Speech to the Conference at The American Prospect, plus Q&A
Washington, D.C. April 11, 2006
Dean: Well, let me just do a brief overview of what’s been going on last year at the DNC. We basically rebuilt the DNC, with a different emphasis on what we’re doing. We’re primarily now a grassroots organization. We have raised – we raised $57 million last year, which is 20 percent more than anybody had in previous year. And we’re raising – we’re gonna report a little less than $18 million in this quarter, which is a record for any off-year election in the first quarter.
We are spending that money – as has been evident in some of the newspapers – because we think there’s an enormous investment that has to be made. We’re way behind where the Republicans are. They, for a long time, have had four-year campaigns. We have ten-month campaigns. We now have four-year campaigns. We have people in all 50 states, we have – paid for by us, hired locally.
There are four requirements we have in order for the states to qualify for this. One, the people they hire have to be diverse, ‘cause states have not done a particularly good job – at one point, we had one Hispanic employee in the Texas state party. I mean, that’s – you can’t run politics like that.
Two, they have to be trained by us, multiple times. So, we bring them in, five states at a time, train them, and then they’ll come back, and we’ll keep doing that.
Three, they have to sign on for four years. They can’t get good at what they do and run off and do something else. They get paid decently and get benefits, which most political enterprises don’t do.
And four, by the 2008 election, they have to have a precinct – a Democrat responsible for every precinct in the country. Every precinct in their state, of course, but that means every precinct in the country. Somebody who’s willing to stand up and say, “I’m a Democrat, and I’m organizing this precinct, no matter how Republican that area is.”
I won’t go into the technicalities, although, this voter file, it may be of interest to the reporters here as well. We’re building a different kind of a voter file than we’ve had. The problem is that because campaigns have not been continuous in this country – on the Democratic side in this country – you develop a voter file, you pay a lot of money for it, and it disappears after the election. And candidates are generally very protective of their voter files. That may be good for the individual candidates, but it’s not good for the Democratic Party. Voter files do well when they get better and better, the more you use them. So, we’re building an online voter file, we’re gonna give it away for free to the state parties. They’ll set the rules of who gets it and how it can be used in their local states.
But in return, the candidates never actually possess the voter file the way they have in the past. We build it online, and then they can update, and every night when they put in the uploads of who their IDs are, we get those at the DNC. So, there’ll be some agreements about who can use what when, but the point is, after the election, we still have all that information at the DNC, and then the mayor’s races, the city council and the Congress and the governor and senator and presidential, ultimately all get to use it. So, if every city councilor all across America is using this voter file, which is the ultimate goal of this, by the time we get to run the presidential race, we don’t have to build a $20 million voter file.
The last piece of this is that it’s working. We have won – Haley Barbour decided that he was gonna try and take over the Mississippi House in between elections by appointing conservative Democrats to various state boards and commissions, and then running Republicans in their districts and trying to win. We beat him four special elections in a row in Mississippi. We won the mayorship of Mobile, Alabama. We won the mayorship of Tulsa, Oklahoma last week. We’ve won races in Utah and Missouri. And this is all grassroots stuff. These are not high-profile races. Sometimes we put a little money into the state party to help them, but usually, it’s just grassroots organizing. So, my philosophy is, you can’t win the presidential if you can’t win the city council and the mayor and the school board, and it’s a four-year effort, and it’s a continuous campaign.
The other thing that we’re changing fairly dramatically is fundraising. We are still doing a lot of work with big donors. We just did a great event Monday night with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, when we raised – well, the official number is $1.3 million, but it’ll be higher than that.
That’s great, but what we’re really pushing for is something called “Democracy Bonds.” We are getting folks online to give us $10, $20, $30 a month from their credit card, and we are getting, I think – I don’t know how many. We have a lot. Thirty thousand, now, something like that. Right? Thirty? Democracy bonds. If we have 30,000 people now, which I think is the number, that means we get $600,000 a month, on average. The average gift is about $22 a month. So, we average about $660,000 a month just coming in without having to do anything about it other than – other than – communicate with folks. And, you know, we have bloggers now, we have online – we have some of the folks from my campaign came over to do this.
And we communicate two-way, because the big secret of the internet, of course, is not that it’s an ATM machine, but that it’s a way to listen to a large community and kind of take cues from them and take the pulse of what’s going on in the country.
Because, the big thing about donors is, you have to respect them. You can’t just simply go out and say, “Give me money because George Bush is a terrible person.” You’ve got to listen to them, try to understand what makes them tick, and try to be part of the community, because as most of you know, but most people in Washington still don’t, is that online fundraising still depends on understanding that the online community is a community, it just doesn’t happen to be in the same geographic place.
The last piece I’ll talk about briefly is diversity. I think we have a whole different way of approaching race in this party, and diversity, and I’m working very hard for this. I think the party, intellectually, is mired in the late ‘60s for a long time, and we’re now building organizations, particularly of young professionals in the African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities. We just had a fantastic Asian-American summit in San Jose a few weekends ago. It was unbelievable, this place was completely sold out. We had 450 or something Asian-American elected officials from across the country. And, you know, we’re making very big inroads in some places. People are getting elected to city councils in places like Austin, Texas, Boston, the first Asian-American city – I forget what they call it there, city councilor, whatever it is. This was an at-large position in Boston.
I think the day of Democrats going in and talking about civil rights and Martin Luther King – you know, those are important, but half the people in the audience weren’t alive when Martin Luther King was assassinated. So, we’ve got to reach out in a different way than we have before.
