Interview with "On Point"
WBUR Boston, July 3, 2002
Michael Goldfarb, host: From WBUR Boston and WRNI Providence, I'm Michael Goldfarb. This is "On Point".
The 4th of July weekend is underway, and most of us will be kicking back to enjoy it. But around the country, a very few people will be spending this weekend thinking about the biggest decision of their professional lives: running for the Democratic nomination for President.
Think about it. In America, anyone can grow up to be President, but the reality is, that no more than a dozen folks almost all men, can realistically think about actually running for that office.
Vermont Governor Howard Dean is not at first glance, one of them, but he has worked vigorously in recent months to put himself in that group. When a Governor of Vermont flies to Iowa on a regular basis, you know he's serious. But who is Howard Dean? What does he stand for? On Point listeners, we're talking with Vermont Governor Howard Dean in this hour. What prospects would candidate Dean realistically have against incumbent George W. Bush, even if he could beat the Gores and Edwards of the Democratic party? Join the conversation at 1-800-423-8255, that's 1-800-423-TALK.
Joining me now from Vermont, is Governor Howard Dean. Good evening, Governor.
Howard Dean, Governor of Vermont: How are you?
And in the studio with me, our own "On Point" news analyst is Jack Beatty, senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
We're gonna come to you in a second, Jack. But first, let me ask you, Governor Dean, who are you?
Dean: (chuckles slightly) Well, I'm a 53-year-old doctor, who is the longest-serving Democratic governor in the country. Former chair of the National Governors, the Democratic governors, and been doing... the recruiting of Democratic gubernatorial candidates around the country for the last five years. We've got a great record in Vermont, which I'm sure we'll get into-- mostly on health care and fiscal responsibility. And I'm interested in running for President because I think the country's fundamentally going in the wrong economic direction, and I think that, as a physician, that we oughtta have health care for every American.
Goldfarb: Fiscally, would you describe yourself as a conservative?
Dean: Yes. I think the single biggest mistake that the President's made when he's been in office is the tax cut. The tax cuts have turned a significant budget surplus into a huge deficit. It's affecting our ability to deliver services to people, and it's undermining our economy, as it did in the 1980's, when President Reagan put in huge tax cuts without budget discipline, and creating the kind of deficits that will ultimately drive private capital out of the market and raise interest rates.
Goldfarb: Describe a bit of-- what's been your approach to the finances-- the public finances in Vermont since you came into office, actually on the death of your predecessor, I mean you weren't elected initially to the office.
Dean: I became Governor under very difficult circumstances. We had the largest deficit in the history of the state, we had the highest marginal income tax in the history of the state. And I had to reduce both taxes and the deficits, which were enormous. We had the worst bond rating in New England, and on and on it goes.
What we did was slowly and painstakingly cut the budget, cut the taxes, and work towards an improvement of our fiscal situation. And today, we've managed to get ourselves in the position where we have the highest bond rating in New England, we have a substantial rainy-day account, which is allowing us to get through the difficult problems that we've had, that every state's had, and we've reduced our per-capita debt by 23% in the last 5 years, which I dare say no other governor of either party can talk about.
So, I really am a fiscal conservative. We have cut taxes twice, but what we've not done is those enormous tax cuts which were done principally for political reasons. Because when you look at a budget, you've gotta look at tax cuts and spending in the same way. They both unbalance budgets, if you do too much of them.
Goldfarb: When you cut taxes, but... did you cut government programs as well? We're trying to figure out, how a Democrat can roll things back and be so conservative fiscally, and still touch base with his Democratic constituency.
Dean: Here's what we did. We did do some tax cuts. We cut-- we try to balance the tax cuts. One of the biggest flaws in the President's tax cut is, they are not stimulatory to the economy. Because most middle class people have no idea they got a tax cut. They got those big checks, 600 dollar checks if they're married, and then they realized in April, they have to add them back into their tax returns and pay taxes on them. So most middle class and working class people in this country did not get a tax cut. The tax cut went predominantly to the top 2% of the people. Those folks didn't run out and spend them. In fact, they lost them, because those are the same folks who were in the stock market, and in some cases, giving folks like us a screwing in the stock market, and that's a--
Goldfarb: -- You say folks like us?
Goldfarb: "Folks like us". Do you have nothing in the stock market?
Dean: Sure. I mean, I didn't lose any money in Enron, but my stocks have all gone down, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that people have lost confidence in corporations, and the folks at the top of those corporations were the big beneficiaries of the tax cut. Certainly not people even making $100,000 a year, let alone 75 or 50 or 25,000.
What we did was a totally different approach. We-- first we started to cut programs. Secondly, we cut taxes. Thirdly, we didn't try to do the whole thing at once. We never submitted a budget, in the 11 years that I've been Governor, where the budget increase was greater than the rate of inflation-- excuse me, greater than the rate of the economic growth. At first it was, we didn't submit one greater than the rate of inflation, then, as inflation was very moderate and we kept taking in huge amounts of money, we began to raise the budget a little bit with... using the state's economic growth rate as the indicator. That left us an enormous amount of money. That money we put into paying off the debt, doing capital projects that were one-shot expenditures so they would not appear in the budget as an ongoing expenditure and then we'd have to sustain them when times got bad. So we didn't have a huge budget overhang that had to be sustained, of all new programs.
