrel spending bill... ‘Why should multimillionaire hobby farmers and large, well-heeled corporations get lavish federal handouts while most family farms get nothing but a tax bill?’ Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner said... ‘The top 10 percent of farm-subsidy recipients collect two-thirds of the money...’”
“Leading corporate farm-aid recipients were billionaire David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank ($352,187); Ted Turner, top Time-Warner entertainment executive ($176,077); NBA player Scottie Pippen ($131,575); and five Fortune 500 firms-Westvaco Corp. ($268,740), Chevron ($260,223), John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. ($211,368), DuPont ($188,732) and Caterpiller ($171,698).”
Anyone who’s looked at the farm bill in an objective way has said it is pork.
GOV. DEAN: Well, I’m not terribly sure The Washington Times qualifies as an objective way to look at the farm bill.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, The Washington Post—you can find any paper in the country...
GOV. DEAN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...practically outside the farm bill.
GOV. DEAN: Let me tell you why I like the farm bill. First of all, it includes dairy and I come from a dairy state, and so if that’s pork, I’ll take it. Secondly, it is the farthest reaching environmental aspect of the farm bill that’s ever been passed in the history of Congress. I think the farm bill is transitional. Ultimately, I think that we need to change how we subsidize and help agriculture.
In New England, we had a model called the New England Dairy Compact, where no tax money was used. We need to do that with other commodities, such as wheat, soybeans, corn, in addition to milk. If we do that, eventually we’ll get this all off the taxpayers and we can put limits on how much production is actually helped by the compact. So I don’t think we should put limits on production, but we can put limits on how much is helped by the farm bill. But this is a very good transition, this farm bill, I think, to a place where we can ultimately do this off the budget.
MR. RUSSERT: And non-excessive.
GOV. DEAN: Maybe there are some excesses in it but you never get everything that you want in a bill. I’ve been a governor for 11 years. I’ve never yet signed a bill where I liked every little piece of it. And I’m very grateful to Senator Harkin, Senator Daschle, Senator Leahy and others, Senator Jeffords, for getting this through, because it means a lot to dairy farmers who have never been included in the farm bill before, and it also means, I think, a lot for the environment, and, ultimately, will show us the way to have a decent farm policy in this country.
MR. RUSSERT: One issue where you did receive national coverage was when you signed a bill for civil unions of gay couples in Vermont. David Broder, who was out on the campaign hustings, wrote this. ”[Gov. Howard Dean] supported and signed the state’s famous and controversial ‘civil unions’ law, allowing gay and lesbian couples to participate in a formal ceremony that confers on them all the legal benefits of marriage.”
And this from the Philadelphia paper. “Gov. Howard Dean spoke to a national audience of gay and lesbian rights advocates Sunday and embraced Vermont’s civil unions law with a fervor that residents of his home state rarely see. ...‘For me as a political figure, it was in many ways the most important event in my political life. There aren’t many people who get to do what I did,’ he told the powerful gay and lesbian advocacy group.”
The most important event in your political life. Why?
GOV. DEAN: First of all, let me say what the bill is and what it doesn’t do. What the bill does is say to those people who are not allowed to get married that you can have the same kind of rights that I have. In other words, we don’t have gay marriage, the bill says marriage between a man and a woman, but it also says there are about 350 rights that I have; for example, if I get terribly sick, my wife can come and visit me in the hospital. There’s a lot of insurance regulations that only married people can have. This allows gay and lesbian couples to have the same rights, same legal and financial rights, that I have as a married person.
Why was it, in some ways, the most important political event? Because 99 percent of politics, Tim, is about resource allocation. We argue over money. We can fight over money, and then we can compromise. You cannot compromise on human dignity and human rights. There is no compromise to be had there. I never got to have a discussion with myself about whether this made any political sense or not because I knew that whether I was going to win the next election or lose it, that every day I was going to have to look at myself in the mirror and decide what kind of a human being I was. And if I denied a whole bunch of human beings equal rights under the law simply because it was politically inconvenient and bad for my career, then there was really no difference between me and three-quarters of the rest of the politicians in this world. But I didn’t do that. I signed the bill. It took guts and I would be very interested to know whether anybody else running for president would have dared to sign that bill.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be in favor of a national law approving of civil unions of gay couples?