The other thing that’s really exciting about it – and so, the staff now at the DNC, we totally remodeled the staff, we flattened the organization, there’s a tremendous amount of diversity at the senior levels, not just at the junior levels, and we don’t – you know, positions don’t get made at the DNC, either hiring decisions or strategic decisions, without people of color in the room, which I think is important.
But the other piece of this is that there’s a new paradigm in the country – of course, the voters figured this out a long time before we did – the new paradigm is that candidates of color are getting elected by white voters, not just by – the usual thing is, “Oh, yeah, you got an African-American, so they come from an African-American district, or a Hispanic.” We’re seeing people in – Tennessee is the example I always use. A guy by the name of Nathan Vaughn got elected in a 99 percent white district in northeastern Tennessee. So, things are dramatically changing. I said, “How did you do that?” He said, “I spoke about my values.” Voters are more and more interested in values, and less and less interested in ethnicity and diversity – excuse me, ethnicity and racial stuff, and the electorate is, I think, ahead of where the party has been. So, that’s the other big piece of the remodeling that we’re trying to do, is change the way we do this.
I think the complaint that we take communities for granted is a legitimate complaint, and that’s stopped. I spent my whole summer going around the major organizations of various hues in order to make clear, this can no longer be a debate about a place at the table. It has to be about a place on the ticket. And one thing I want state parties to do is to really make an effort to – now that we have a lot of senior people of color in the hierarchies in state legislatures, I want to make a real effort to push diversity on the statewide tickets, because I think that, ultimately, in this country, the voters – the tickets of our party have to look like the people whose votes we’re asking for. That’s the ultimate test of whether we’re serious about diversity or not. It’s gonna be a struggle, but I think we can do it, and I think we’re ready to do it, and I think the country, of course, is more than ready to do it, because the voters started doing it before we picked up the trend. So, I think that’s a good place to start, and I’ll be happy to take comments, questions, and rude remarks as necessary.
Question: Well, I’ll ask about something I read about recently that I haven’t seen followed up on as much as I thought I would have seen it. I guess I read in the National Journal that you had a meeting with President Clinton in his office, and that, according to this report, it said that by the time you walked out of the office, he was a believer, or he liked you better than he had before, or something, and I haven’t seen this followed up on. Can you talk about what happened in this meeting, and where it took place?
Dean: Sure. Meeting with President Clinton is not a big deal, I’ve known him – we served together as governors, I spent plenty of time in the White House when I was governor. So, you know, I think that this is a little bit dramatic. But we do meet from time to time. I just spent half an hour on the phone with him yesterday. You know, I think most people would concede – I certainly do – that he’s probably the most brilliant mind in politics, certainly on our side of the aisle. So, I wouldn’t take credit for teaching President Clinton about what we’re going to do, because he often has thought of things ahead of time, before I go to talk to him.
But we do meet from time to time, and a few months ago, I did meet with him in his office in Harlem, and laid out what we were doing. And he’s right there, he understands completely what we’re doing, and he was actually very helpful Monday night, because he laid out to this very large room of very big donors – mostly from New York, but there were some – people flew in from all over the country – what I was trying to do and why he was supporting it. And that goes a long way, to be helpful in the party, where some folks are – less than usual, less than has been - but some folks are hesitant, or initially skeptical about the grassroots strategy.
He told a great story about a preacher at the opening of his library who was a good friend of his, and confided that he’d voted for Bush. And, of course, I can’t tell the story the way Clinton can tell the story, but basically, the story goes that he said it was because of gay rights or abortion or something, he said, no, that wasn’t it, it was about something else, he said, no, that wasn’t it. The thing is, nobody talks to us anymore. I believe that if you want to have any – if you want it to be socially acceptable to be a Democrat in Mississippi, somebody has to be standing up and asking for people’s votes. There’s no reason we can’t ask for votes. Believe me, those people are taking it on the chin because of the Republicans, and we should be asking for their votes. Clinton completely gets this, as you might expect, and he’s been very supportive and very helpful.
Question: My first question is, in terms of this database – well, I actually have two questions, briefly. One, the database, and the Ickes database, and whether that will be – obviously, it’s gonna be essentially a proprietary, a lot of people think it’s gonna go to Hillary Clinton. What the issues are around that.
And then, secondly, I’ve heard some – from a person within the White House that they think that 2006 is gonna look like ’94 for the Democrats. Are you overconfident? No?
Dean: I’m never overconfident. I believe if you’re overconfident in politics, you lose, so, you know, I never – I believe we can win the House back. We’re certainly not gonna pick up 54 seats, but I think we can win the House back. We can win the – if we win the House back, I think we’ve got a decent shot of winning the Senate back. The Senate is always a little more independent, because it’s always more candidate-dependent and state-dependent, not district-dependent. The House depends more on a wave, and that’s what I’m trying to generate, a wave.
As far as the voter file, you know, I can tell you that Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with any of this. That was just speculation, which was unfounded. What Harold wants to do, I think, is build a big proprietary voter file. There are some legal problems with us using the voter file, because of McCain-Feingold, and there are some problems, because, I think one of the things he wants to do, which I think is a good thing, is incorporate lists from, you know, sympathetic organizations, let’s just say, environmental, women’s rights organizations, so forth kinds of organizations. That’s a very difficult issue for us.
The bottom line though, the DNC needs to have a voter file. We need to have a voter file, we need to have a voter file that’s available, and we have a relationship with the states, using the states as the substrata for building the voter file that nobody else has. So, we’ve got to do this, it’s gotta be owned by the party without fear or favor of whoever may be running the proprietary voter file.