Goldfarb: How-- Governor, I'm gonna interrupt you. I just [inaudible] you said a minute ago, you said you cut programs. What programs did you cut?
Dean: (Sighs) Well, we just got through one round of cuts. We cut back on medical programs. We've not taken anybody off the rolls, because one of my goals for the country is health care for everybody. But we have required people to share more of the medical costs that they pay for out of their own pocket. That's just one example.
Goldfarb: Any others? What-- education cuts?
Dean: I can think of some, but I don't have them right at the top of my head. This was 10 or 12 years ago when we made all these cuts.
Dean: But at the same time, we zero-balanced budget, we zero-balanced a bunch of items, which meant we built our budgets from the beginning, and while we were cutting the budget, and while we were cutting taxes, we also had enough money left over for health insurance for every child in the state, which we did over a four or five-year period. And home visits to 91% of all of our children within two weeks of their birth, which has resulted in a huge drop in child abuse.
So you can do socially good things for the traditional Democratic constituency, but you can't do it all at once. You have to do it piece by piece, and bit by bit. And then you hang onto those gains, because you haven't raised the spending level so fast during the good times, and therefore it needn't come down so much during the bad times.
Goldfarb: Jack Beatty with me in the studio, our senior news analyst who's been furiously taking notes, trying to keep pace with you. Jack?
Jack Beatty, Senior Editor, Atlantic Monthly: Hello, Governor Dean.
Dean: Hi there.
Beatty: I often use your-- I often go-- I live in Hanover...
Beatty: so I'm [inaudible] Vermont, so I look with envy on your state, and I should say, that you've had to hone your fiscal conservatism against the most fiscally conservative state in the union. You've been in a competitive situation vis a vis the no-tax New Hampshire economy.
Dean: Yeah, but you know, the no-tax New Hampshire economy... Republicans are not fiscally conservative, and that-- that legislature is a Republican legislature. They're about $200 million in the hole, as I understand it now. We are not, because we have this big rainy-day fund. And the difference is that, Republicans embrace the notion of "borrow and spend." This is my big problem with Governor Bu-- with President Bush, with his budget. We go back to the borrow and spend, borrow and spend politics that have been shown by many Republicans, but particularly this President, as well as President Reagan, and it leads to enormous deficits. I think it's well-known that President Reagan and the first President Bush quadrupled the national debt in their tenure, and this President Bush is well on the way to increasing it some more.
You don't have to do that, it's not necessary to do it, and it's no better than "tax and spend" liberal Democrats, in fact it's worse, because at least the liberal Democrats are balancing the budget. The Republicans don't balance budgets, they can't pay their bills, and it's time that we had a-- I believe the party of fiscal responsibility, which is the Democrats, not the Republicans, in charge of the White House.
Beatty: That's of course an achievement that Bill Clinton brought about, isn't it?
Dean: The only three balanced budgets since 1968 in the United States were under Bill Clinton.
Beatty: Mm hm.
Governor, you want to make health care for everyone, your-- one of your goals--
Beatty: In the Clinton care episode, one of the things that happened was that the-- as you know, it arose, the whole issue arose in a Senate race first, in Pennsylvania.
Dean: Harris Wofford.
Beatty: And it was a recession, right? 1991. And people who had insurance were worried about keeping their insurance.
Dean: That's right.
Beatty: And therefore you could talk to them about people who didn't have insurance at all. But what happened when-- by the time the program got around to being proposed in 1993, was that the lobbies were able to work on, were able to create distance between the insured and the uninsured.
Beatty: And they basically were saying to the insured, "hey, why do you want to mess with your coverage to give some poor guy coverage?"
Dean: And there's much to be learned from that. And my whole model of how to bring this to the United States is fundamentally structured to deal with just what we learned during the 1993 debacle.
The Democrats have had health care for all Americans in their platform since 1948, when Harry Truman ran for reelection. Now, we've basically failed to deliver that for a variety of reasons, and I think that we can overcome those.
Here are the problems. There're still 40-odd million Americans that are uninsured. Who are those people? They are principally not unemployed people, although those are some. Most of them work, they work for small businesses, they work for themselves, they work for companies, large companies that do not provide benefits because they work part-time.
Now. What I wanna do, is take the Vermont program, which we essentially insure every child-- or every child is eligible, or almost every child, 99%-- is either insured or eligible in Vermont. We have universal health insurance for everybody under the age of 18 years old. Secondly-- so-- what I'd like to do is extend that to 22, let it be a state program, have there be a federal match-- essentially the Medicaid program, as we have now. If you bring that up to 300% of poverty, which we have, everybody under 22 has insurance.
Goldfarb: Okay. Governor, I'm gonna stop you right there and just ask you to explain, "300% of poverty"-- that's the kind of number that in this debate confuses ordinary listeners and ordinary voters.
Goldfarb: What do you mean by that?
Dean: In our state today, if you and a family of four make $52,000 a year, your children are guaranteed health insurance.
You have to pay for something if you're at the upper end of that. You have to pay $50 a month to insure every child in your family under 18. That's what 300% of poverty is. That gives us 96% of all our children with health insurance, and 4% who don't have it, of those, 3 of those percent are eligible for the program, they're just not signed up for whatever reason.
[Note: What he means is $52,000 is 300% of the official federal poverty line income.]
Goldfarb: And you want to expand this in your state to the age of 22.
