Interview on 'Politically Direct'
January 29, 2006
This is the transcript of Howard Dean's interview with David Bender on Air America's Politically Direct. I missed the first few seconds of it, but here's the interview from the point where I tuned in. - Renee in Ohio
Dean: The people who brought us Medicare Part D are now going to try to do surgery on everybody else's healthcare system, and I don't think that's a very good thing. Thirty-six countries in the world have a system where everybody benefits and when the Democrats get back in, I'd like to put that up front and center.
Bender: Even Costa Rica, as I recall.
Dean: (Laughs) As I used to say during the campaign. But it's true, if they can have universal healthcare in Costa Rica, we ought to be able to have it in the United States.
Bender: One of the things that you said during the campaign that struck me, this last week. I was at Constitution Hall this last week to see Al Gore's speech. Did you see, or see coverage of the speech?
Dean: I saw coverage of it. You know, he's given four remarkable speeches over the last few years, and that was truly a remarkable speech.
Bender: Well, actually what you said was, "The best speeches given during the presidential campaign in 2004 were given by someone who wasn't running."
Dean: That's true. I think Al is a really deep thinker and a great writer.
Bender: And I guess my question is, why isn't what he is saying shaping the debate more than it is within the rest of the Democratic party? He seems to be out front but people haven't followed in the direction he's been leading.
Dean: Well, I think they are. I think the grassroots people are following. The problem is, as you know, Democrats in Washington are risk aversive, and they've got to get over that if we're going to win the presidency back and win the White House back.
I, frankly, as you know, I don't agree with anything that Newt Gingrich believes, but I do believe that he's a great tactician and strategist, and what he did to take back the Congress was to differentiate the Republican party from the Democratic party. And before that, the Republicans who were in the minority were doing the same thing that we've been doing which is "Oh, let's be like the Democrats, and then maybe we'll win a few seats."
We have to clearly show that we're different. And we can't just say "Oh, the Republicans are corrupt, which is true, we've got to say what we would do differently and how we would lead in a positive way. Now, I think we're making some headway on that. But it's hard, and the progress is sporadic, but I think we're getting better.
Bender: I talked to Senator Obama on this program last week and we talked about the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. And I asked him, because it puzzles me, both sides, both Democrats and Republicans are coming forward with reform legislation. But is seems like people's perception of this is that it's rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Dean: That's not entirely true. It's true on the Republican side, but the Republicans just basically threw this together. I mean first of all, they don't have agreement between the Senate and the House. Second of all, they're not doing anything about the K Street project, which is where all the corruption came from in the first place. The idear that they would just run all the Democrats out of business and just allow people with a lot of money to give Republicans access, and that is really just blatant corruption.
Bender: But Governor, 82% of the American people, when the Abramoff scandal broke, the question was asked, "Is this unusual or is this the way government works?" And 82% came back and said "This is business as usual, no matter who's in power." How do you change that perception?
Dean: Well, I think they're actually telling the truth. I mean, part of the problem is that the RNC, the Republican National Committee is much better at propaganda than we are. And part of the problem, frankly, is the media is lazy as all get-out. I can't tell you how many times I've seen the media write that Democrats were involved in taking Abramoff money. That is simply a lie! Nor did he direct any money to any Democrats. But you wouldn't believe the mainstream newspapers that print that crap. It just is astonishing to me that the reporters won't get off their butts and look at the truth.
Bender: I watched you with Wolf Blitzer. I don't know if you ever saw the footage of it.
Dean: I never did.
Bender: He was remote. You told him, flat out, that he was wrong, and then there was a pause, for a long period of time on the television. He was frozen there, unable to respond.
Dean: Well he is wrong. This is a Republican finance scandal, David. And I know, everybody, "Oh a pox on everybody's houses!" No, Americans don't like politicians, but the truth is, in this case, this is a Republican scandal. Not one Democrat has been implicated in this--not one.
Bender: Well, I watched Tim Russert trying to do this again just a week ago. He said that it was 3 million dollars of Abramoff related money that went to Republicans, and 1.5 million that went to Democrats. How is he slicing that up, how is he making that contention?
Dean: Because Abramoff has some clients who independently gave money to people like Reid and Dorgan, because they're in their district. People give money to politicians for a variety of reasons. One, they're directed to for quid pro quo, which is what Abramoff has pleaded guilty to. That's corrupt. The other, is they support people who they like. Just like you and I would give a hundred dollars, or a thousand dollars if we can afford it, to a candidate that we like.
So the Indian tribes that gave money to Reid and Dorgan, are giving it because they like what they do. It has nothing to do with Abramoff. As I said before, there's not one evidence--not any evidence whatsoever that Jack Abramoff directed a dime to any Democrat. We checked through every FEC report, he didn't give a dime to any Democrat. He gave thousands of dollars to Republicans. This is a Republican finance scandal, and the media is lazy.
Bender: Governor, hang on a second. We need to take a quick break, and we'll come right back.
