Speech at a Fundraiser for the ACLU of Minnesota, plus Q&A
Minneapolis, April 20, 2005
(This is the one in which he mocks Limbaugh.)
…I supported President Bush the First’s war in Iraq, because I thought when our allies are attacked, we have an obligation to come to their defense. I supported President Clinton’s sending troops to Bosnia and then Kosovo because I thought, even though it was the Europeans’ job to intervene and stop genocide on their own continent, they failed to do so. And the last resort, if you’re the last remaining superpower, stopping genocide is something you have to consider using troops to do, even though it’s not always possible. And I supported this President Bush’s war in Afghanistan, because they had attacked our country, and were harboring people who had murdered 3,000 Americans on American soil.
The simple reason that I didn’t support the war – this war in Iraq is because I didn’t think the president was telling the truth. The president – and it turned out the president wasn’t telling the truth. You do not send American kids to die in a foreign country because you didn’t tell the truth to the American people about why they had to go.
And I think if we – the point I’m trying to make here is that if we allow the truth to have some relevance to politics, then we’re gonna have a strong country again. I have never seen America weaker. It is true, we have a strong military, and there’s nobody who can match our military. We have lost our moral compass, and morals matter a great deal in foreign policy, and this president’s thrown it out the window. [Applause.]
So, what the – I’ve thought about this a lot, because I’m here in the home state of Paul Wellstone, and Paul, who I admired enormously – [applause] – and I came – and I didn’t know Paul well until the last year of his life, when I began to get out on the road, and he was getting out on the road, because I think he was thinking about running for president as well, had he gotten through his Senate race. And I got to know him, and I admired him enormously. I saw a lot of him here in Minneapolis when he’d come to big dinners, and I would speak, and he would as well.
He was a man of enormous courage, and what we shared was not necessarily our political philosophy. I would say he was considerably more to the left than I. What we shared was our total belief in the ability of the American people to figure it out for themselves if they were told all the facts. Paul Wellstone never lost a race [Sic. Wellstone lost a race for State Auditor in 1982. ed.], and that’s not the best part; he never lost a race in spite of the fact that, to my knowledge, he never said anything that wasn’t true. He laid it out, he told it the way it was, and people who didn’t agree with him voted for him, because they knew, at last, here was a man representing them in the United States Senate who would tell the truth. That is what we need in the United States Senate, if we could only have a truth transplant. [Applause.]
I want to talk about an issue I was asked to talk about, and that’s privacy. And this is the non-partisan part of the speech. The rest of it’s gonna be extremely partisan. [Laughter.] I just wanted to make you all happy, because I think this is a fairly partisan audience.
Privacy is not a terribly partisan matter. I am a little uneasy that I find myself on the same side of some of these issues as Bob Barr and Dick Armey. That makes me extremely uneasy. This must be the only issue in which I find myself on the same side of the issue as them, but you never know who your friends are gonna be in politics. It’s the oddest thing, sometimes.
I remember, one time I was in the legislature – I’m not a big fan of gambling, and somebody wanted to put a big gambling casino in Vermont, and I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t having a very good – much help from my own party, ‘cause they wanted to spend a lot of money, and they wanted to raise it any way they could. And it was all well intentioned, so they wanted a casino in. So, I get asked to be seen by this very conservative Republican Senator who I had belittled on a number of occasions. So, I say, “Fine,” and he comes in with two or three members of the House, and they sit down and they say, “This is Vermont, right? This is – we’re not used to this in Vermont.” They sit down and say, “Governor, we’ve had our differences, but we’re all committed Christians, and we want to be with you on stopping this gambling casino.”
And it was a huge – you know, I’d belittled the right-wing fundamentalists for quite some time, and I was – it really taught me a lot about politics, actually. It was a stunning thing. It taught me about what I’m gonna say tonight, later on, in terms of respecting people, even if they disagree with almost everything you think you stand for. Because, here was a group of people who so fundamentally believed in their position that they were willing to come and support me in this position, even though this is probably the only thing we agreed on the entire year in the State House. It was a very humbling moment for me, to be embarrassed to have belittled those people who were so deeply committed to that particular view that they were willing to come and help me on that issue. So, it did teach me some things, even though Bob Barr is still a bit of a stretch for me. [Laughter.] I don’t know if I can quite do that one.
The privacy issue is really a critical issue, and I wanted to talk about it because it’s a big issue for the ACLU, and it’s a big issue for both the Republicans and Democrats, and it may be the issue that, in the end, undoes the right wing fundamentalists.