Dean: No, I want to expand this in the country--
Goldfarb: --In the country--
Dean: --to age of 22. I'll require the states to do it, but before they start shouting "unfunded mandate", we will-- the federal government will take back responsibility for another technical, a mind-boggling policy wonk term, the "dual eligibles." That means, if you're over 65 in this country, and Medicare is not enough, and you're too poor to pay any of the copayments, the state will step in and help you through Medicaid. That's a very fast-growing item in the states' budget. I will have the federal government take that back in return for the states guaranteeing coverage to everybody up to the age of 22. The states will win on that fiscally, and of course they'll also get a very expensive and fast-growing bill transferred to the federal government.
Goldfarb: Now in this conversation, one of the interesting things is finding a way to explain this-- you speak aboutf taking this outside of Vermont, and taking it nationally. Presumably when--
Dean: I think it's very easy to understand. All-- lemme do the shorthand without getting into the policy, if that's what you want. Okay, everybody under 22 is guaranteed coverage from the state, they'll have to pay something for it. Everybody over 65 gets Medicare plus a prescription benefit. Everybody understands that. And, here's really I think the best part of this system. Between 22 and 65 you don't change the system, except for one detail. In other words, you get your insurance just like you do today, through your employer, except for those people who don't have insurance will have a subsidy so they can buy insurance, when they work for small businesses, when they work for big corporations on a part-time basis, or when they work for themselves. Now, everybody can understand that.
When I gave a speech about this in Minnesota a few months ago, a 75-year-old lady comes up afterwards and says "Governor, my husband passed away a few years ago. He worked for Owens Corning, and I have great benefits. Don't you take my health insurance away." That was what was left over from the 'Harry and Louise campaign' [series of TV ads opposing the Clinton universal health plan in 1993]. I get to say to her, "your health insurance isn't going to change at all. Don't worry." And I say to Americans, you know, 80 to 100 million who have health insurance through their employment, don't worry. For you, the systems will not change. You'll still get your health insurance. [inaudible] deal with the expense problem for that, that's a separate problem--
Goldfarb: Governor, we're coming up to the break, that's what the music means.
Dean: All right.
Goldfarb: We're going to come back to you very shortly.
Listeners, we are talking with Vermont Governor Howard Dean, prospective Democratic candidate for President in the year 2004. It's time to start thinking about these things, people. Call in-- 800-423-8255, 800-423-TALK, and join in the conversation. I'm Michael Goldfarb, this is "On Point".
Goldfarb: I'm Michael Goldfarb, this is "On Point." We are talking this hour with Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a prospective Democratic candidate for President. A man who has straightened out the books in his state of Vermont, and along the way has managed to do something which seems to be almost a holy grail of American public policy, which is extend some kind of universal health care to a significant section of the population, which is children. His plan, and as we were hearing just before the break, he's got a plan to get everybody under the age of 22 insured, everybody over the age of 65 insured, and everybody in the middle would get, if they don't have their own, some kind of subsidy. Am I right, Governor? Is that a good summary?
Dean: That's a great summary. And that's easy to understand, you don't make the fundamental mistake that was made, that we all made in 1993, by radically restructuring the whole system. There are many who believe the health system should be radically changed, but that does not include the Congress, and it will not include the Congress, and it certainly will not include all the interest groups that paid for those 'Harry and Louise' ads.
So this-- the heart of this plan, the advantage of this plan, is that you only alienate a couple of interest groups in Congress, not all of them, which the Clinton plan did, and that you can easily explain it to the American people. The weakness of the plan is, it will not cover 100%. But, if we get to 96%, that's about where the Germans are, and they have a plan that's considered to be universal health care.
We are the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care. There's no reason for that.
Goldfarb: Jack Beatty.
Beatty: Yeah, I, what about the-- when people talk about this, Governor, it's easy for them to make it sound as if this is an altruistic issue, where the uninsured should be insured. What's the economic argument for a universal--?
Dean: I think-- one of the -- interesting-- biggest issues that I'm hearing in places like Iowa and Minnesota and Wyoming, is fear of the economic climate. American corporations have lost the respect of the American people. People are really worried. They're not-- I mean, they're angry, but they're not so populist, they're much more-- they're much smarter than that. They don't wanna drive the corporations out of America, they know the corporations bring big jobs. They just don't trust them any more.
One of the things we need to do from an economic point of view, is start to figure out how to help small businesses, and not aim all our tax policy at large businesses. We need to do that at the state level as well as the national level. Health insurance that's government-subsidized is a big benefit to small businesses. We have a lot of small businesses in our state that put their kids on our program, with their families making less than $52,000 a year, and then the small businesses only have to pay for health insurance for the employee and the spouse. There's a savings right there. Economically, we actually talked to people about the fact that we will take care of people's kids in terms of health insurance. I think it's a good thing economically for the country. It will allow us to compete in some ways that we can't compete in now.
And the beauty of it all is, there's enough money to do this, and to restore the payments to Social Security, and to do a pharmaceutical benefit for Medicare, if we only will roll back those tax cuts that really only benefited the top 2% who then ran those corporations that turned on us and took away people's pensions, and stole money and so forth and so on.
Those tax cuts were targeted at just the very wrong people, from an economic point of view and a moral point of view. We get rid of the tax cuts, we go back to the same tax structure we had when President Clinton was in the White House. The country was a lot better off economically then, and we are still able to do some of these insurance things.