GOV. DEAN: Absolutely not. One of the things that I deeply oppose in this president’s agenda is the federalization of things like our school system, the taking over of our welfare systems. I believe each state has to come to grips with civil rights. I think that gay and lesbian people are entitled to the same legal and civil rights that everybody else has but I think that every state has to come to grips with that in their own way.
MR. RUSSERT: With that logic, then, should each state have a right to determine its own laws on abortion?
GOV. DEAN: No.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the difference?
GOV. DEAN: Because I’m a physician. And as a doctor, I feel very strongly that Congress and the president and legislatures and governors, with one or two exceptions, since there are two doctors that are governors, have no business practicing medicine. I believe that abortion is a matter between a woman, between her physician and her family and it is none of the government’s business.
MR. RUSSERT: But if a state can determine whether gays can get married, why wouldn’t you allow a state to determine whether or not abortion...
GOV. DEAN: Because we have national law that says that abortion is a legal right and that women are entitled to make their own decisions about that.
MR. RUSSERT: But if it’s a human right and a civil right for gays, why shouldn’t it be a national right?
GOV. DEAN: It is—I think it should be. The question I thought you were asking me was not do gays and lesbians have the same rights everywhere. They should have the same rights everywhere. But the question is how to get to those rights. We did civil unions. Maybe other states want to do it in some other way and they should be free to do so.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think homosexuality should be taught as an alternative lifestyle in schools?
GOV. DEAN: No, and I don’t think it is. I don’t think it should be and I don’t think it is, for a moment. I think that kind of charge—you know, this bill, interestingly, now has the support of a majority of Vermonters in the most recent poll. It didn’t when I signed it. And one of the reasons was that people went around saying people are going to teach their kids to be homosexuals in schools. That turned out not to be true. And I think most people now understand, since this bill is about two years old, that that wasn’t true. This community is very misunderstood, and I included in what I’m about to say, have been—most of us who are heterosexual have been taught all kinds of things about the gay community which simply aren’t so.
And it was a very painful, difficult discussion to do this in the state of Vermont. And it’s probably a painful, difficult discussion we have have to have nationally since similar cases is before Massachusetts, one’s been decided in Hawaii, the issue came up in Georgia. This is not an issue that is going to go away. And I think in the long run, especially after September 11—look, I only get asked about this question by journalists and by people in the gay and lesbian community. Since September 11, we have the spectacle of 3,000 Americans being killed, every shape and size and religion and color, including every sexual orientation. One of the people who charged the cockpit on the plant that went down in Pennsylvania was an all-American gay rugby player. I think what the American people understand since September 11 is we are all one family. We live together and we die together and, therefore, everybody ought to have equal rights.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to an issue that you seem to break away from liberal Democratic orthodoxy and that’s gun control. This is a brochure in your gubernatorial campaign from the NRA.
“In November we should return a truly pro-gun Governor to office by re-electing Governor Howard Dean.” And again, David Broder’s coverage of your campaign. “Dean bragged that he has ‘an A rating’ from the National Rifle Association... he argued that ‘as Democrats, we ought to say keep the federal laws we have, enforce them, but no new laws.’ Get the gun issue off the table. It cost Al Gore three states—and the presidency.”
Which states did Gore lose because of guns?
GOV. DEAN: I think Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia. There may be more, but those are the ones I would guess, given their patterns with previous elections.
MR. RUSSERT: Democrats in Congress right now are saying that at gun shows, you can buy a gun on Saturday or Sunday and there is no background check, because many law enforcement agencies are closed. They want to extend that deadline. Would you support that kind of gun control?
GOV. DEAN: What I would support—I do support closing the gun show loophole, but I would like to see InstaCheck, which is the same system that we have elsewhere, and I think if it takes keeping somebody on duty in law enforcement agencies, that would be fine. Look, let me explain to you why I take the position I do on gun control. In Vermont, in the last 11 years, we’ve had between a high of 25 and a low of five homicides per year. Most of them, the majority, are domestic related, not many of them have firearms and not one of them would be changed if we had gun control. We essentially have no gun control in Vermont. All we have is you can’t bring guns to school.