First, the PATRIOT Act. I know you can just mention the PATRIOT Act and everybody boos and hisses. I’ve had the most fun I’ve had in a long time about a year-and-a-half ago. I was out in front of the ACLU biennial meeting out in San Francisco, debating Bill Owen on the PATRIOT Act. And Bill Owen is, for those of you who may not know, is the governor of Colorado, who hopes some day he’ll get to higher office. And he came to the ACLU simply to provide a Sister Souljah moment, so he thought, and putting those radical liberals back in their cage, and he made sure he had Denver reporters there so they could have a big news story. And the fun part about it was, he’d had – some staffer had given him every section of the PATRIOT Act, and he started talking about it, the PATRIOT Act, section by section, how it didn’t really do anything wrong.
What he forgot was that the ACLU actually has an enormous number of lawyers in it. [Faint laughter.] And they knew that – they had actually read the PATRIOT Act. [Laughter.] So, it didn’t play as well in Denver as he thought, because ignorance is ignorance no matter where you go, in Denver as well as San Francisco.
But the PATRIOT Act – what the PATRIOT Act did, as you’re well aware – it introduced the beginning of the imbalance between privacy and security, and that’s what we’re really talking about. There was a reason that we’ve given up some privacy since 9/11. There’s a reason I don’t mind if somebody – some stranger rummages through my personal effect, my shaving kit and my stuff when I go through the gate at the airport, and I never think to question it. You know, I never think to question that routine, which you get the four S’s at the bottom of your ticket, because I know that may have something to do with keeping some folks off the airplane who may make it my last airplane trip.
But there is an incredible balance, in order to sustain a democracy, that you don’t have to have in other societies, and the interesting part is, the other societies don’t last as long because they don’t have that balance. This is an administration that doesn’t believe in balance, and it certainly doesn’t believe in privacy, except when they’re hiding government records which show a policy that’s other than the one they ought to be taking. It’ll be interesting to see what the FDA privacy rules are, or the EPA privacy that you may have noticed, they just deliberately ignored a study that showed their mercury plant was poisoning several thousand small children. So, privacy is a no-no for them, unless it happens to be their privacy.
But what the PATRIOT Act did is it began to undermine the confidence in the Republicans’ willingness to treat people as individuals and to respect democracy. The library provision, the video store provision, which allows you to rummage through video store records without a warrant, to find – the FBI to rummage through any video store records to see what anybody borrowed at random.
It moved on to other issues. It moved on to the immigration bill we have, drafted by Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, tacked on to some other measure. The immigration – you know, George Bush reached out to the Latino community, and he actually picked up about six or eight points, which, if it happens again, we’re gonna be a minority party for a long time to come. At the same time, his party was drafting a bill which has passed the House, is on its way to the Senate, will probably pass the Senate and the president will have to decide whether to sign it – which not only makes it much tougher on immigrants and tougher on states, there’s actually component in the bill which rewards bounty hunters for going up to people who have last names that might end up in a vowel or a Z, and finding out if they’re illegal immigrants or not. In other words, someone in the pay of the United States government, but without having to take a sworn oath, can come up to anybody here who might look Hispanic or like an immigrant, and ask you for your paperwork, knowing nothing else about you other than you may not look like I do. That is about to become the policy of the Bush administration. We are gonna remind the Latino community, and especially on Spanish-speaking radio, that that is the policy of the Bush administration.
But the interesting thing is it’s so far out that people actually have trouble believing that an administration could do that.
The final blow in the privacy debate was the Terri Schiavo case, because what that did for the first time was expose the Republicans as so in the grasp of religious zealotry, and so willing to pander, that, as is always the case with panderers, they pander themselves right past the people they were actually hoping to pander to. The spectacle of Tom DeLay, burdened with ethics investigations and unpleasant findings for him, those ethics investigations, dictating to this family that was in terrible crisis and terrible tragedy, what the outcome of this tragedy would be, was, I think, something that’s gonna unnerve Americans for a long time.
And the polling, for me, was stunning. Not only did most Americans believe that the government ought not to interfere in an incredibly difficult and private situation like this, but the majority of evangelical Christians felt that the government had no business in making these kinds of decisions. It made me think a lot about privacy and about what Americans have endured since 9/11.
During the campaign, when I was running for president, I was running against five people, all of whom voted for the PATRIOT Act. I never criticized them for that. The reason I never criticized them for that, as I said during the campaign, was, first of all, I wasn’t there and I didn’t have to vote, and so, I thought, in that case, it would be a little hypocritical for me to criticize them, although I didn’t mind criticizing them for the war, because I was very clear about what was going on there. But this one, it’s easy to make the case six months down the line. The reason I didn’t criticize them – it’s not so easy to know what you would do having just seen 3,000 people incinerated not far from Washington, in fact, several hundred people losing their lives across the river in Washington. Not so hard to imagine that you might succumb to the incredible emotion of the moment and pass legislation that might be a gross invasion of privacy. So, I didn’t criticize them for that.