We cannot have a sweeping huge program. I am not promising everybody everything. There will be copayments. This plan that people will be able to buy into will not be the Cadillac plan that you get if you work for General Electric or IBM, but it will be a plan, and people will be able to afford it.
Goldfarb: Let's move on to some other policies, Governor. I mean, education-- President Bush has a bill before the Congress, Teddy Kennedy has his own initiative. Where do you stand in terms of the national plans that are out there, and what have you done in Vermont that you could bring to a national stage?
Dean: Well, the President-- I think most people are not gonna find this out until after the election. The President's education bill was the second-largest unfunded mandate ever passed by Congress. When they find out what it's going to cost local property tax payers, I think there's going to be a huge revision in congress.
Basically, they have mandated that they will define who-- which school in your state is a failing school, and you will do a number of very expensive things to respond, and you have no choice about what you do. You have to do certain things. And most of that gets picked up by the property tax payers. The American people have not figured that out yet, but the school boards are starting to figure it out, and the superintendents, and when the property tax comes around a year from now to pay for all those changes, it's gonna be pretty extraordinary.
I mean, this bill is the largest federal power-grab of any bill that I can think of in a long time. For example, I give you three little things that--
Goldfarb: Actually-- Let me-- just quickly, the thing that I'm always amazed by is how, when Republican governors get to the White House, having stood outside, "oh, the central government centralizes everything, the states should be running stuff," they're-- they always centralize more than when Democratic governors seem to get to the White House. Why is that?
Dean: I don't know. I think it's because to them the means justifies the ends. Or the end justifies the means, rather. They'd be perfectly happy to do whatever-- I mean, you know, when I was the leader of the NGA, was during when the Democrats took power, and in the transition, we used to fight terribly with the Democratic leadership in the House, because they were trying to centralize things. After the Republicans took over, we just realized that all we'd done was subsitute conservative micromanagement for liberal micromanagement.
Goldfarb: Did you work closely with George Bush there in the Governor's Conference, when he was governor of Texas?
Dean: No. We had a good working relationship. He's a, you know, certainly not a bad person or anything of that sort, but I just think his policies are very bad for the country.
Dean: Let me--
Goldfarb: Go ahead.
Dean: just give you-- give out the number and we'll talk a little more about education.
Goldfarb: Um. (laughs) You have no idea how many people want to talk to you on the phone line. So, let me say the magic words/numbers: 800-423-8255, 800-423-TALK. Mike is on the line.
Mike: Ah, hello?
Dean and Goldfarb: Hello.
Mike: Hi, Governor. My question for you is, with your lower name recognition currently than Vice President Gore, or Speaker Gephardt, let's say, and a fairly liberal message when it comes to certain social issues, what is your, sort of, plan for bringing your message to the base of the Democratic Party throughout the country?
Dean: Well, I'm not so sure balancing the budget-- I don't think balancing the budget is a particularly liberal issue, but certainly healthcare is a traditional liberal issue. I think most people are very worried about the economy. I think they're gonna wanna try something different.
The biggest advantage I have over the other folks that are running is that I'm a governor. And people who work in Washington talk differently than people who-- you know, they're not dumber, or not as good people or anything like that, they're good people. But there's a penalty in Washington for saying what you think. That's what governors get paid to do. Every day I have to make decisions where I have to disappoint somebody and I have to please somebody. And then I have to explain to the people who I disappointed why I did what I did.
That's what the American people want. They want some answers that are straightforward. And what people in Washington get paid to do is offend as few people as possible. Well, you can't run America and offend as few people as possible. Sometimes you have to stand up for principles, and that's basically what this candidacy's gonna be about.
Goldfarb: But the other part of Mike's question, Governor, was the money factor.
Dean: I better raise money. I won't have as much as any of the people from Washington. Fortunately we're starting off with three states where retail politics is very important. You know, John McCain did very well without money, Gary Hart did very well without money, Dick Gephardt did well in '88 without money. There's no guarantee that I can make this work. But I think the American people are gonna want to hear this message.
I was the first Democrat to call for rescinding the tax cuts. Senator Lieberman has since joined me.
I was actually the first governor in the country, Republican or Democrat, speaking of liberal versus conservative, to do welfare reform. We got our waivers two weeks before Wisconsin did, and required people to work for welfare. Our program was a lot different than what Gingrich's folks ultimately passed, but it's been incredibly successful.
So, I would say that I was more practical than liberal, but as we go through this discussion, we're gonna find out that there's some conservative sides. For example, I have an 'A' from the National Rifle Association. So, I think it's gonna be hard to pin me as a conservative versus a liberal, but I think that 'A' from the National Rifle Association's gonna help a lot in places like South Carolina and Tennessee, where Democrats are sick of losing because of the national gun issue.
Goldfarb: But in those very same towns, Governor, you know that you're gonna get hammered on arguably the policy that brought you the most national notice, which is your willingness to endorse the legis-- judicial decision for gay civil unions in vermont.
