NBC Meet the Press with Tim Russert
March 9, 2003
FORMER GOV. HOWARD DEAN, (D-VT): What I want to know is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral attack on Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: A leading opponent of war with Iraq: Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. The former governor of Vermont is next.
MR. RUSSERT: The case against war with Iraq through the eyes of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Governor Dean, welcome.
MR. DEAN: Thanks for having me on, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: In the clip we used of your speech, you talked about the president using a unilateral attack against Iraq. In fact, that's inaccurate, isn't it? It would not be unilateral. There are now more than 20 countries signed up with the U.S.
MR. DEAN: Well, I'm not so sure how inaccurate it is. Tom Friedman used that word to describe his actions today in The New York Times. And Tom Friedman knows a lot about foreign policy. So although technically it might not be unilateral, the truth is this is driven by the president of the United States, and the rest of them are pretty much along for the ride.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom DeLay, the Republican leader in the House, talked about you and your candidacy and that speech, and let me show you what he said.
“'I saw his speech on C-SPAN, and I think it was outrageous,' Mr. DeLay said. 'He either doesn't know what he's talking about when he says we're going to take unilateral action, or he's seriously uninformed, or he's just misleading the American people and his party.' Dr. Dean disqualified himself for national leadership, Mr. DeLay said, by suggesting that the decision to go to war should be made by the United Nations. 'If he wants to be president of the United States, but subject the United States to decisions by the U.N., he lacks the sound judgment needed for responsible national leadership,' Mr. DeLay said.”
MR. DEAN: Well, I would leave it to the American people to choose between whether they prefer me in a national leadership role or Tom DeLay, and I think that would not be something I would be too worried about, the ultimate decision on that one. I do think that Mr. DeLay is not stating the case correctly, though. I have never said that the United States ought to defend itself based on what the United Nations wants to do. The case that I have made against the war is simply that this is the wrong war at the wrong time. Saddam, in my view, has been successfully contained for 12 years at a relatively low cost. We now have a huge problem in North Korea, which the president is claiming is a regional crisis.
I think it's an enormous world crisis which isn't being paid enough attention to. We still have the question of al-Qaeda, despite the successful capture of the number-three guy this week, of being vulnerable, in my view, to terror, and I don't think that this is the right investment of our international prestige or our troops. We can stop Saddam Hussein from doing anything for another 12 years if we have to without invading. And I think it sends the wrong signal to the world.
MR. RUSSERT: In an interview with Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, in January, you said this, “In a meeting...with 'Roll Call' editors and reporters, Dean said this if President Bush presented evidence that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction, 'Then I'd go back to the U.N. and get a new resolution that [Hussein] either disarms in 60 days or we go in.'”
Isn't that exactly what the president did in November? He went to the United Nations, made the case, and it's now been 120 days and Saddam Hussein is still not cooperating.
MR. DEAN: See, I don't think the president has made the case. I think what the president has made a reasonable case for is that Saddam is moving weapons around in terms of biologicals and chemicals, perhaps. He has not made a case for the three things that I think require or enable us to invade unilaterally or pre-emptively or preventively, as we are now calling it. He has not made the case for Saddam possessing nuclear weapons. He has not made the case that he has any kind of a credible nuclear program. And he has not made the case that Saddam is giving weapons of mass destruction to the terrorists.
If he were doing any of those things, I think we would have a right to defend ourselves, and we should go in. That case has not been made, either by the president or Secretary Powell, and I don't think that we ought to go in, if we don't want to use the word unilaterally, than preventively or pre-emptively.
MR. RUSSERT: But you used the phrase “weapons of mass destruction.” And what 1441, the resolution before the council provided, is this: “Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations...”; two, “...to afford Iraq...a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations...”; and, three, “...the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations.”
That was passed unanimously. What we have now is the resolution that calls for full, complete cooperation, immediate, unrestricted access. Do you believe that Saddam has given full and complete cooperation?
MR. DEAN: No, I don't. But I think we are making enormous progress right now. We are destroying missiles probably as we sit here. Every day that goes by we make Saddam weaker and weaker, and if we can make Saddam weaker and weaker and weaker, then I think we probably ought to stay on the course we are at.