But I did often think about the other things we had done. A very unpleasant chapter that did not reflect well on President Roosevelt was the internment of the Japanese during World War II. It was a gross injustice. It lasted far longer than it should have. I understand why it happened, because it was the worst part of human nature reacting against fear and the pain of loss, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the terrible sacrifices the American people were making afterwards in World War II. That led to the loss of judgment, and therefore, the loss of balance that we see in acts like the internment acts or the PATRIOT Act.
There was another shameful episode, which I’m sure that anybody in here who has anything to do with the ACLU is aware of, and that is the early part of American history, where John Adams signed the Alien – and promoted the Alien and Sedition Acts because he was uncomfortable with the amount of criticism he was receiving in the press. That was repealed when Thomas Jefferson took office.
But there are lots of times when we don’t always behave the way we would like to behave when we look back at our behavior, or would have liked to behave when we look back at our behavior six months down the line. We are human beings. We – no matter where we are on the political spectrum – are subjected to the same feelings, and sometimes irrationalities and fear as anybody else is.
But the Terri Schiavo case, in many ways, is an extraordinary lesson, because everybody has to go through something like what that family went through. The circumstances were unusual, a terrible disagreement in the family, terrible court cases, publicity as a result. But the thing that we have in common is that we’re all born, and we’re all – and we all die, and therefore, there’s very, very few families in America who can’t relate to what was going on, and the terrible pain that was being inflicted on that family, and the politicization of their dilemma. It also made me think about some other aspects of privacy and American belief in individualism that I think are inimical to the recovery of the Democratic Party.
There are two things that we’re gonna do over the next two years in the DNC. The first is that we’re gonna get organized in all 50 states. We’re gonna put people on the ground now in all 50 states so that we can fight again. You can’t win the presidency if you’re an 18-state party. You have to win the presidency by appealing to all Americans. [Applause.] So, we’re sending people out – actually, we’re sending money out. We want you to hire your own people from Minnesota. Because, one of the things that was so extraordinary about this race is that we actually did better than Democrats have done in a long, long time. We had an extraordinary grassroots organization. A lot of people came here to Minnesota to knock on doors. The problem is, they [the GOP] had people from Minnesota talking to their neighbors. Their grassroots organization – even though ours was wonderful, theirs was still better. They started early, they had local people talking to local people. Those are the kinds of things we have to do, and we’re going to start early and build now.
We need four-year campaigns, not eight-month campaigns, and we need to focus [applause] – and we need to focus on local offices, not just the presidency. It matters. [Applause.] It matters a lot what happens to R.T. Rybak. [Mayor of Minneapolis, who had been a Dean supporter in ’03-’04. Dean may have just come close to violating the “no endorsements” rule for national party officials, since Rybak was being challenged for reelection by another Democrat in ’05, and party officials are supposed to remain neutral in those types of contests. ed.] It matters a lot what happens to the local Congresspeople. It matters an awful lot what happens to school boards and what happens in city councils, even though those are non-partisan offices. It matters a lot.
I actually – when I was – after I dropped out of the presidential race, I started a group called Democracy for America, and we – one of the things we wanted to do is get people to run for office, and a whole bunch of people did. So, actually, they were quite successful, for people who had never run before, and I campaigned for some of them, and one of the people I campaigned for was running for Library Trustee. [Faint laughter.] And one of the rather cynical – as they all are – Washington reporters said, “Well, what are you doing? You’re a former presidential candidate. You’re campaigning for a guy running for Library Trustee?” And I said, “Look, it is incredibly important to this country that we have people who run libraries that actually believe in reading books instead of burning them.” [Applause. Cheering.] So I want some of you to run out and run for Library Trustee before we get done here. [Laughter.]
But I also began to think, in addition to how privacy had an effect, and how we needed to reorganize to be in 50 states, I began to think about our message. And I suspect this is a fairly liberal audience, and I want to try this out on you, because the first issue we looked at was another issue that had an enormous amount to do with privacy, and the issue – and that’s the issue of abortion. I think we need to talk differently about abortion, and let me tell you what I mean. We get pushed into a corner by the Republican propaganda machine, forced to debate and defend positions that aren’t our positions. I don’t know anybody in America who’s pro-abortion. I don’t. [Applause.] I don’t know anybody who says, “Oh, I can’t wait to go out and have an abortion.” I don’t know anybody like that. And we got pushed into defending abortion as a moral issue. Now, I’m not prepared to say people who have an abortion are immoral. I don’t think that’s true. But I don’t know anybody who’s ever been in a position, who didn’t think it was a very difficult decision to make.