I also consider myself a good friend of Harold Ickes. We also went through the wars during the Clinton administration. I think he’s terrific. I, you know, I wish him well in this, but we’ve gotta have our own voter file, and we’ve gotta be able to use it for candidates, and we’ve gotta have the candidates build it, and we’ve gotta share it with all candidates. And I’d like to make it free, and we will make it free. We’re raising the money to pay for it so we can make it available to candidates from all over the country. Harold, you know, is not gonna be running this voter file forever, and a proprietary voter file that we have to depend on is not the right way for the DNC to go.
That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t do it. I’m sure this voter file will be very useful in other capacities, you know, if there were a sequel to ACT, or something like that. But we have to have a voter file that we built, and that works, and that works the way I described it, which means that as you use it, it gets built immediately. Because, we’ve gotta end this kind of 30-year process of, okay, the day after the presidential election, the DNC goes into hibernation. Unless we win, and then the DNC gets merged until three-and-a-half years later. That is not a successful, winning strategy.
Look, my basic job here is to establish a long-term plan for the Democratic Party. You know, Chuck [Schumer] and Rahm [Emmanuel] need to focus on the ’06 races, and we’re gonna be as helpful as we possibly can there. But I’m focusing not just on ’06, but on ’08, and ’12, and so forth and so on. There needs to be a permanent, ongoing, well-run campaign organization that’s always campaigning. They have it on the other side of the aisle. We need to build it, and that’s what we’re doing.
Question: Will your data file be as sophisticated as the Republicans claim theirs is, with all these consumer lists, and being able to develop targeting by all kinds of identities and views and religion and so forth?
Dean: We already have that data. Terry got that data in before. It’s all commercially acquirable, and we did all that. The problem was, the platform was too small, and the folks at the state level weren’t trained to use it, and there were some kinks. There was actually too much data, about 900 data points per voter, so it became essentially unusable. But we don’t have to reacquire the data, all we have to do is update it and build a different kind of platform so we can make it work. And then we’ve gotta train the heck out of the people at the state level, which, now we have a great relationship with the state parties for the first time in about 30 years, and we’re gonna be able to do that.
Question: From technicalities to issues, I was curious about how you think Democratic candidates should take on the Republican Party on national security, since that seems to be the one issue where the two parties are, at best, tied, and usually the Republicans have the advantage. And, you know, there have been no more attacks since 9/11, and where do you think the – in a sound bite, what should the Democratic candidates be saying?
Dean: The president is weak on defense. Republicans – you can’t trust Republicans with your money, we’ve already established that, borrow-and-spend, borrow-and-spend. Now it’s clear that you can’t trust Republicans to defend America.
We need to be tough on security at the same time as using our brains, and convey the message that we will do that, and, you know, I think that the polling we’ve done has shown that we’ve had some success at that. But you need a tough message about security tempered with some competence, which the public believes the president no longer has.
Question: A related question about the security argument as it applies to Iraq. I found in my own reporting an interesting shift in the last couple months talking to military people, same people who would say, all the way along, “This was an unnecessary war, and managed really, really badly,” are now starting to say, “But we can’t afford to lose it.” And so, they are – even ones who are really critical of the war on almost all aspects say they’re suspicious about getting out. How does the party and its candidates – how do they handle the “What to do about Iraq?” Not who’s to blame for it, but what to do about it.
Dean: Well, I think there is some consensus within the Democratic Party, unlike most of the reports the RNC is pushing: “They don’t have a plan, they don’t have a plan, they can’t – they don’t know what they want.” That’s actually not true. We’ve agreed on an agenda, a six-point agenda, the House, the Senate, and the DNC, the governors and the mayors. And I think – here’s what we’ve agreed to so far, which is public. The Senate has already passed this, and so forth, the transition from the year 2006, the year Iraqis will take over.
I think the rest of it is a little nuanced, but there’s not a lot of difference between what Jack Murtha actually said – not what was necessarily reported – and where people like Joe Biden are. Obviously, Joe Lieberman’s the outlier in all this. But most Democrats are between Murtha – who did not actually call for withdrawal, he called for the implementation of the Korb-Katulis plan – and Biden, who is saying there’s gonna have to be a deadline at some point, he just isn’t willing to say just exactly when the deadline is.
The bottom line is, I think that we can’t afford to lose. I mean, this is one that, by the president’s definition, has already been lost. The president’s own definition of what victory is in Iraq has been sort of transmogrified as he goes along, and it’s really a meaningless position that the president now takes. So, winning, in my view, is simply not making it any worse than the president’s already made it.
I think the question the military guys are raising, although you’ll – you can certainly correct me, since you talked to them, not me – is the question of whether the whole place disintegrates into a civil war and becomes partitioned. One of the things I thought was really interesting, which I don’t happen to agree with, is that smart people in foreign policy, who know something about foreign policy are now talking about partition as something, as a potential – Leslie Gelb, for example. I’ve never thought that was a good idea, and I said that during the campaign, when I was raising that as one of the things that could happen that would be really bad, because I think it’ll destabilize the region, certainly eastern Turkey and western Iran, probably eastern Syria.
But I do think that this is now about – and the Republicans won’t say this, but you can see, in terms of what they’re doing – this is now about figuring out how to get out without making it any worse than it already is. I mean, the president lost this one when he got in because he didn’t know what he was doing, didn’t have any thoughts about what the consequences might be, didn’t have any understanding of what they were getting into. And the people who did have an understanding, like Colin Powell and some of the CIA folks, were just roundly ignored for whatever reason.
Question: I’m shocked to have been part of a situation where two policy questions were asked back-to-back, and I’m about to try to eliminate this dangerous trend.
Dean: As you know, Walter, I kind of like more policy questions.
Question: Yeah, I know, that’s the reason.
Dean: Wouldn’t want to disappoint anybody.
