LiberalOasis Interviews Howard Dean

May 16,2003

LiberalOasis conducted an exclusive interview with former Governor Howard Dean, in what will hopefully be the first in a series of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidates. The interview was done via email, and Dr. Dean sent his answers to LiberalOasis on May 16, 2003.

LiberalOasis: What do you think were the motivations for the Bush Administration to go to war with Iraq?

Howard Dean: I can't speak to his motives, because I can't read his mind. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, though, and presume that he believes Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to our security.

I happen to disagree with that; I think we had Saddam pretty well contained. My problem with the war in Iraq isn't with motivation; it's with justification.

I don't believe the President was able to show that Iraq was an imminent threat to our security; his whole rationale for using force was based on the idea that they might be a danger to the United States at some point in the future.

Frankly, I've never understood why he was concentrating on Iraq, which had been successfully contained for twelve years, while every day a country like North Korea develops its nuclear capability.

LO: Are the recent contracts awarded to Halliburton and Bechtel examples of a conflict of interest in the Bush Administration? Or were they hired simply because there are only a few companies qualified to do the kind of work needed in Iraq?

HD: The GAO [General Accounting Office] is currently investigating the way the contracts were awarded, so I think it's premature to make any allegations of impropriety right now.

However, I think the Bush Administration should have exercised better judgment and conducted the deals in a much more transparent way.

Shortly after being sworn in, President Bush sent a memo to his staff directing them to avoid actions that could create even the appearance of impropriety.

Here, in my view, the Administration failed to follow its own advice.

The close ties between the Administration and both Halliburton and Bechtel are well known. I believe that conducting the bidding process in the open would have been the wisest thing for the Administration to do. What troubles me is that this incident seems to be part of a broader atmosphere of secrecy that the White House appears to be fostering.

At all times, and particularly after the corporate ethics scandals of the past two years, the President of the United States ought to go the extra mile to maintain the public trust. I believe that this atmosphere of secrecy significantly undermines that trust.

LO: You've taken some flak for saying, following the downfall of Saddam Hussein, "I suppose that's a good thing.
USA Today's Walter Shapiro said it was an "off-key note" and "even Democrats who doubt the strategic wisdom of the war have to agree that Saddam's ouster was unquestionably a good thing."

Senator Evan Bayh said in response, "equivocating about whether Saddam's departure is a good thing or not doesn't help the Democratic Party." What's your response?

HD: It is undeniable that Saddam Hussein is a despicable tyrant. In my opposition to the war, I have never suggested anything to the contrary. Of course, in and of itself, Saddam's departure is a good thing.

But the costs of the war - some known, some unknown - and what I considered to be an insufficient justification for unilateral action led me to conclude that this was the wrong war at the wrong time, and my view has not changed.
The jury is still out on whether or not the operation will be seen as successful one; we're not quite sure what we have created in the Arab world. The reconstruction effort has gotten off to a very rocky start.

What we have created in Washington, though, is a dangerous new doctrine of preventive war that could cause serious problems for us down the line.

LO: Congress is currently reviewing President Clinton's welfare reform law, and revisions to the law are expected.
How well do you feel welfare reform has worked, and what changes, if any, would you like to see?

HD: I think welfare reform has been an incredibly positive force. Vermont was the first state in the nation to institute welfare reform, and we've had great success with it. I believe that maintaining broad-based flexibility and restoring full funding to the block grant is vital to the program's long-term success.

I do not, however, support the short-sighted proposals of the Bush Administration which require women to work forty-hour weeks; these requirements will erode the ability of the states to run their own program that best suit the needs of each state.

Additionally, the proposed requirements are not supported by research findings of effective welfare-to-work strategies and do not align with the infrastructure of community-based services. That is not my idea of sensible welfare reform.

LO: In Vermont, you opposed a bill that would have given terminally ill patients access to medicinal marijuana.
What was your rationale? As President, would you direct the FDA to objectively address this issue?

HD: My opposition to medical marijuana is based on science, not based on ideology. More specifically, I don't think we should single out a particular drug for approval through political means when we approve other drugs through scientific means.

When I'm President, I will require the FDA to evaluate marijuana with a double blind study with the same kinds of scientific protocols that every other drug goes through. I'm certainly willing to abide by what the FDA says.

LO: Republicans seem eager to run against you in part because of your rejection of tax cuts. Other than stressing your credentials as a deficit hawk, how will you counter their attacks?

HD: I'm actually eager to run against the Republicans because of their defense of these tax cuts. The tax cuts that the President pushed through in 2001 are an absolute disgrace; they overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy at the expense of our children, who are going to have to foot the bill for the President's fiscal irresponsibility.

The Bush Administration -- like other Republican administrations in recent history -- has shown that it cannot handle the people's money. The Administration was handed surpluses as far as the eye could see, and turned them into deficits as far as the eye can see.

Now, I'm not nave -- I know that if you ask the American people if they want to roll back the tax cuts, the majority will say no. But if you ask them if they'd rather have these tax cuts or more access to health care and a stronger education system, they'll choose health care and education every time.

On top of everything else, these tax cuts haven't even done what President Bush said they would do, which is stimulate the economy. What's astounding to me is that with the economy in the tank right now, President Bush is trying to push through yet another round of tax cuts that are aimed at the wealthiest taxpayers.

The American people know that this doesn't make sense, and they know that we can't afford it. I would welcome that debate with President Bush.

LO: You have said, "what people liked about John McCain they will like about me." And you have described yourself as a social liberal and fiscal conservative.

But John McCain lost in the primary to a well-funded and well-handled candidate. Paul Tsongas in 1992, a social liberal-fiscal conservative, also lost to a well-funded, well-handled candidate. What have you learned from their campaigns? What do you plan to do differently to avoid the same fate?

HD: Every campaign is different, and more importantly, every election year comes with a different set of circumstances surrounding it.

I can tell you, though, that I have been running and will continue to run a campaign that is based on ideas and not on polls and positioning - I think that this is a quality my campaign shares with Senator McCain's 2000 bid and Senator Tsongas' 1992 bid.

What is unique about this race, however, is the fact that we have a president who has governed from farther right than any president in living memory, and I believe the American people are going to respond to the Democratic candidate who can best distinguish him or herself from the policies and ideologies of President Bush.

This is an Administration that appears bent on dividing Americans by race, class, gender and sexual orientation, and our country deserves better.

I intend to run a campaign that will promote a national community, challenge the divisive Republican politics, and offer the American people a vision for the future that includes every one of us.

To learn more about Howard Dean, visit Dean For America.

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