We need to talk differently about this issue, and I’ll tell you what I mean. When I was running for the Democratic National Committee, I used to talk to a lot of people all over the country who are Democrats, including women, who said, “Oh, I’m pro-life. I don’t like abortion. I would never have one, I don’t think my daughters should ever have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, and had that choice to make, I’m not sure I should be the one to tell her what she should do.” [Applause.] Now, we call that woman “pro-choice,” but she calls herself “pro-life.” So, the minute that we start talking about “pro-choice vs. pro-life,” we lose her, because she defines herself as “pro-life,” even though we try to say that she’s really pro-choice. I’d like to – if I could strike the words “choice” and “abortion” out of the lexicon of our party, I would, because the debate is not about whether abortion is a good thing or not. The debate – and the difference between the parties – is we believe a woman has a right to make up her own mind about health care, and they believe Tom DeLay and the boys in Congress should be making up that woman’s right for her health care. [Applause. Cheering.]
Now, the minute – the minute the debate becomes about, not whether abortion’s a good thing or a bad thing, the minute the debate becomes about whether a woman has the right to make up her own mind, all of a sudden, that woman who says she’s pro-life in Kentucky, she gets it. Because there’s not a woman in America who hasn’t had somebody try to make up their mind for them once in a while, especially politicians. So we need to change this debate and reframe the issue. The person who frames the issue is the person who wins the debate, and they have been kicking our butt for a long time, because we have not framed the issues ourselves. [Applause.]
We need to stop being afraid of talking about morality and moral values. The truth is, I truly believe that this country’s a Democratic country, not with a small D, but with a big D, a Democratic Party country. How can I say that after we’ve just lost two elections, and we don’t have a majority in the House or the Senate, and the court is drifting further and further to the right? Because if you take a checklist of, say, the 25 issues that are most important to most Americans, and you strip that checklist of either sides propaganda, and you strip that checklist of the words “Republican” or “Democrat”, and you just go right down the issues, “How do you feel about this position or that position on this particular issue?” we win a lot of those. In fact, we win a significant majority on those issues.
How come we don’t win elections? ‘Cause we’re afraid to talk about what we think, and we let them control the debate. Moral values matter. I’m gonna tell you about a poll I saw a couple months ago. It was the best poll, the most important poll I’ve seen in ten years. This was a poll about – we actually asked the pollster to do this. We have a new pollster. He’s a young – about 32-year-old African-American guy in Washington [Cornell Belcher] who’s one of the best pollsters I’ve ever met, and he’s not been doing it that long. At 32, he couldn’t be.
And we asked him to do a faith-based voting poll. “How does faith inform your voting?” We wanted to know. It’s important. That stuff was interesting enough. It was the same stuff you could have gotten if you’d read six papers.
But the stuff that was so fascinating was this. He divided Americans into roughly four groups. This was a poll – an eight-state poll, and they were all Red States, ‘cause this is what we need to improve in.
And the first group was – he called “Merlot Democrats.” That’s probably most of us. [Laughter.] I don’t drink, but I’m a “Merlot Democrat.” [Laughter.] We’re a little better educated than most people in the electorate, we make a little more money for the most part, than most people in the electorate, although we’re certainly not the wealthiest. We’re very issues-based, we – it matters a lot what the candidates say about the issues. We voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.
The next group is – he calls the “Pocketbook Patriots.” These are independent-minded people. They make a little more money, but they voted for John Kerry. Not by a lot, but they did, because they were very worried about things like the deficit and the economy, and they didn’t care a whole lot about the social issues.
The next group were the “Reliable Republicans.” This was the highest income group in the country, and these were the groups that belong in the country clubs, and all they care about were the tax cuts. If they got a big one, they vote for the guy who gave them the tax cut, and they vote Republican, always.
And the last groups was the one I wanted to talk to you about for a second, because it’s the most interesting, and it’s the one that drives us Merlot Democrats crazy. This is a group of 27 percent of Americans, who has the lowest income of the roughly quarter groups, quarters of Americans. They have the highest anxiety that I have ever seen in a poll around economic issues. If you go on a 1-to-10 scale, 7.5, 8, it’s pretty high. These people are 8.5 to 9.5 on their job going to China, on what happens if they lose their health care, because they are only one medical emergency away from personal bankruptcy, even if they have health insurance, in a lot of cases, because their health insurance is inadequate. They are two mortgage payments away from losing their house. They’re incredibly worried about the economy. And they vote overwhelmingly for George W. Bush.
These are the people we all talk about. “How could these people vote against their economic interests?” I’m now gonna tell you. At the other end of a barbell-like distribution is 8.5 to 9.5 on moral issues. Now, at first, we all thought, “Oh, this is gay marriage and abortion. It’s not. That’s part of it.
These are people who are terrified at what’s coming through the television at their kids. These are people who work two jobs, and they can’t get home after school, or they’re single moms, and they’re very worried about what their kids are doing in junior high school and high school when they come home after school. These are folks who live in a county where the sheriff made a big bust of a methamphetamine lab two towns over, and they know that’s coming to their school soon. These are people who actually believe, in some cases, that the National Education Association has a homosexual agenda to teach their children how to be gay if they go to the public school system. [Laughter.]