Question: You mentioned a fellow by the name of Joe Lieberman.
Question: An “outlier.”
To what extent is the Democratic National Committee doing things to make Lieberman abide by the results of the Connecticut Democratic primary, and to quash efforts – talk on his part that he might run as an independent?
Dean: We’re not doing anything. We don’t get involved in primaries, period. We just don’t.
Question: But what about candidates who say if they – who leave open the door and say if they lose the primary, they will leave the party?
Dean: We don’t get involved in that, either. That’s all matters for the – you know, we’re gonna support the Democrat, of course. Whoever wins is the Democratic nominee. But we don’t get involved in that. I haven’t made any phone calls about that. We don’t – the only role that we play in primaries is to try and keep the discussion civil, because we know there’s gonna be a winner, and we want the winner to win. But we have not, since I’ve been at the DNC, encouraged anybody, discouraged anybody. We do not push people out of races either. That’s something I feel strongly about. I think the Democratic Party has to work as a democracy. So, we just don’t get involved at all. Not at all.
Question: Can I just ask a follow-up? You say, “We don’t push anybody out of races.” Would the Democrats in Ohio have been better off if Paul Hackett was still running a primary?
Dean: I’m not gonna comment on that. He’s not running, and there was a big blow-up over that. Paul and I are very good friends, and he’s been very helpful to us in terms of campaigning for veterans around the country. So, I’m not gonna get involved with would-a, could-a, should-a stuff.
Question: Yeah, I don’t want to disappoint Walter by returning to policy – [laughter] – but I did want to ask a follow-up question about national security, now that you’ve given us the Democratic message – or at least, what you think it should be – on national security. I’m wondering what you think the party should do in terms of where it prioritizes national security in the election, you know, against the other traditional Democratic messages.
Dean: In the list that the – hopefully, Speaker-to-be – the Leader and I, and governors and mayors and I have agreed to, security is a very close second after honesty in government.
And the reason honesty and the corruption issue is number one is, first of all, we’ve been able to elevate it to the third-largest issue that people are gonna vote on, apparently, and secondly, it’s a character and a values issue. Values do win races. The last race wasn’t about moral values of marriage equality and abortion, but it was about values. It’s about a different set of values. As you – and I think some of you have seen the Cornell Belcher [the DNC's house pollster] polling results – we’re gonna speak about values a lot, and we’re gonna have values issues, issue-oriented pieces later on that are values-based, easy to understand values descriptions about – based in issue-oriented terms.
For example, I’m gonna push very hard to have either raising the minimum wage, or living wage, as part of what we want to do, because it’s a values statement about how we value folks who work.
I very much want a balanced budget as part of our easy statement about what it is we want to do, because that’s a values issue. I know economists think, “Well, maybe you don’t have to balance the budget,” and they’re probably right. But a balanced budget is a values statement. American families have to balance their budget, and they think politicians should too.
So, you know, I think we can make progress. Security is very, very important, but values are something that’s extraordinarily important, and we have such an enormous ability to capitalize on the lack of honesty that pervades the Republican Party from top to bottom now. And it would be a shame not to take advantage of it, since these folks got into office by preaching values, and we now see that theirs seem to be misleading the public about practically every matter you can think of, from Katrina, to Iraq, to Medicare Part D, spending money they don’t have, spending their grandchildren’s money. This is a morally bankrupt party on the other side of the aisle, and, you know, we aim to talk about our values so that we can make sure the American people know what they’re voting for when they, hopefully, vote for us in 2006.
Question: Governor, you talked about having to do something more than running around talking about “George Bush is a bad guy.” I was wondering if you could give me your assessment of the climate now. Is this just the president’s terrible numbers? Is this just Iraq? And how much credit do you take for having driven some of the portents that exist now?
Dean: We – look, when I got here, I believed that the Bush folks won the 2004 election based on two things. One was his honesty and trustworthiness ratings, which were pretty high at that time, and the other was security. And the way to get to security, which was the top issue at the time, was to expose the president’s say-one-thing – the Republicans in general say one thing and do another. So, we set out a year ago with the “culture of corruption,” talk about it, and everybody was great. The Republicans all got – I mean, the Democrats all got on the program. I mean, you’ve seen Rahm Emmanuel, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Schumer, everybody that got on the talk shows, we’d incessantly talk about the culture of corruption. It’s now become part of the lexicon, and it’s worked its way into the top few issues that people say, today, they’re gonna vote on.
Once the president’s say-one-thing-and-do-another and the Republican’s say-one-thing-and-do-another tendencies were exposed and ingrained into the beliefs of the American people, we could then attack the president on security. But as long as people thought he was honest and trustworthy, it was pretty hard for us to make a case that we were just as tough on security as he was. And now, we can make that case, because people simply don’t believe the president anymore. The majority of the people in this country do not think the president is an honest person.
Question: That was a strategic decision?
Question: Governor, Democrats keep saying that 2006 should be a year of transition in Iraq, but what if it’s a year of collapse like we’re seeing now, where things really spiral out of control? John Kerry has a plan that he came out with that basically says that if Iraqis don’t get a government, we should withdraw immediately, even if they do get a government, we should withdraw within a year. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on redeploy – what your thoughts are on that plan.
And two, do you think that the Republicans may try – or the military may try to pull some sort of October Surprise, wherein troops get withdrawn close to the election?
Dean: Well, I don’t think the military – and the military is there doing what their commander-in-chief tells them to do, even though the commander-in-chief doesn’t seem very interested in hearing their advice on the subject, nor has he for a long time, including before we went there.
I think that – first of all, I thought John Kerry’s piece was very good.