Now, I don’t believe for a moment that that’s appropriate for New York or Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. But the point I’m trying to make here is why does gun control have to be a national issue? We have some good federal laws. I support keeping them. We should close the gun show loophole with Instacheck and after that why can’t each state make its own laws? Why can’t each state address what they want to do about gun control as a state? Because what we need in Vermont is not the same thing as what you may need in Washington, D.C.
A guy in Tennessee told me, “Look, when you say gun control to me in Tennessee, it sounds like you want to take away the squirrel rifle that my father gave to me. When you say gun control in New York, it sounds like you want to get the Uzis and the illegal handguns off the street.” It’s two different problems. We have national laws. I’m not in favor of repealing them, but I think additional gun control ought be to be done on a state-by-state basis if the state wants it and we ought not to have a one-size-fits-all federal government approach.
MR. RUSSERT: But keep people traveling from state to state very easily.
GOV. DEAN: That’s right. And Virginia is a perfect example of this. New York claimed that a lot of their guns were coming from Virginia, so they had lax laws, so they signed a bill that said you can only buy one gun a month. That’s a Virginia law. It doesn’t apply to other states. It seems to me it addressed the problem in Virginia successfully. Why can’t we do that?
Democrats are getting killed on gun control. Democratic activists who basically are in favor of gun control are glad to see me coming in the West and the South, because they do not want to lose any more national elections on the gun issue.
MR. RUSSERT: Back home this is what the local papers reported, that “Howard Dean’s presidential ambitions are beginning to sour his relations with the Legislature, particularly among his fellow Democrats. ... ‘The bigger impact is the governor is not here to work with legislators and produce the leadership he has in past sessions to keep his agenda moving forward,’ said [Lt. Governor Douglas] Racine, also a Democrat. ‘There’s nothing like having the governor personally intervening to make a difference,’ he said. ‘He comes through one or two days a week and he’s not really in the flow of things.’”
GOV. DEAN: Well, that turned out not to be true. But, you know, as it turned out at the end, of course, I was there and did all the things that you have to do when you’re governor. At home, people are always complaining when you leave. And one year I stayed in the Legislature the whole time ‘cause they complained. Then they complained I was there too much. So, you know, we got through it. We actually are better financially managed than almost every other state in the country. We’ve cut our debt. We’ve increased our bond rating. We have a rainy day fund that will last us for three years. That’s the hallmark of my administration. I actually think we should—one of the reasons I’m running is to bring a balanced budget to Washington, because I’m so appalled by the way the Republicans are managing the economy.
MR. RUSSERT: But your Rutland Herald paper up there did a poll which shows this: George W. Bush, 45; Dean, 40. And whether or not Dean should run for president: approve of him running, 45 to 44. The man who took that poll—the pollster had this to say. “There clearly isn’t overwhelming support for [Dean] running. ...If I were him, these are not the numbers I would look for as a favorite son.”
Those who know you best.
GOV. DEAN: You know what? I don’t worry about it a bit because there’s only one other contender for the Democratic nomination who had better numbers than I did. You know, this president is a popular president. Every state sees—in every state, he’s very popular, including my own. I think those numbers are actually—and I know for a fact that they are better than every other candidate’s except for one running on over...
MR. RUSSERT: Who?
GOV. DEAN: John Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: Vermont is 98 percent white...
GOV. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...0.5 percent black, 0.9 percent Hispanic. How can someone who’s governed a state like that assume that he know the cosmopolitan makeup of the United States?
GOV. DEAN: First of all, I grew up in New York, which helps. Second of all, I’ve lived in 50 different—I mean, I’ve spent time in 50 different countries over the course of my life, which I, to be honest with you, suspect is more countries than the current inhabitant of the White House will have been to by November of the election year. So I have some—I’ve chaired the National Governors Association. I’ve chaired the Democratic Governors Association. I’ve traveled in 50 states. I think that I’ll be able to deal with the issue of full minority participation in America, which is really what Democrats have already stood for.
MR. RUSSERT: We have to leave it there. Governor Howard Dean...
GOV. DEAN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: ...we’ll be watching. Thanks for joining us.
GOV. DEAN: Thanks very much.
Many thanks to Aziz Poonawalla of Dean Nation for this transcript.