And that’s why we lose, ‘cause we laugh. You know what the Democrats’ response to that is? “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s a ridiculous idear. How foolish can you get?”
You know what George Bush’s best campaign technique is? He goes into these folks between the Alleghenies and the Rockies, and below the Mason-Dixon Line, and says, “You know, those elite people, those elitists, bi-coastal intellectuals, they don’t respect you, they look down on you. I’m one of you. Now let’s go kick their butts.” And it works because we talk to them as if we do look down on them. We laugh, we say, “Well, we have a program to fix that: early childhood education, universal health care for kids, after-school programs.” You know what they hear? They hear, “Oh, we – we’ll raise your kids for you if you can’t do it. No problem.”
This is not about gay marriage and abortion, and it’s not even really about morals. It’s about fear. They are terrified economically. They’ve already essentially lost control of their economic lives. Now they’re concerned about losing the only thing that matters to any of us more than that, and that’s losing their kids. They’re afraid that they can’t bring up their kids in this complicated, difficult world, and they lash out, as so many people do in times of stress, and they lash out at whoever the president directs them to – which I think is one of the most shameful things about this party. ‘Cause the president, who himself is not a bigot, knowingly put gay people up there for them to lash out at.
We need to talk differently to reach out to these people. You know what our problem is? We think that government is all about policy and voting from here [points to head], and 75 percent of Americans make policy and vote from here [points to chest]. And until we start doing it from here, we’re not gonna win. You know what Bill Clinton would have said? [Applause.] You know what Bill Clinton would have said? We all would have laughed. He would have said, “I feel your pain.” And you know why Bill Clinton won, and he would have won a third and fourth term if the Constitution hadn’t been changed after FDR? Because he did feel their pain. We need to acknowledge these folks’ fear.
You know what we don’t need to do? We don’t need to change anything that we’re doing, we don’t need to change what we believe in, [applause] we don’t need to give up our commitment to civil rights for every single American, we don’t need to give up our view that a woman has a right to make up her own mind about her health care. We don’t have to change any of these things. But we do have to communicate to people who are afraid, that we’re with them, in the way that FDR did and the way that Bill Clinton did. We have to learn how to do that, and it’s not so easy, because what we want to do is come out with a program. “Here’s our four-point plan to fix this.” That’s not what they’re looking for. What they’re looking for is an understanding that we know how hard it is for them to do the one thing they’re really terrified of, and that’s raising kids and raising a family under difficult circumstances.
So, we have a lot of work to do. It’s not just about organizing, it’s not just about raising a lot of money, which obviously, we want to do, and putting people – and spending it in the states to make state parties stronger so we’ll have national organizations. But there’s a lot of good things going on, too. When I first took over as chairman, I went to – what I call the “Red, White, and Blue Tour.” I wanted to go to the Red States, because I think if you don’t show up, you maintain the stereotype that the president tries to create for Democrats, is that it’s disrespectful.
One of the things I discovered after I signed the Civil Unions bill five years ago, I went to – I was in big trouble, believe me. I was heading into my fifth term, running for reelection. Sixth term, I think. I was running for my fifth time. And people were mad at me. That Civil Unions bill had about a 35 percent approval rating. So I went around to all the parts of the state where they hated it, and I let them yell at me for about three hours. And then, finally, we got around – they blew themselves out, and I didn’t say “You’re wrong,” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” or anything like that. I just explained why I thought it was important for everybody to have the same rights. And they didn’t agree with me when we got done, but at least they understood, and they appreciated the fact that I had the courtesy – although they much rather I would have done it before I signed the bill rather than after – that I had the courtesy to come and explain to them in a respectful way why it was I was sticking to my guns.
That is what we have to do. We don’t have to change, but we have to be respectful of people who sometimes lash out out of fear, and then engender anger in us, because sometimes that fear manifests itself in intolerance and things we don’t admire or value, and that, frankly, aren’t good things for human brains – beings to do. But I challenge any of you to think of a time when you haven’t done the same thing, at a time when you were intolerant of somebody else because they had done something to you that was out of fear, or that you had done something out of fear or some other emotion in a difficult time. So we – I think part of this is not changing who we are, but being more respectful of people who genuinely believe things differently than we are.
I want to close this now, because I want to leave some time for Q&A, with a story about the only other thing that we have to do in order to win. We can organize. We can raise money. We can campaign. We can get everybody here to run for office, and I hope you will, or at least support somebody and help somebody in their campaign, or whatever. But none of those things are gonna be enough, as this story is gonna show.