Secondly, I think there’ll be some dispute among Democrats about those dates, but I don’t think there’s dispute about the general tactic that he was advising. I don’t believe he used the word, “withdrawal.” This is not about withdrawing troops from the Middle East. Well, not all of it. This about redeploying folks and dealing with this in a different way. What he is advocating, really, is some variation of Korb-Katulis, which is, put folks on the periphery, don’t expose the troops to daily attacks, don’t exacerbate the anger the Iraqis have over the search-and-seizure methods we have to use in order to rout out, and the air attack waves we have to use to get rid of insurgents.
But do have troops in the region that can respond to either regional threats or security, or our national security. It makes sense. Again, you get some quibbling about the dates, but I don’t think there are many Democrats who agree with the idea that – the president's idea that this is gonna be a problem to be solved by the next president.
An essential problem, which the American people realize, is the president got us into this without any idea of how to get us out of it. Now, he wants to leave it to the next president. Well that’s really great leadership. And so, I think the kinds of things that John Kerry wrote about, and others have written about, are eventually gonna be the course that gets pursued. This administration’s actually trying to figure out, I think, how to adopt our plan without making it obvious that that’s what they’re doing.
Question: I have two quick questions. I wondering – or I’m curious to know your thoughts on offering a censure resolution for Bush in the Senate.
And secondly, I wanted to know if you’d received a response from the RNC over your letter I believe you sent yesterday or the day before, regarding the phone-jamming.
Dean: I think we did, and he did actually give us the name of the poor person who was at the other end of that phone.
Question: Who was that?
Dean: We did receive that. Now, of course, we want to know what’s – what was said. The other thing we want to know is – and again, in regards to the article in the front page of the Washington Post this morning – we think the president ought to declassify the report that he ignored that came in two days ahead of time that said those trailers were not biochemical weapons factories or laboratories. You know, the president’s so big on declassifying information when it suits him for political purposes. How about declassifying this, so we can find out if he lied or not.
Does that answer – oh, the censureship resolution. First of all, I’m a big fan of Russ Feingold’s. That kind of came out of the blue. Nobody had any idea he was gonna say that, which I think is probably part of the reason that the response was, shall we say, not as well coordinated as it might have been. But in the long run, the president’s not gonna be censured, at least, not now, because they have a Republican Congress which doesn’t seem to think they have any oversight responsibility, and they’re not gonna do that.
So, the question is, do you want to spend two weeks arguing about whether to censure the president, and then lose the vote, or do you want to spend two weeks arguing whether the president’s defending America properly, or whether the president’s doing anything about jobs, or health care? My own view is, you know, given the way – makeup of the Congress, we’re probably better off spending the time talking about the issues we think are gonna be the winning issues for the Democratic Party.
But I think Senator Feingold is right to bring it up, and I hope – you know, we’re really confronting a government which oftentimes has appeared to have deliberately misled the American people, as they have in the Washington Post story. That’s pretty serious, especially when people lose their lives because of it.
Question: Can I ask a two-part follow-up on today’s Post piece? So, will you push your fellow Democrats, Reid and Pelosi and others, to pursue declassification of the report? That’s part number one.
And then, part number two, it didn’t seem exactly clear to me in today’s Post piece that Bush knew on May 29th what had been reported on May 27th to officials in Washington. If it’s proven –
Dean: Well, it’s either incompetence or dishonesty. Take your pick.
Question: If it’s proven that he knew, and that he, you know, lied, what happens then?
Dean: I think that’s probably pretty serious. Look, I would never say in advance what my conversations – or even after the fact. We do not leak. But, you know, I’m not going to – I have a very good relationship with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and one of the ways you keep a good relationship is by not discussing with the press what you discuss in private meetings. So, I’m gonna disappoint you there.
But we are gonna call, probably today, for the declassification of the report, so that everybody can see what’s in that report, and make their own judgments about whether the president and his administration is incompetent or just plain dishonest. But they have to be one of the two, because if this report is correct in the Washington Post, and we have no indication that it’s not – perhaps if the president thinks it’s not, he’ll declassify and leak some more information to make sure that it’s discredited. But the indication now is that the onus is on the president to prove that he did not mislead the country, and the only way he can do that is to declassify the report and show that it said something different from what the Washington Post said it said. If the Washington Post story is accurate, the president misled the country. He either did it because the administration is incompetent, they didn’t get him the information he needed when he made his statement, or he did it deliberately, and those are both very, very serious.
Question: Governor, one question, actually, by way of the blog DailyKos. How concerned are you and others at the DNC about Diebold voting machines –
Dean: Very concerned.
Question: And other issues of voting fraud?
Dean: Very concerned. I am actually calling Democratic public officials – I called one yesterday – to try to head off the use of these machines. We spent half-a-million dollars after the election with a task force headed by Donna Brazile, but made up of academics that were relatively neutral and very careful, to look at these machines very carefully. We concluded that they’re easily hackable, and that they cannot be verified, and they are not reliable. And we concluded that the best machine you could use is an OptiScan machine, because at least it has paper ballots along with the rapidity of the – and you still get the rapidity of the counting. There are Democratic officials who still use these because they get huge amounts of money from the federal government in order to buy these kinds of machines, and we’re not just simply –
Question: Is that the OptiScan machine?
Dean: No, no, the – to use the – they’re buying the other machines, the Sequoyahs, the Diebold, and all that stuff. I’m not an expert in these machines, although somebody did actually teach me how to hack one on live TV once, which was kind of fun.