Look, here's my frustration. We just said weapons. What I believe Saddam does not have, and what the president hasn't made his case for. The North Koreans have a nuclear program. They probably have nuclear weapons, and they have certainly sold missile technology to Pakistan, and perhaps others. We are doing nothing about that. We refuse to even talk to them directly about that. It worries me deeply that our priorities in foreign policy in this country are wrong and misplaced.
MR. RUSSERT: The president will say, “If you wait until Iraq has a nuclear program, then you've waited too long.”
MR. DEAN: But I'm not making the case that we should. I think if we—certainly he's had nuclear programs in the past. The
Israelis destroyed what they believed was a very credible nuclear program in 1981. I don't think what the Israelis did was a bad thing. If Saddam possesses nuclear weapons, he clearly is a threat. If he is about to possess nuclear weapons, he clearly is a threat and I've said that many, many times. Then we have a right to defend ourselves.
Right now, in my view, Saddam is a threat to nations in the the region. The United Nations' job is to disarm Saddam so that he will not be a threat to nations in the region. It is our job to protect ourselves. Going into Iraq has very little do to with protecting the United States of America, and that's why I think this is a job for the United Nations and not for the United States of America.
MR. RUSSERT: The president has said that it is a job for the United States of America because he believe he does threaten the national security of the United States. And they point Mr. Blix's, the chief weapons inspector, report of just Friday where Blix addressed 29 unresolved disarmament issues saying, “There's a strong presumption that Iraq failed to destroy 10,000 liters of anthrax that may still exist.” Ten thousand liters...
MR. DEAN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...of anthrax is a threat to the United States.
MR. DEAN: I'm not so sure that it is. He's s had 10,000 liters of anthrax presumably for a long time, but in the same report, Hans Blix also said that we were making good progress, they were destroying missiles as we speak, and that we had made significant progress and that the Iraqis were cooperating more than they had before.
Look, I'm not making a case that Saddam Hussein is a terrific person. He's dreadful. Going to war-if we don't want to use the word unilaterally, which I think it really is, although technically that's correct— going to war pre-emptively and preventively has a very high moral threshold. The other countries will look to us as an example of what is permissible, and we really have set the bar in terms of permissible conduct in this world in terms of international intervention for a while.
If we go to war preventively against Iraq, claiming that they make a case, which most of the world does not believe—most of the world does not believe that we have made the case that Iraq is an imminent danger to the United States, and I don't believe it either—if we go to war under those circumstances, what is to prevent China some years down the road from saying, “Look what the United States did in Iraq. We're justified in going and taking over Taiwan,” or some other country doing the same thing.
It matters what we do here for the long-term implications. I have no doubt that if we go to war next week or the week after that we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein and have a regime change and that our military will succeed. My concern is what this is going to do to the cooperation and the bilateral institutions and multilateral institutions that we've built up in this world for the last 50 years.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary Powell just said that the Iraqis had a very well-developed nuclear program in the mid-'90s which no one could find until Saddam's son-in-law defected and was enticed to come back to Iraq and was shot. David Kay, the lead weapons inspector in the mid-'90s, on this program two months ago said that if we had not been lucky to discover that nuclear development program, Saddam would have 20 nuclear bombs today. How are you so certain that he doesn't have a nuclear program?
MR. DEAN: I'm not certain. All I can tell you is that even the United States has not made a credible case that Saddam has a nuclear program, and if the best we can do is have this disagreement with ElBaradei about what the meaning of the aluminum tubes is, that is, I don't think, a credible case. Let's triple the inspectors. Let's continue to put the pressure on. Let's continue to demand cooperation and push and push and push. I just think that that ought to be something that we go through with the United Nations and not as a preventive or—I'm trying not to use the word unilateral even though I think it really is a unilateral war.
MR. RUSSERT: But Iraq is a state the size of California. You could have thousands of inspectors and he could still hide weapons of mass destruction.
MR. DEAN: You know, making a nuclear bomb is not the same as being able to move 10,000 gallons of anthrax around which could be done in a few tanker trailers or semis. Making a nuclear bomb does require some fixed facilities and it does require some, I think, significant storage capacity. I just find it difficult to believe that with very intense scrutiny that we could miss, with all the intelligence that we've got, a nuclear bomb factory.