When I was – and I apologize. Some of you may have heard this story before, but I don’t – not too many, I hope. I was running, and there was a lady from New Jersey who was very helpful to us, and she’d raised a bunch of money for us, and she did a dinner for me again, and there were some really big-deal people at this dinner who were all writing huge checks. And – a former Secretary of the Treasury, a couple of ambassadors, a former president of Harvard, a former president of Princeton. I mean, this was a big deal. And one of the guests was this woman’s 30-year-old daughter, who was a schoolteacher in Texas. And we were at the dinner, we were discussing the separation of church and state. Everybody was saying how important that was, and how the president was undermining that, and how bad that was for America. And suddenly, this young lady, the 30-year-old schoolteacher, piped up and said, “Well now, Governor, I’m an evangelical Christian, and we don’t believe in the separation of church and state. We believe this is a Christian nation.”
And you could have heard a pin drop, and all the ambassadors quickly plied their trade and was trying to get out of it. [Laughter.] So, we went on to talk about a bunch of other things.
At the end of the night, I was saying goodbye to everybody and thanking everybody for coming, and I went up to this young lady, and I said, “How is it that you happen to support me? You’re an evangelical Christian. You can’t possibly agree with my views on a woman’s right to make up her own mind about her health care and on – about gay rights.” And sometimes, like they do, she looked at me and said, “We are deeply troubled by your views on abortion and homosexuality. But we support you for two reasons. The first is that our son has polycystic kidney disease, and in Texas, that means not only can we get no health insurance for our child, we can’t get health insurance for anybody in our family, and we think everybody ought to have health insurance in America. But the second reason - ” You can cheer for that one. We ought to have health insurance. [Applause.] “But the second reason we support you, which is the most important one, is that evangelical Christians are people of deep conviction, and you are a person of deep conviction. And even though there are some things that you believe that we think are wrong, we – what we want to know is, if something happens to our family, or something happens to our community, or something happens to our country, that the people who are gonna be making the decisions to help us are not doing it out of political convenience or pollsters. They are doing it out of conviction.” [Applause.]
So, the lesson that I took from that is that it is not enough to organize. It is not enough to try to be like the Republicans, or do what the pollsters tell you to do, or do a lot of smart things, or having great stuff on television. It’s not enough to raise more money. It’s not enough to fight for four years. It’s not enough even to have everybody running for office. If you don’t have conviction about what you’re doing, the American people will figure that out, and you can’t get the votes that you have to have to win. The one thing that American politicians have forgotten, and the one thing that’s dragging this country down, is that there’s too many people in politics who believe that losing is worse than winning without principle. The truth is, if you win without principle – [applause]
The reason I signed the Civil Unions bill is because I knew I could get elected governor probably a lot longer if I hadn’t done that. But if I didn’t sign the bill, than I had wasted my entire career in politics. Because if you’re sitting there warming the seat, I don’t care if you’ve been there for 30 years, and you get a nice plaque in the State House because you were there for 30 years. What the hell have you done?
Once in a generation, a time comes for every politician. For Al Gore’s father, it was voting for the Voting Rights Act, and losing his seat in Tennessee. There have been people all over the country who have done that. Those people have contributed far more to America than anybody who sat there and got a career for 35 years and never really answered the bell when it came. [Long applause.]
So, what I would like from you is not only to run for office and all those things. I want you to do it with conviction. People keep saying, “I don’t want to get into politics. It’s too bad, it’s too ugly, you gotta do things you don’t want to do.” That’s what you’ve gotta do if you want to be a politician. I didn’t ask you to be a politician. I asked you to get into politics to save the country.
Thanks very much.
Question: Given Minnesota’s strong third party presence, what possibilities do you see for Instant Runoff Voting, either in Minnesota or nationally?
Dean: I’m a huge supporter of Instant Runoff Voting. [Applause.] I’ll tell you why. You know, Instant Runoff Voting is suspected by some Democrats because it’s a third party initiative, but I actually see it’s very good for Democrats, and I’ll tell you why. In a place where there’s a third party, where very progressive and idealistic people get maybe ten percent of the vote, if you have Instant Runoff Voting, everybody benefits. Maybe not the Republicans, but the Democrats and the independents, the progressives will benefit, and here’s why.
Just for the sake of argument, we’ll use the 2000 presidential election. [Laughter.] For those of you – and there may be just a few who’ll own up to this – who voted for Ralph Nader. [Scattered applause.] You had a right to do it in 2000. If you did it in 2004, shame on you. [Laughter. Applause.] But, for those of you who wanted to vote for Ralph Nader, you didn’t want – you were scared. You wanted to stand up for the principle that you believed in, but you knew that if you did, George Bush might be more likely to be elected. So it suppresses Ralph Nader’s turnout.
If you have Instant Runoff Voting, both parties benefit. Say Ralph Nader gets twice as many votes as he ordinarily would have, but they all – well, statistically, two out of three would go to Al Gore if we have IRV.
IRV also saves people money, it has the advantage of the same people who came out to vote getting to establish who actually becomes the winner, it requires a majority, so you need – you actually don’t get people who win with 42 percent of the vote.