It’s pretty shocking. No, you know, I know so little about the intricacies of all this stuff that I wouldn’t pretend that I could vouch – I mean, I did change the vote totals on the machine, but I don’t know if it was really – you know, it could have been a program that was very elaborate to fool me into thinking I was doing it when it wasn’t really doable. But yeah, our conclusions, these machines are not reliable and they undermine confidence in democracy, and we – and I, as you know, keep in pretty constant touch with lots of people in the country, many of the people who supported me for president are very much involved in exposing this.
They’re having some success stories. In North Carolina, for example, the legislature wrote the bill so that, essentially, Diebold’s unwillingness to provide source codes or any other kind of reliability disqualified them from the bidding. So, you know, we’re pushing back on this hard. Republican legislators seem to think these are great things. We don’t get very far in states that are controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, but we have had some success. And we believe it’s important to keep talking about these machines. These machines are a problem. This is not some internet conspiracy, this is a serious problem that faces American democracy. These machines are not reliable, and they shouldn’t be used. We should not be using machines in this country where the results can’t be verified after the fact, period. Any machines.
Question: Hi, governor. Do you have any thoughts on Sy Hersh’s piece on Iran and plans to use nuclear weapons?
Dean: I have not seen it, so I honestly can’t really comment. I’ve seen the press about it, but I haven’t really had a chance to read the piece. You know, I would – historically – this is not a comment about the Bush administration – historically, American presidents have not said whether they would ever use, under what circumstances they would ever use nuclear weapons, which I think is a good policy. However, historically, it’s been understood that either threatening to use nuclear weapons or using nuclear weapons, particularly as a first response, is something that could be done only under the most drastic circumstances. I’ve never heard about any administration or president talk about using nuclear weapons as a first option, and so, I would just say that I think the historic policy of the United States is a good one, and I think this president better follow it.
Question: Governor, looking at the web, and a lot of supporters you had through your campaigns, many of them are very critical of Hillary Clinton. Can you explain this?
Dean: I can’t. I mean, I don’t – I actually have a moratorium on talking about presidential – potential presidential candidates because I now have to be the referee. So, anything I say about one will have some impact on what I didn’t say about others, so I basically don’t comment on that stuff.
Question: You can’t discuss, really, why this group that was very supportive of you through –
Dean: All I would be doing is speculating, and that’s probably unhelpful.
Dean: Exactly my point, Walter.
Question: Governor, I’m here as part of a cast of a play called Guantanamo. We played it in the house of Congress last week. You may wonder what my question is gonna be about. What is the Democratic Party’s position on going to bring pressure on the Republican administration to bring a system of justice to those 475 currently detained at Guantanamo Bay and other camps around the world?
Dean: I actually don’t think we have a Democratic Party position. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about that with either Senator Reid or Leader Pelosi. I can speak for myself. I believe that we ought not to be violating the Geneva Conventions, period. I mean, one of the biggest problems that people don’t talk about much or write about much is the loss of moral authority of the United States because of President Bush’s behavior. You know, it’s quite amazing to me. I’m 57 years old. Even through the Vietnam War, America had moral authority. There were people who deeply disagreed with Vietnam, both at home and abroad, but, you know, we were fighting, theoretically, a communist enemy, and things were forgiven. I still think that, even in the Vietnam War, which was not a popular war abroad or, eventually, at home, America had moral authority because people understood what we were trying to do. They may have thought we were misguided. And even through the Watergate hearings, the system worked and the president was forced to resign.
For the first time in my lifetime – because I think it’s the first time since the end of World War II, which gave us the moral authority to be this kind of higher moral power in the world – we don’t have that moral authority anymore. People don’t think of the president – of this president – as the leader of the free world abroad. They think of him as a problem that has to be dealt with. I think that’s a shame, because this president doesn’t understand, and the Republicans don’t understand, that defending the country requires two things. It requires a strong military and a strong national defense, but having high moral authority is a great way to help defend the country.
And because the president has said – his people have scoffed at the Geneva Convention and waffled on what our responsibilities are, and persist in after-the-fact justifications, and the Justice Department – they used to be a relatively independent group of people who also had moral authority. This secretary, like every other cabinet department, just simply takes orders from the White House. You know, that is not the function of the Justice Department, to just take orders from the White House. The Justice Department is supposed to be somewhat independent and stand up and make moral and legal judgments about what people’s rights are.
So, without getting into the specifics of Guantanamo, which I’m not an expert on, and which we do not have a Democratic Party official policy on, I think it is very dangerous to unilaterally say we are not gonna pay attention to the Geneva Conventions, because it undermines our moral authority in the rest of the world. Our president, one of the president’s most tragic legacies will be the undermining, or the loss of American moral authority, which we will have to regain at some costly price in the future.
Question: Can I just follow up on that, because you just described your position. Why doesn’t the Democratic Party have a position on this? [Inaudible] national security document they put together this last week, or the week before, and it only has a fleeting reference to something it says, you know, international human, you know, respect for international human rights. That’s it. Not a mention of torture, not a mention of Guantanamo, not a mention of secret prisons around the world, none of that, all of the things that have made headlines. And if it’s such a transformational issue, since you’ve talked about, since World War II, you haven’t seen anything quite like this, why doesn’t the Democratic Party have a position? And why have you never talked to Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid about it?
Dean: I think – you know, there are enormous numbers of issues. This is not – I’m not trying to apologize for not being concerned about human rights. We obviously are concerned about human rights. But when you start talking about the things that worry Americans every day, it’s health care, it’s security, it’s whether your government’s corrupt or not, it’s your job, it’s your education. And the truth is, in our core message, at six, we may already have too many issues. I mean, you really need to focus like a laser on the issues you’re gonna run on. And it’s like Darfur. Darfur is a terrible, terrible breakdown of the world’s ability to intervene in what is clearly genocide. There can be no question but that what’s going on in Darfur is genocide. It doesn’t get on the front page very much, because in the immediacy of trying to figure out how to communicate with the American people about how – why they should vote for the Democrats, it gets dropped.