Bender: Governor, you talked before about how Newt Gingrich had laid out a strategy and, as a tactician, he was very effective. We saw that Karl Rove, who is a tactician if nothing else-- maybe no ethics, maybe no conscience-- but has laid out a strategy again to the RNC. The same exact strategy from four years ago: they're going to run on 9/11. And, I believe at the time, your comment was, here's Karl Rove who breached our national security for partisan gain.
Bender: How do we get people to understand that these people continue to invoke 9/11 on national security and have yet done nothing to make us safer?
Dean: Well, this is actually something that I'm learning the hard way.
You know, I rail against injustice and lies and stuff like that, and there's no more dishonest person in the government than Karl Rove, and that's saying something in this government. But the truth is, in some ways we can't respond to it. We have been attacking them because we get so indignant when they lie through their teeth.
The truth is, we have to say what our values are. The reason people like this get reelected is because we don't provide an alternative. We have to have a real alternative, and we can foam at the mouth as much as we want to about how dishonest and incompetent they are-- and they are-- but we absolutely have to say what we would do differently. We have to tell people what our values are. Not just honesty, but balancing the budget-- we have to be the party of "our brother's keeper". They're not, they're the party of selfishness, and we have to contrast that we're the party where we all hang together as Americans.
Bender: Governor, is there a Democratic "Contract with America" in the offing?
Bender: When will we see that?
Dean: That is a matter of some dispute and discussion, but you'll see one. Let's not forget we've got a lot of time, and Newt Gingrich did not put his out until the September before the election, so I don't want to wait that long, but we think there's wide agreement among the leadership of the Democratic party that we do want a very plain, easy to understand layout of what we will do within the first hundred days when we take back Congress.
Bender: You've asked, going back to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, that people sign a petition in time for the State of the Union. I believe that petition is at Democrats.org/honesty.
Dean: Oh, you're even better at this than I am! (Laughs) And while you're at it, buy a Democracy Bond at Democrats.org, while you're standing up for honest government.
Dean: No, you sign the petition, you buy the bond, and then you go down and spend your lunch hour working for a great local Democratic candidate near you.
Bender: Well, that sounds like a plug for a movie: The Great Local Candidate near you. Ken Melhman, speaking of people who can go over the top, asked this rhetorical question last week, and it occurred to me I should ask you so that you can have a chance to answer it. Do you really think that when the NSA is listening in on terrorists planning attacks on America, that they need to hang up when those terrorists dial sleeper cells in the United States?
Dean: That of course is a ridiculous question. (Bender laughs, "You think?") In fact, if the president wanted to obey the law, he could have. The law says that you don't need a warrant in an emergency to listen in on a terrorist conversation. You can get that warrant afterwards. This president doesn't believe he has to go to the courts at all. You know what's more scary? This is really frightening. Now the government is trying to find out what you look at on the internet. They asked Google, who fortunately refused, to provide a million names to them, and their internet habits. That means if you go to some web site that they think is dishonest, they'll know it. Or that they think is defense filled. Now, supposedly this is a child porn sting. Well, fine, go to the child porn people and find out who's looking at that, if that's what you want to look at. This basically lets them have access to whatever they want-- it's the Patriot Act, looking at people's library habits, on steroids. And given the persecution of various church people by the IRS, and given the persecution by the FBI and the eavesdropping on people they disagree with, I think that's pretty dangerous to be able to look at whatever you want. Whatever you've looked at on Google they want that too in the government. This government has become a more and more Nixonian and Agnewonian, if I may.
Bender: Agnewonian?! (Bender and Dean laugh) May I quote you on that? I really love the word.
Dean: Well, it's sort of like "subliminable."
Bender: Governor, you have an anniversary coming up. As of February 12, you will have been Chair of the DNC for one year. How do you like the job?
Dean: Well, it's a hard job, because as you know, we're fighting battles every day. But a lot's gone on in one year-- you know, we've got 30 years of catching up to do with the Republicans. But we now have people in every state, from that state, paid for by the DNC, organizing everywhere. We've elected African American mayors in Mobile, Alabama, we've had four wins in a row in special elections in Mississippi. So, we're making real progress in states that Democrats had previously given up on. So, we're getting ourselves in shape, but it's a long process. I like to tell people "We've turned the wheel, and now we're waiting for the aircraft carrier to respond."
Bender: Well, you're not going to be landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier any time soon.
Dean: Uh, no. And mission is not accomplished.
Bender: Well, Governor Dean, thank you as always for joining us on Politically Direct, we're going to be looking forward to the Democratic "Contract for America"--
Dean: Well, we won't be calling it anything like that, either!
Bender: Well, let's have a contest to see what we can name it--
Dean: Maybe "American Values for America".
Bender: --and we'll do it right here on Air America. Thank you for joining us and we look forward to having you back to talk about that when it's released.
Dean: Thanks, David.
Additional transcripts available at www.howardempowered.org.