Dean: Right. I think everybody oughtta have the same civil rights in America, and I think most Americans are willing to listen to that, since September 11th is one of the reasons. I don't have one question, other than from a reporter or from a member of the gay and lesbian community about civil unions since September 11th. Why? Because every kind of American, and a lot of people who weren't American, died in those buildings. African-Americans, whites, Hispanics, and Jews, and Catholics and Muslims... people from all different kinds of nations, and yes, gay people and straight people as well. And I think September 11th proved a lot of things, and one of the things that it proved was very good about this country, is that we're basically one family. A lot of people recognized that, realized that. I think civil rights for all Americans has been something that's been a bedrock of the American character for the last 50 years. I think people are willing to stand up and say, "Yup, we think that everybody ought to have the same rights and be treated the same."
Goldfarb: Jack, it's always good to hear ideals from someone who's standing for President. Do you think those ideals can translate to the places where the NRA would not look at a Democratic candidate twice?
Beatty: Well, it would sure cross-pressure that voter, wouldn't it?
Dean: So lemme tell you why this is helpful.
I mean, the reason I have an 'A' from the NRA is we don't have gun laws in Vermont. The reason we don't have gun laws in Vermont is 'cause we have the lowest homicide rate in the United States. We had five homicides the whole year, one year, when I was Governor. Our average is about 18. So gun control wouldn't do any good here. Now, so I've never supported it.
Now, I understand that some people in New York or Boston or Los Angeles want gun control, and my attitude is, "let 'em have it." That's why I do truly believe that the states oughtta have some power to run their own affairs. What's good for New York is not always good for Wyoming and Alabama and Vermont, and I think we need to recognize that, that you've gotta do things differently in different states.
Now I'll tell you where this is helpful. We lose about 35 to 40% of union membership every year in the Democratic Party. Union members oughtta be voting Democratic 100% of the time because on economic issues, we are really where working people are, and they understand that. But we lose them on issues like gun control. Bill Clinton won Montana by 4%. Al Gore lost Montana by 26%. Al Gore lost Tennessee by 12%.
When I went down and talked to activists in Tennessee, they didn't like my position on gun control, but they were delighted to see me, 'cause they don't wanna any more deal with the national issue of gun control, and have the Democrats brought down by that issue. It is an issue that oughtta be solved at the state level, not the national level. And if I take that position, I don't have to antagonize voters who would normally be Democratic voters on economic issues.
Beatty: But we talked about these voters being cross-pressured, Governor. On the one hand, "yeah, he's against gun control," on the other hand, "he's for civil unions," which is, at least in terms of social policy, ahead of where the polls say most Americans are. So, what do you--
Dean: I don't agree with that.
Dean: If you ask people 'should we have gay marriage,' they're gonna say no. But we don't have gay marriage. What we have is civil rights for everybody. Civil unions basically says, 'Look, I'm a married person, right? If my wife gets sick I get to visit her in the hospital, and I get to have some say in her care if something terrible happens. If I die, she gets the house without going through probate. Insurance, and so forth and so on.'
Well, we woke up on September the 11th, and there were a lot of people who died, and that was a difficult issue. But for gay people, who were couples who died in those buildings, that meant they didn't have any of the things that I have, or that my wife has. And it doesn't seem to me that those folks ought to have less rights than we do. And I think most Americans are going to see the wisdom of that, not all of them for sure. I think there's a lot of homophobia and fear about gay people in this country. But the truth is, that gay people are 95% just like the rest of us. They want the best education, they want the best jobs, they believe in their country, and they want to do what's right for their families. That just unites them, I think, with everybody else in America.
Goldfarb: 800-423-8255, 800-423-TALK, Ellen is on the line.
Ellen: Hi. My question is-- lemme begin with a statement. The Bush administration is probably remarkable for having placed the U.S. in a position of belligerency vis-a-vis the rest of the world. He has refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty, he has claimed that Americans, of all people in the world, should be exempt from trial in the World Court. I wondered what the Governor's position would be in terms of the United States' role in the world. Will it continue to be a force for domination and confrontation in this regard, or would he see its role as being-- having to be, in the wake of 9/11, I should add, more cooperative...?
Goldfarb: --Ellen-- I think we have the gist of your question, and 'cause the segment's gonna end, I want the Governor to have a crack at that one.
Dean: Lemme say that I am in favor of a strong country and a strong defense. I have been incredibly critical of the Bush foreign policy for exactly the reason the caller said.
We can accomplish the things we have to accomplish to defend our interests in this world without alienating everybody in the country (sic). I happened to be in South Korea and Japan a few weeks after the President's 'evil axis' speech, and the day, actually, before he got to that part of the coun- the state-- uh, the country-- the world, sorry.
Goldfarb: Mm hm.
Dean: The people were very upset. Not only were our people upset, but the locals from Japan and Korea were upset, although the Japanese, of course, were much too polite to say so.
But the truth is, that we didn't need to do that. We can speak softly and carry a big stick. We can be tough with North Korea. We can build a strong military. But to alienate everybody in the world is crazy. There are about 8 things, starting with Kyoto and working through the World Court, and the ABM and START II, which is gonna be modified, and all these different things that the President's simply withdrawn from. We cannot be alien of this world. We can be a dominant superpower, we can defend our interests, but cooperation is absolutely essential, and I think you get more for it. I thought--
Goldfarb: --Lemme throw a specific at you sir.
Even as we speak, the U.N. is in session, they're trying to figure out what to do about the U.S. threat to pull its peacekeepers out of U.N. missions if American soldiers are not exempted from the jurisdiction of the ICC, the International Criminal Court. How would you as-- what's your policy decision on that? Should the U.S. be part of the ICC?