In some ways, issues like these – the environment didn’t get mentioned much either, except for energy independence, which is a big piece of it. Some issues are basically made for campaigns, and some issues are made for what you’re gonna deal with after the campaign is over, and when we have some ability to deal with Darfur, and the human rights violations that the president doesn’t seem to worry about very much, and issues that there’s broad agreement on, but just aren’t high enough on the screen – that requires education. Campaigns in general are not very good methods for – occasions for education. You know, I wish it were differently, but it’s not. So, we’re gonna have to deal with those things after the Democrats take power, and we have some ability to deal with it, but it doesn’t seem to be very high on the list of what most Americans are worried about.
Question: I have another quick two-part question. After a year now at the DNC, what are one or two mistakes that you have made?
And second, what keeps you up at night now? Not – you know, obviously a Republican sweep in 2006 would keep you up at night, but within the Democratic Party, what are the issues that you feel you don’t really have a handle on, or Democrats don’t really have a handle on at this point?
Dean: Well, I think we’re getting much, much better at the things we have to do. The key is, I believe we have to have a national message that can play in every district, and I believe there is a national message to be had. If you look at what Gingrich did in ’94 – and again, we’re not gonna pick up 54 seats, but we only need 20. Less than that, but it’d be nice to have a few extra, just in case.
What we need is a national message that plays all over the country, and the national message is:
I mean, look, I just laid out a six-point agenda in about a minute. That’s pretty good, but the Republicans keep pounding away: “We don’t have a message, we don’t have a message.” It’s repeated in journals of all sorts. It’s not true, but it takes a long time, when you’re not the majority party and you don’t have the president, in an hour, to set the agenda for the week, it takes a long time, it takes discipline, it – I think it takes 435 congressional candidates in 435 districts saying this 435 times a day for 200 days in a row. That’s how you get the message across. It is dull, it is tedious, and it requires absolute discipline. And I think we’re making progress, but that’s what keeps me up at night, because I want to cross the finish line, I want to get a majority in the House, because I think that’s something that we can build on.
Question: What about the mistakes?
Dean: Oh, God, there’s no sense in my listing them, because I’m sure you will.
Question: Governor, quite aside from the possibility of having a Republican Congress, do you think these examples of the president misleading the American people rise to the level of an impeachable offense?
Dean: You can’t know that unless you have an investigation. The investigation is not gonna happen unless – and maybe not even if – we have a Democratic Congress. But certainly, it’s not gonna happen now.
Do I think impeachment ought to be at the top of the list if we win? No. We got a big jobs problem, the president is a fiscal profligate and the Republicans can’t manage money. We gotta deal with that. I’d like to see some health care legislation. I’d like to see some ethics legislation, which the Democrats will do and the Republicans have backed away from, said one thing and done another.
So, you know, I know the right-wingers are using this as, “Oh, if the Democrats win, they’re gonna impeach the president.” I suppose anything is possible, but I would hope that’s not first on our list. I think that these other things are more important.
But I’m sure there will be plenty of investigations into what the president has done, and we’ll find out what’s really going on, and then we’ll make some judgment about that at the time, but again, I wouldn’t put that at the top of the list. There are some really important things to the American people.
And I think that what the right-wingers did in the Republican Party, in impeaching President Clinton, shows what happens if you use that tool with little reason. It doesn’t help your – you know President Clinton maintained 60 percent popularity ratings throughout that, not because people approved of his conduct, but because people strongly disapproved of using impeachment and trivializing the process. Impeachment’s a big deal, and again, that would not be at the top of my list.
Question: Governor, are you saying that if he did mislead the American people and all of these things, that it’s not an impeachable offense?
Dean: No, I didn’t say anything like that. We don’t know what he’s done, and we need to find that out first. And what I said was, I’m sure there’ll be some investigations, but I don’t believe impeachment would be the top of the list, unless the investigations show a real impeachable offense. But, again, I would not want to go down that road lightly, because the American people won’t tolerate it unless there’s really a smoking gun. And if there is, we’ll find one. But the American people have a list of things that have to be done, and we’ve got to deal with that list, and it’s putting the financial situation in this country back in order, it’s having an Iraq policy that makes some sense, and it’s jobs, health care, education, and retirement security.
Question: Governor, from where you sit, is the fact that there will be two caucuses between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary a done deal, or is this still open for negotiation as to whether there will be caucuses, and/or whether New Hampshire will have its traditional unmolested Iowa/New Hampshire role in American history?
Dean: Their – what?
We don’t molest anybody.
We leave that to the deputy press secretary at the Homeland Security agency.
We – I couldn’t resist.
You know, I can’t resist getting myself into some trouble. That is another example of a mistake, right?
We – what the commission has done, the basic work of the commission, the independent commission that was appointed by McAuliffe, that has been accepted by the rules committee in general. Now, what’s left is to figure out exactly which states might be added to the pre-window. But one of the things – let me underline – that the commission recommended is that Iowa retain its status as the first caucus in the nation, and New Hampshire retain its status as the first primary in the nation. So, that will – I don’t anticipate the rules committee, when they get down to the specifics of this, is gonna have a marked departure from what the commission suggested.
How many caucuses, which primaries, what might be added? You know, there’s some parameters in the commission report, but I think if you look at the commission report, you can safely assume that we’re gonna meet whatever the rules committee adopts or the DNC adopts is gonna be within the parameters of the commission report.