MR. RUSSERT: In 1999, the inspectors left Iraq. They compiled this report, and it is replete with intelligence data about what Saddam possesses. The Council on Foreign Relations did an analysis of this report. And let me show you. “Does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction?” “Yes.” And then you were asked the same question by the Roll Call people. “I would be surprised if [Hussein] didn't have [chemical and biological weapons.]” So you would agree that he probably does.
MR. DEAN: Oh, yeah, I think that's likely.
MR. RUSSERT: OK. Let me go back to the Council on Foreign Relations. “Iraq has admitted that it produced 3,859 tons of chemical weapons in the 1980s, including mustard gas and lethal nerve agents such as sarin, tabun, and VX. When Iraq expelled the inspectors in 1998, it allegedly retained 6,000 chemical bombs, as well as 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas and some amount of VX.”
That is devastating evidence. With that kind of arsenal, why would you want Saddam Hussein to stay in power with control over those weapons of mass destruction?
MR. DEAN: I don't want Saddam to stay in power with control over those weapons of mass destruction. I want him to be disarmed. We're talking about whether the United Nations goes it alone or essentially alone or whether—excuse me, whether the United States goes it alone or essentially alone or whether the United Nations does its duty and disarms Saddam. I would prefer to work through the United Nations.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the United Nations says no and you have said that he has biological and chemical weapons, what would you do? You'd do nothing?
MR. DEAN: See, here's what I—no. Here's what I think is going on. The United Nations is looking at a significant amount of progress. Every day that goes by, we destroy more of Saddam's weapons or the inspectors do. My attitude is this has been going on for 12 years. The former Soviet Union were not run by nice people either. They did certainly frightful things to their own folks. We contained them essentially for 50 years, and they were a far more powerful nation than Iraq.
What we're arguing about here is not whether Saddam is a good person or whether he has these horrible mustard gas weapons. We're arguing about whether he's an imminent threat to the United States. I don't think that if a country is not an imminent threat, that we ought to pre-emptively strike against it. That is the job of the United Nations. I think Iraq is automatically an imminent threat to the countries that surround it because of the possession of these weapons. That is the job of the United Nations to make sure that they are disarmed.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the president has concluded and reached a different judgment that the mustard gas, the VX, the sarin, the anthrax is a threat to the United States, is he not constitutionally bound to do something about it?
MR. DEAN: Let's just suppose that I were the president and I—just for example—and that I came to the conclusion that it was an immediate threat, yes, the president is constitutionally bound to do something about it. The problem is that the president has not convinced the majority of the American people that that's the case. If you look at polls which I've looked at for the last week or so, most Americans actually agree with my position, which I frankly found surprising. I thought I was in a minority.
But I think as more and more guards—people get mobilized and people's grandchildren and children are sent off to Iraq, folks are thinking about this a lot more seriously. The most serious burden of any president is to send our kids to war knowing that some of them won't come back. Then you've got to be able to explain to the American people why this is a matter of defense for the United States of America. I don't think the president has made that case.
Look, I'm not arguing that the president is dishonest or is a person who's doing something that is unconstitutional. I'm just saying I don't agree with the president. My own evaluation is different than the president's, and I think the evaluation of most Americans is different than the president's.
MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday or Wednesday, nine countries vote in support of the United States. The French veto it. What should the president do?
MR. DEAN: Well, of course, I don't think that we ought to be going to war anyway in Iraq if the United Nations says no. So I would say that the president should not go into Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: What should we do with the 250,000 troops that are there?
MR. DEAN: Well, if I were the president—I don't like to answer hypothetical questions because you always get in trouble doing it.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, this is a real question.
MR. DEAN: No, no, no, I understand that and I'm going to answer this hypothetical question. Let's just suppose that, for whatever reason, I became president tomorrow, I would not withdraw the troops immediately. I think that would be viewed as a sign of weakness by Saddam. What I would do is lower the rhetoric and begin to talk in a more constructive way with the United Nations and the members of the Security Council and insist that the inspections go forward and maybe take the advice of some of our, at this time, antagonists in the Security Council and triple the number of inspectors and keep pushing.