Dean: [crosstalk]...that's a very difficult issue, and I think there's a compromise to be had there. The issue of political trials for Americans is of great concern, and there have been times when--
Goldfarb: --Do you endorse the International Criminal Court?
Goldfarb: Do you endorse the idea of an international criminal court?
Dean: I endorse the idear but I think we do have to look carefully about whether we get into it. I lean towards supporting things like Kyoto and the ICC. The issue-- the President's right to be concerned about this issue, he's right to examine it carefully, he's wrong to pull out the peacekeeping forces. I think there is a compromise to be had there and I think we should find it.
Goldfarb: Ellen, I want to thank you for that call.
Actually, we're gonna have a break shortly. And I know, for having spoken to you now for the last fifteen minutes, that if I open up some small door, we're gonna have a hard time running --
Let me just stick with foreign policy for a second.
Dean: Mm hm.
Goldfarb: Ellen was concerned about the belligerency of the Bush administration in its conduct of foreign policy since September 11th. It was fairly somnolent before September 11th. Do you think that tone matters? Is it important for the United States to conduct itself with the kind of wisdom that comes from exceptional power?
Dean: I'll give you an appropriate example of what is wrong with the President's foreign policy.
The President gave a speech in which he said that Ara-- that Yasser Arafat should not be elected by the Palestinians, and therefore if he were elected we would not be able to proceed any further towards peace. Here is the problem. Let's-- I think this show is going from Boston, is that right?
Goldfarb: That's right.
Dean: Let's just suppose that I came to Massachusetts. And I said, "you should not elect So-and-so as Governor." Wouldn't there be a fair amount of resentment that I was interfering in this process?
Now I think the President's right. I think Arafat is not suitable for negotiation -- with peace. I think he's much more interested in his own power than he is in the Palestinian state. I think he's misplayed his hand for fifty years. But to publicly to say that puts you in a very embarrassing position. I think the likely outcome, frankly, is that the Palestinians will stick a thumb in our eye and they'll reelect him and then what are we gonna do?
Goldfarb: -- Governor, then what we're gonna do, we're gonna go for the break right now.
We're talking with Vermont Governor Howard Dean, I'm Michael Goldfarb, this is "On Point".
Goldfarb: I'm Michael Goldfarb, this is "On Point". We're talking this hour with Vermont Governor Howard Dean, prospective Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination in 2004, and no, two years-- am I right, Governor? -- two years is not enough time-- too soon to be thinking about running for President.
Dean: Not for somebody from a small state.
Goldfarb: [chuckles] 800-423-8255, 800-423-TALK to join in the conversation. Rob is on the line.
Rob: Yes, hello. Thank you very much for taking my call. Good evening, Governor.
Rob: Hi. I'm calling because I'm interested in education. I know that's going to be a very hot topic on the Presidential election. And one thing that I'm concerned about, not just with President Bush's bill, but also with a lot of the rhetoric I've heard, talking about standards, talking about testing, talking about teacher performance. It seems to be focusing a lot on the quality of teachers and testing, but I don't hear much about quality of education in terms of, for example, we're a show coming from the Boston area, for example, Boston is an inner-city school district. But just a few miles away you have very affluent communities where you see huge disparity in what the children are getting-- class sizes ranging from 18 in a town like Belmont or Newton, and 28 in a school in Boston, which is only 5, 10 miles away.
Dean: -- Lemme try to answer some of those questions by telling you-- I hope briefly-- what we've done in Vermont, what I would hope to do in the country.
In Vermont we have a system which equalizes school funding within the state. Now, it's controversial, obviously the federal government doesn't have a role in that, so that's what we would not do in the country, we would have to do something different. I'm gonna tell you what that is in a minute.
We established testing. We want high-- it's high standards testing, it's not norms-based testing. And what we do is, we release the results, everybody knows which school performs well, which school doesn't perform well, and then we support those schools that don't perform well, and bring in their faculty, along with the faculty of places that do perform well. We do a lot of work to try to upgrade both teaching and learning.
What should have been done, instead of this huge unfunded federal mandate, which I frankly do not think is gonna help the nation's schools, is, what the President should have done was say, 'OK, here's the test. We would like everybody to take this test,' (which we're going to, which he's got in his bill) 'and we're gonna publish the standards, and we're gonna help with the districts that don't do well. And we're gonna put a little money in and we're gonna have some support for improved teaching.' And then there can be some sanctions, we have a sanction in our bill, if you don't-- if your school consistently underperforms, they can take over the school. They've never had to do that, because...
But then, the money. There should be some money which goes into infrastructure in schools that are really at the bottom of the barrel. The federal government is doing nothing about that. President Clinton was gonna do something about it; the Republican Congress wouldn't let him pass it. President Bush doesn't think we should be doing that. The biggest problem in our schools today, in many ways, is infrastructure.
The other big problem in our schools is much harder to do something about, and that is this: we can do all the computers and all the infrastructure and all the teacher training you want. But the single largest indicator of whether kids do well in school or not, is what they hear about education at home. And so we have got to start working with parents in a constructive way to bring them into the process of improving schools. And make the school boards responsible, and that's one of the reasons for publishing the results of tests.