Question: So, in other words, there will be events between Iowa and New Hampshire?
Dean: Well, I think the commission report said one or two, and if there were one or two, they would be caucuses, so as not to disturb the New Hampshire primary as the first primary in the nation. And they would be – I think they recommended some – a later primary after the New Hampshire primary as well.
Question: Governor, you talked about the hard, dull work of campaigning in a midterm election year, and you also mentioned that you had not yet seen the Sy Hersh piece. But do you yet feel that rank-and-file Democrats may feel unsatisfied without some sort of response to what is being called kind of a “messianic complex” foreign policy in the White House? Do you think people are – rank-and-file Democrats are going to feel, I guess, the word I use is “satisfied”, that that kind of “hometown security” message is going to rise to the urgency?
Dean: Well, I think we ought to have a plan on Iraq, and there were published reports saying there was a disagreement between me and the leadership, and that’s true. But you can’t just agree to have one, you’ve got to actually develop one. Now, we do have – I mean, a more specific one than we have already. But we do have a plan on Iraq. I mean, people say, “Democrats have no plan,” that’s crap. I mean, the Republicans actually adopted our plan, the Senate resolution that was passed was put forward by Democrats. They wouldn’t pass the one we put forward, but they agreed to the transition language, and that’s really important.
But you’re seeing, I still think you’re seeing the emergence of a Democratic – a specific Democratic plan in terms of how we get out of Iraq and how we redeploy our troops so we don’t jeopardize our security. And we’re not all exactly on the same page, but we’re pretty damn close. I was – the Kerry piece, the Murtha – the real Murtha piece, not the way he was characterized, saying we should withdraw the troops, that’s not what he said – the Korb/Katulis piece, the Biden piece. All these people, who are eloquent spokesmen and know what they’re talking about, have views on Iraq that are pretty darn close. So, you know, I think – I would like to lay out a specific, “here’s what we’ll do under these circumstances,” but we’re really pretty close to that, and I think if we have a reasonable plan in terms of how to get out of the situation we’re in, then we have a plan the president doesn’t.
Question: Yeah, I just wanted to follow up, real quick. Stipulating the policy is there, because I agree, and I think the “Where’s the Democrats’ plan?” is kind of a smokescreen. But do you think the – what my question is, or what my concern is, do you feel that Democrats, kind of your base voters aren’t going to be kind of energized or satisfied with just specific plans, just knowing that a policy is there? That they know that the Bush White House is so dangerous they need some kind of energetic response that kind of rises to that level?
Dean: Energetic response that rises to that level?
Question: That rises to that level of urgency.
Dean: What level of urgency?
Question: That the Bush White House – they’re worried that, you know, are they actually gonna invade another country? I understand that the policy, that the specific policies are there, but do you think that – are you worried that Democrats don’t feel like – that their leaders are actually going to stop any further invasion?
Dean: Let me be very clear about this: We can’t stop anything. We don’t control the House, the Senate, or the White House. I mean, I thought it was so funny the other day when Bush tried to blame Reid for the immigration bill that didn’t pass. Our guys voted for it. It was their guys that didn’t vote for it. I mean, enough of this stuff already.
[Cell phone rings.]
Let me just see who this is. Oh, it’s Karl Rove. How about that?
I don’t know who it is.
Questioner: You need to get a Razr.
Dean: Yeah. So, I guess I don’t fully understand your question. Are the Democrats worried that the president might send us into war again? You mean, the Democrat rank-and-file?
Dean: Well, certainly some people are, because I read about it on the net.
Question: I mean, that the Democrats’ policy is that – foreign policy is very dry and boring and, you know, it’s – but the Bush administration is kind of making this into a black-and-white issue, and they feel that God is on their side kind of thing. How do you counter that? How do you communicate some sense of urgency in the policy without saying, “Well, we have to talk to China and make sure they understand” – you know, that kind of thing?
Dean: I think if we thought that this – I mean, I don’t know what to make about the reports that the president’s gonna, you know, bomb Iran and all that stuff. I mean, you know, he denied it, which, of course, given his credibility views among the American people, may not be worth much. I think that if the Democrats thought he was really gonna expand the war into Iran, there’d be some pretty vigorous discussion about whether that was a really good idea, given this president’s track record and his incredible blunders that he’s made, both on the military side and on the foreign policy side. I think there’d be a lot of consternation, not just among Democrats, if they seriously thought the president was gonna send them to war and use nuclear weapons.
But, again, it’d be pretty hard – and the Democrats can say a lot of things and vote on things, and I assume the vote would be very different than the vote that was taken before the Iraq War, because I think most of those senators felt that – you know, there was a speech George Bush gave in Cincinnati about a week before the vote, which said that this was basically the last option to avoid war. So, in retrospect, a lot of the discussion, “well the Democrats voted for this war,” well, a lot of them really didn’t. A lot of them were trying to figure out how to avoid it, and I think the case could be made, some of them who voted for the resolution took the president at his word, which people used to do in those days.
So, the bottom line is, I don’t – I think we’re gonna take a pretty careful look at the foreign policy, but I think the idea of a preemptive strike in Iran would be something that not only Democrats would be deeply concerned about, and likely to say something about, but I think the American people would be deeply concerned about, since the president’s mismanaged this one so badly, I can’t imagine how he – what confidence we could possibly have in the Republican Party to manage yet another war. Our troops are stretched to the maximum, the president clearly had no idea what he was doing when he got into this one, nor did his people. If they did, they were just shut out of the decision. And I just don’t think there’s any appetite among the American people, let alone the Democrats, to start another war.
[Many thanks to Chris Saunders for emailing me this transcript - Crocuta.]