Our goal is to disarm Hussein. I have no difference with the president on this issue. But the question is what is the means and is it worth what I think may be a fairly substantial shift in the entire way the world relates to each other—the world's countries relate to each other if we do this in a unilateral or a pre-emptive, if you prefer, way?
MR. RUSSERT: And how long would President Dean leave the 250,000 troops there?
MR. DEAN: You can't tell that. That depends on circumstances. But certainly, we don't want to ever send a signal to Saddam that we are weak or give him any opportunity to think that we are weak.
MR. RUSSERT: If he hadn't disarmed within a year, would that be too long?
MR. DEAN: Well, again, Tim, I prefer very strongly that the United Nations make this decision about disarming Saddam. I said to Mort Kondracke, I think we can get a resolution, and I hope we will get a resolution that says 60 days, but it's the United Nations resolution that's important here.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you giving the United Nations and, in effect, the French a veto over the security of the United States?
MR. DEAN: Never. Never will I do that. And that would be wrong to ever do that.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't that what you're doing, in effect?
MR. DEAN: No. No, because the argument here is: Is the security of the United States affected by what's going on in Iraq today? And I don't believe it is. I do believe that the security of the United States is being affected by what's going on in North Korea, and I am deeply disturbed that we're not paying more attention to that. For the president to dismiss that as a regional conflict, I thought, was a terrible mistake.
MR. RUSSERT: You would negotiate unilaterally, bilaterally with the North Koreans?
MR. DEAN: Yes. We're doing half of the right thing in North Korea. We are in an alliance with the Japanese and the Russians, the South Koreans and the Chinese, trying to get them to disarm. It's not been very effective yet, but I don't think that's our fault. But the North Koreans have asked for bilateral talks. I'm very happy to do that. My proposal would be that we will enter into bilateral talks, that they will agree to freeze their program now with verifiable inspection on the grounds.
We will agree in writing not to attack them and then we will begin the negotiation process, both sides agreeing not to alter their status, the status of the non-aggression and the freezing of the nuclear program until bilateral negotiations have concluded.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the North Koreans did covertly continue to develop their nuclear program, producing nuclear bombs, even putting them on the market, would you then commence military action?
MR. DEAN: That would be—I would never say when I would and would not, as president, commence military action. But that would be an enormous threat to the United States, and the reason I'm so deeply concerned about it is that if we don't act now and begin the negotiation process, we may be forced into a position where we might have to make a choice like that. That would be a very, very difficult thing. Taking on North Korea is not the same as taking on a third-rate military power like Iraq. They're armed.
They have a million people within 40 miles of the capital city of one of our most important allies. North Korea is a very serious problem and I think it's not getting the attention it needs to.
MR. RUSSERT: If, in fact, the French veto the U.N. resolution, the president commences military action next week or the week after, what will Howard Dean do? How will you comport yourself? What will you say?
MR. DEAN: Well, I can't tell you all the answers to that because I don't know. The one thing I will definitely do is support
the troops. I went down to Parris Island a few weeks ago; I met with some of the troops, had lunch with some of the Vermonters who are Marines. You always have to support American troops where they're in the field, and I certainly would. What else I would say I can't tell you because it hasn't happened yet and I haven't gotten that far.
MR. RUSSERT: But you would withhold any objections about the president's policy?
MR. DEAN: No, I might not withhold objections, but again, I haven't thought that far ahead. And that's one of the dangers of answering too many hypotheticals, is that there'll be a situation, it'll be different than what we imagined it might be, 'cause it always is, and then you have to react to it. But I can tell you right now that I will support American troops, wherever they are, because they didn't send themselves there and we need to support our kids.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about some domestic issues with Governor Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont—he's a Democratic presidential candidate— right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. A couple domestic issues, Governor. Let me show you a report from the comptroller general of the General Accounting Office last week about Social Security:
“Social Security benefit cuts, tax increases, a higher retirement age or a combination of those steps will be needed to fund the system in the long term...said Comptroller General David M. Walker, head of the General Accounting Office. ...Social Security, a pay-as-you-go system, is expected to start paying more in benefits than it collects in taxes by 2017. That is because baby boomers will start retiring and the work force keeping the system afloat through payroll taxes will dwindle.”