I do not believe the tests ought to be connected to graduation. Some kids are going to be great at art and lousy at math, and what's the point of making it impossible for them to graduate from high school? You oughtta have some standards-- I mean, some stakes, so that kids will try their best on the test.
We think our situation's worked very well in Vermont. I think we rank 6th or something in the country on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. But we've gotta invest federal money in the infrastructures because states that are dependent on property taxes will not fix those inner-city schools in Boston or New York.
Goldfarb: Jack Beatty.
Beatty: Governor, you mentioned the program you have that equalizes funding. It's called "Act 60".
Beatty: ... and it is indeed controversial, and I-- for example, friends of mine in Norwich tell me, within a year or two, they have move, because Norwich is a so-called "gold town," which not only has to pay-- well, you explain it. And I think it goes this way-- not only has to pay its assessment for the schools, but something over and above that that goes to a poorer town. I think that sounds like a great idea, but it also looks, in the way it's working out in your state, and I think you have to be candid here, like liberal social engineering perhaps gone awry, in that middle-class people in these so-called "gold towns", they don't feel very golden!
Dean: Well, here's the problem in that particular town. They spend an enormous amount of money. And they don't have full control over it because they're hooked in with Hanover right across the river, which is building a new high school, which has driven up their cost.
In our state under our formula, one penny in the property tax raises the exact same amount of money per pupil in every town in the state. So if that you are a middle-class person in any state that spends -- in any town that spends 12 or 13 thousand dollars a year, then your taxes are gonna be very high, no matter if it's a rich town or a poor town. For towns that have been used to being able to do much better than that, that's tough for them, because their expenses are now commensurate with the cost.
However, there is for middle-class people a 'circuit breaker', which allows them basically, if you make less than $75,000 a year in our state, your property tax depends on your income. You don't pay more than about 2 1/2 or 3% of your income in property taxes, and if the budget goes way up, the state will make sure that you get a check back.
Goldfarb: 800-423-8255, 800-423-TALK. Bill is on the line.
Bill: Good evening. Hi. Governor, the answer you should have given on the Kyoto Accord and the International War Crimes Tribunal was 'yes' and 'yes'. Period. But I'm digressing from the question I was gonna ask you.
The Democrats have had an awful lot of practice in rolling over and playing dead. I was wondering when can I expect my party to stand up and fight?
Dean: Well, I've done that since Gingrich took over. I was the first-- matter of fact, I think my quote was, "I think they must be smoking opium in the Speaker's office." And I agree that maybe the answers should be 'yes' on the international accord on Kyoto, but I'm not gonna say that until I know exactly what's in those treaties. I tend towards leaning yes, but I gotta know what's in that before I endorse it. I've got a lot to learn about foreign affairs and international treaties. Until I know exactly what's in that, and make sure the Republicans' charges, about costing jobs and all stuff that are wrong, I think it would be foolish to get out on a limb. You'll probably end up hearing me endorse Kyoto. But not until I'm ready to do it and feel comfortable with the facts.
Goldfarb: Bill, when you talk about 'fighting', what kind of fighting are you talking about?
Bill: I can't believe how the field has been left to the Republicans. I mean--
Goldfarb: Which field? The whole field?
Bill: -- they define the arguments, they define who is and is not patriotic, with nearly a whimper from the Democrats. I mean-- and the other thing that bothers me to no end, I mean, I'm going back to the Presidential election. I cannot believe an intellectual non-entity like Bush lost, I mean won, over a-- I can't-- how do you lose to that type of person? Especially if you are a Rhodes Scholar and actually know what you're talking about? I-- the Democrats blew that election.
Goldfarb: -- OK, Bill, Bill-- we're looking forward to 2004. But Governor, go ahead and answer Bill.
Dean: Let me just be very blunt-- do not underestimate George Bush. One of the reasons we lost is that people from the Northeast have sort of this, I think this prejudice against people from the South. I have Tom Wicker, who's a wonderful former columnist for [the New York] Time[s], happen to live in Vermont, now, he's from North Carolina. We were talking about this one time over dinner. I said, "Tom, don't you think some people from the Northeast have this innate prejudice against Southerners?" He said, "You know, Governor, when somebody comes up here from the South, I always tell him to hang onto his accent 'as long you can, because you'll always be underestimated.'"
Dean: Never underestimate George Bush. George Bush is not stupid. He's not an intellectual, but that doesn't mean he's stupid. He's a damn good politician. I think his policies are much worse than his father's policies, but his politics is much, much better.
Goldfarb: 800-423-8255, 800-423-TALK, Eric is on the line.
Eric: Hi, Howard. I was a member of your state, a resident, and I had to leave. I moved there in 1995, I found it a hostile business environment.
Goldfarb: How so?
Dean: I don't buy that. Why'd you find it hostile?
Eric: Because all the environmentalism that really prohibits expansion. We manufactured small products in Westfield, Vermont, and desire to expand was squashed by all the environmental mandates.
Dean: Well, without knowing the specifics, I don't know how to respond exactly. But I would disagree. You know who's-- but everybody has their own story. I was in a New Hampshire Rotary Club, which is not exactly known for liberal politics, and I was giving a speech, and a guy at the end-- you know, at the question period-- the guy stands up at the end and says, "Governor, the Vermont business climate is obviously great and the one here in New Hampshire stinks. Can't you tell our people what they can do to make our climate better?" And I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll bring you up to all the Rotaries in Vermont and have you say what you just said."