It has some kinks in it which could be worked out by computer. They tried it in San Francisco. It works. They’ve tried it in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We’re actually going to try it in Burlington, Vermont next time. We just passed it. I think we ought to do it. I think Instant Runoff Voting makes a lot of sense, it’s incredibly democratic, it saves money, and again, it allows people to get a disparate voting view and to hear more opinions at election time, at the same time, ending up electing a candidate who gets a majority of the vote, which is what I think we should do in this country. So I’m – as I said, I’m a huge fan of IRV.
Question: What is your position on Iraq and preemptive strikes on other countries by the U.S.?
Dean: I think my position on those issues was well known in the campaign. [Laughter.] Actually, my position on Iraq right now is that we can’t get out, because if we do, we – look, I opposed the president bitterly. I think I was the only person of the major candidates that really did think what the president did was awful, was just bad, dumb policy.
And – however, now that we’re there, we’re there. So, here’s one of the reasons I opposed the president. It wasn’t just because he wasn’t telling the truth, it was because this is a part of the world that has no experience in democracy in 7,000 years of culture. And the idea that we’re gonna go in there, and in two years, turn everything around, and everybody was gonna sing kumbaya and elect a president was, I would say, naïve at best.
So, here we are now with 135,000 troops on the ground. We’ve had an election. It was modestly successful, I think. But we’re gonna stay there for a while, because if we leave, here’s what happens. First of all, we probably wind up with a Shiite theocracy that’s allied with Iran, which was always a much more dangerous nation for America than Iraq. And Iraq never posed a danger to the United States. That was a crock, and everybody who read the 9/11 Commission now knows that. Saddam Hussein was a horrible person, but he wasn’t a danger to the United States. Iran is a danger to the United States. If they develop an atomic weapon, that’s a serious problem. To create an additional half-a-country that’s now sympathetic with Iran, which I think is likely to happen, is foolish.
The second thing is, if we leave, the Kurds may become independent. If that happens – even though I’m very much a fan of national self-determination – if it happens, you’re gonna see turmoil in the entire area, because Kurdistan, of course, is not just the Kurdish portion of Iraq, it also goes into Turkey, Syria, and Iran, which will destabilize those areas. Then, there would be an additional war, and the Turks will be involved, and therefore NATO will be peripherally involved. That’s a huge problem for us.
The third, and even worst problem if we withdraw immediately, is that the Sunni Triangle will become the next Afghanistan prior to when we invaded, and that is where Al Qaeda will set up, independently, to begin to attack America again. So, the president has created a security problem for the United States where none existed before. [Applause.]
But I wish I could say we should bring the troops home as fast as we can. I believe we should bring the troops home as fast as we can, but we cannot do it at the expense of the security of the United States. And, I think – what I actually think is going to happen, which I think is – I wish it wouldn’t and I hope I’m wrong. I hope that the president’s incredibly successful with his policy now that we’re there. But what I think is gonna happen is, the American people are gonna get tired of having our kids killed one by one by roadside bombs, and sometime, well after this president’s out of office, we’re gonna have to bring the troops home. But this time, unlike what happened in Vietnam, where we have an authoritarian government set up that’s not a danger to America, what comes after is very likely to be a huge national security problem for America, and I think it will underline why, historically, George Bush will be the worst president, certainly in my lifetime, and maybe the worst president in the history of the United States of America.
[Long Applause. Cheering.]
Question: What are the Democrats doing to build up the media, and does the Democratic Party have a plan to beat the Republicans?
Dean: Well, we have both. How are we going to build up the media? We’re going to not buy any products that are advertised on Rush Limbaugh or FOX News. [Applause. Cheering.] However, there won’t be an organized boycott. I just thought I would mention that in case it had crossed anybody else’s mind. [Laughter.]
I do actually want to talk about that for a second. Political power, political economic power – you know, I really learned some lessons out of this campaign. One of the things I learned was the extraordinary behavior of Sinclair Broadcasting at the end of the race, where they had this company that owned 62 television stations, was going to put on this basic piece of propaganda, which nobody admitted it was truthful, ‘cause it wasn’t. Nobody tried to claim it was. They were gonna put that on in the last ten days. They got so much flak from a variety of groups that they – their local – they didn’t target the national advertisers, because they knew they wouldn’t fold. They targeted the local advertisers of any company who – or any advertiser who advertised on these Sinclair stations was boycotted, had pickets, the stock dropped ten points in a few days, and even these hard-bitten right-wing capitalists with deep pockets decided that they’d better not do this anymore, that they might get sued for breach of fiduciary duty. Now, if you can do that in ten days, and organize something like that, then there’s a lot you can do over a four-year period to send out our message.