Everybody always thinks that the situation in their own state is much worse and everybody has horror stories. I don't know what your story is, and certainly, I'd be actually interested in hearing what it was, 'cause probably there's some things we can improve. But I really don't think our business climate is particularly bad. There's been plenty of surveys that say it's bad, and there's been plenty of surveys that say it's terrific, and I think it's probably not a whole lot different than a lot of other places.
Although I will say, that in some of the southern states, they do pay less attention to environmental laws, and I think probably they are, perhaps, a better business climate because of that. Alabama wrote a check for $300 million to Mercedes to bring a factory in there. That's clearly not the kind of thing we would do in Vermont, and from that point of view, you may be right.
Goldfarb: We're coming to the end of the hour, Governor, and I'd just like to ask you, just practically... You're running for President, and I'm wondering if you've got far enough along to have the usual coterie of advisors yet?
Dean: We have some. I'm starting to be briefed on-- well, I've been in 50 countries in my life, which is probably more than the President will have been in by November of 2004...
Dean: ... and so I'm fairly comfortable and able to learn foreign policy pretty quickly, including having lived abroad for a year. Defense is more complicated. I'm starting to do the necessary work that I have to do in defense.
So we have all kinds of advisors, and I'm acquiring more as we go along.
Goldfarb: Do you have a media guy? Do you have a pollster?
Dean: I have a media guy, and we don't need a pollster for at least another year, so we don't have a pollster.
Goldfarb: So in this wonderful moment we can hear you frank and unframed by what the focus groups are telling you.
Dean: You're gonna hear that anyway. One of my trademarks is that I say what I think. And I can guarantee you that I'll get into trouble doing that before this thing is over. Probably... possibly a huge, enormous gaffe. Hopefully not.
But don't forget, I've run for statewide election for Governor 5 times and before that, 3 times as Lieutenant Governor, so I have a fair amount of experience in campaigns, albeit in a smaller state. I've run the state for 11 years. I've made mistakes. But my approach is to be very direct, to say what I think, to disagree with people politely and respectfully if I can. But I have a very strong view of what this country should look like.
Goldfarb: Mm hm.
Dean: And it's certainly not the direction that we're headed in right today.
Beatty: Governor, I think David Broder in a recent column was following you around, and he quoted someone as asking, "What do you think about Bush's handling of the war?" [note: war in Afghanistan. The Iraq war hadn't been started yet.] And you said, "I think he's done a good job on the war," and your interlocutor said, "Are you sure?" And the balance of the column is about a kind of emerging disquiet among Democratic voters about the way the President is handling the war, and yet you and all the Democratic candidates want no light between you and Mr. Bush at all.
Dean: No. I'm very willing to be critical of the President's foreign policy, and I certainly have some suggestions to make about the homeland security bill that I would do differently. I think to criticize the handling of the war is a mistake, and I don't think it's justified. The truth is that we've crippled Al Qaeda, they're still very dangerous but we've driven them out of their place of residence, and we're hopefully gonna do the right thing in terms of nation-building, which President Bush has spoken out against, but I think it's again, an area where I disagree with him, to make sure that we can build a strong middle class in which women can participate in the society in Afghanistan, which would then assure that we would not have future problems there.
But I think-- you know, just because I'm running against the President, doesn't mean I have to disagree with him on every single area, and I simply don't disagree with him in the prosecution of the war.
Beatty: Does that include Iraq? A possible attack on Iraq?
Dean: Here's the problem with bombing Iraq. Look, everybody agrees that having-- that if Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, we can't allow that to continue. What is the game plan afterwards? If you think Afghanistan has problems with any kind of government infrastructure, there's no one that can run Iraq, and no one we can even look to to run Iraq. So if we bomb Iraq and drive Saddam Hussein from power, we have to first have a plan so that we don't end up with American troops in Iraq for the next ten years running the place. 'Cause I think that's an untenable and impossible situation. I think it will lead to more terrorism at home.
So what makes me nervous about the President's talk about Iraq is not that I think it's OK for Saddam to have the atom bomb; obviously that's a disaster. But I don't hear any plan for how we're gonna deal with Iraq if we do get rid of Saddam Hussein. And we need that plan, it has to be in place, and the American people have to understand what that is, before we begin to talk about bombing Iraq, especially unilaterally. I think we've gotta make a case--
Goldfarb: -- Governor --
Dean: -- to the world that that's the right thing to do before we do it. I think this is all loose talk by the President, I think it's probably not--
Goldfarb: -- Governor, I'm just gonna ask you for a frank assessment of your prospects. We've got less than a minute in our conversation. Eighteen months from now, where do you think you're gonna be? [He wound up here]
Dean: I hope I'm contending, and I hope that I've got a coterie of followers, particularly in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and I hope we're in the middle of debates with the four or five of us that are gonna be in the race.
Goldfarb: Thank you very much.
Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, who is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, and a man who speaks with articulacy [sic] and honesty, which is always refreshing in politicians. I want to thank all our callers, and I'm sorry-- I want to apologize to the ones we didn't get to.
Jack Beatty, thank you very much for helping me along.
Goldfarb: I'm Michael Goldfarb, this is "On Point".
Transcribed from a radio interview posted on
On Point's website.