Did you know, for example, those of you who subscribe to Verizon, that Verizon contributed to Tom DeLay’s legal defense fund? [Booing.] Huh? How about that? Did you know – this won’t surprise you – that 97 percent or 100 percent of the Wal-Mart family’s donations went to the Republican Party? Yeah. So these are things that you ought to know when you’re making your choices about whose products you buy and whose products you don’t. And you also ought to let them know why it is you’re making the decisions that you’re making. These things are online, and you can find out who does these things. The FEC records has stuff, information – there’s all kinds of interesting websites.
So, the first thing we need to do is – you know, we did get 48 percent of the vote. If 48 percent of the people in this country decided they were going to exercise their economic power to unbias the obvious biased reports we get out of FOX News, I think that would be a positive thing. And if 48 percent of us thought we had an interest in what we bought, that would influence the political behavior of these mega-corporations that are trying to run the country, that would have an effect.
Secondly, [applause], secondly, we need – you know, there’s a lot of really positive things that happened in 2004. We did actually did pick up a bunch of local seats. We brought about ten local legislative bodies our way. We lost four, so that’s a net gain of six. We picked up Colorado, the House and the Senate, Iowa, we picked up – Vermont, we picked up the House. I mean, there were some wins, some good wins.
But there were some other things that happened too. One was a poll that was the best thing I’ve seen about the media in a long time, which was that 50 percent – more than 50 percent of people under 30 years old get their news either from the internet or the Jon Stewart Daily Show. [Applause. Cheering.] Now, that – I’m actually not joking about this. That’s an incredibly positive development, because what’s – what the cable shows have done to the big three networks is about to be done to them by the net. And when you’re on the net, you see a lot of stuff that people make up, from every political stripe, from left to right.
But we are now about to engage in a huge social educational experiment. All of you took Social Studies in class, in high school, maybe in grade school. You may remember, I’m sure, that your teacher once told you, in some point in your career, “It isn’t that we’re trying to teach you what to think. We’re trying to teach you how to think.” Well, we’re now about to embark on an enormous national experiment to see if that works, because our young people are not going to get their news and be told what to think by FOX News. They’re going to see 9 zillion different opinions from all spec – all parts of the spectrum, some insane, some just merely crackpottish, and some reasonable, and they’re going to have to decide, based on how good their Social Studies course was back when they were in high school, what they really think is true. So, we’re going to see how important public education is, and how good it is.
But it’s an incredibly good development for the Democratic Party, because it’s democracy with a small D. Instead of having other people create their reality and try to shove it down our throats, we’ll at least be able to create our own. [Applause.]
Our plan – our plan for winning, we’ve already pretty much discussed. Be in every state. Stand up for what you believe in. Raise some money. And try to get grassroots people involved in the process. If you have something to say, people will flock to the process. If you don’t have anything to say, and you’re just trying to clone yourself to the next person over who won their last race, then people are gonna stay home in droves. And then, look for electoral reform when you can have it. I really believe that a lot of stuff can be done locally. People get really depressed and, “Oh, how can this happen?” when they look at what’s happening nationally. But locally, there’s a lot of great stuff going on.
One of the ways you can connect young people, which we did in Iowa, connect young people to the process, give them political T-shirts and get them to go out and do something that’s not political. We used to put “Dean Corps” on our T-shirts and have them go clean up streams in Iowa, or raise money for food banks, or try to raise money for school supplies in those districts where teachers had to dig into their own pockets because the school budget wasn’t high enough to adequately serve the kids. What that did was connect people – young people – young people have a very high rate of community service, much higher than anybody else, but they had a very low rate of voting until this last election, when they – I might add – turned out in droves for Democrats, which was a great sign, in addition, in 2004. [Applause.] So, the idear is to connect young people with politics. They see politics as something distant, especially federal politics. But they don’t see what happens in their community as distant, and they’re incredibly motivated and willing to work hard to improve things in their community. We’ve got to show them that the two are connected.
So, when you despair – one of the plans we have to win in 2008 is, turn people away from despair, which I think we have, largely. I think what we started in 2004 has turned into a movement, not a campaign, and ultimately, we’re gonna win some elections in the future.
The point is not to win elections, to be honest with you. That’s not why I took this job. I took this job because we’re going to transform America into the kind of idealistic society that it ought to live in and get it out of the cesspool that it is right now. [Applause. Cheering.]
And just in case there are any enterprising reporters, the “it” refers to the government, not to the people of the country. [Laughter.]
I can see that quote coming out already: “Hey! Did you see what Dean said?” Rush Limbaugh: “Blehlehleh!” Pardon me. “Ayehyeh! *Sniff!* Yahrahrah!”
[Laughter. Applause. Cheering.]
Not very dignified, but I’m not running for president anymore, so I can do those things. [Laughter.]
[Many thanks to Chris Saunders for emailing me this transcript - Crocuta.]