Would you be in favor of increasing the retirement age for Social Security?
MR. DEAN: Well, we already did that. And I think I get to retire at 66 ½, and shortly after that it goes to 67. I think that's a good thing.
MR. RUSSERT: How about moving it to 70?
MR. DEAN: I would want to think about that and look at some numbers first. Seventy is, you know, a long way up there. Let me just briefly try to tell you what I would do in 25 words or less about Social Security. First, I think you've really got to stop this incredible profligate spending. I mean, no Republican has balanced the budget in 34 years in this country. We've got to do better than we are doing. What I thought you were going to say when you read that clip is the CBO has just come up and upped the deficit to $2.7 trillion if the president gets his programs. We shouldn't be talking about tax cuts at the same time we are talking about a war that nobody knows how to fund, with the record largest deficit in the history of the
MR. RUSSERT: Are you still for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget?
MR. DEAN: You know, I actually think that wouldn't be a bad thing.
MR. RUSSERT: Where would you find the $400 billion in cuts?
MR. DEAN: Well, you can't do it right away. You can't do it right now. You've got to—we're in this really, really deep hole, and it's going to take some time. You know, when I was governor, I did this for—I was lucky enough to be in both Bush recessions, not just one of them. And what we did was we actually paid down a quarter of our debt to get ourselves in shape for the second recession, which I knew would come sooner or later.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you had a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, where would you cut? Where would you find $400 billion?
MR. DEAN: Well, you couldn't balance the budget this year or next year or the year after. What I would do is I would repeal the president's tax cuts for people that make more than $300,000, with a few exceptions, which we may have talked about the last time I was on.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, but you said you would use that for health care.
MR. DEAN: Well, I would use some of it for health care. You don't need all of it for health care. My health-care plan just basically expands the existing system.
MR. RUSSERT: And you would use that to reduce the deficit?
MR. DEAN: I would use the rest of it to reduce the deficit.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go back to Social Security because I had a chance to review some of the comments you have made over the years. And this was an interesting discussion that you had on CNN with Senator Bob Packwood and let me show you it.
MR. DEAN: This is an old tape.
MR. RUSSERT: “I think we should raise the retirement age about the year 2015—raise it by that time to about age 70.” And then Governor Dean said, “I absolutely agree we need to increase the retirement age. There will be cuts and losses of some benefits, but I believe that Senator Packwood is exactly on the right track, and we need to deal with the Social Security retirement age.”
MR. DEAN: Well, we've—I mean, we have done that partly. We've raised it to 67. Now, can we raise it more? I am not going to rule it out. But I think before I signed up for that, I'd like to look at the...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Packwood said 70. And you said you agreed with him.
MR. DEAN: OK, but, you know, how long ago was that?
MR. RUSSERT: Oh, a couple years, but that's all right.
MR. DEAN: Yeah, a couple years. How long has it been since Bob Packwood was in the Senate?
MR. RUSSERT: But that's...
MR. DEAN: Was I even governor then?
MR. RUSSERT: But if you changed your mind, why would you change your mind?
MR. DEAN: Because I am older and wiser and I know that you don't say things like that without looking at the numbers first.
MR. RUSSERT: And maybe running for president.
MR. DEAN: No. I mean, look, you're going to get to know me pretty well over the course of this campaign. You're going to find out that I, to my detriment and my credit, I don't often think about the political consequences of what I say, which is probably just as well. But the one thing I think that does make sense is I think we ought to treat Social Security more like a pension plan. It should not be privatized the way the president is talking about it. But I think investing some of the money into private investments does make some sense, as a pension fund, the way we run the states' pension funds.
MR. RUSSERT: But you could look at retirement age?
MR. DEAN: Yeah, I'll look at retirement age. I'll look at all the things that you have to look at, but I don't want to commit to retirement age without knowing what the costs are going to be and what the benefits are going to be.
MR. RUSSERT: You and the other Democratic candidates appeared before the National Abortion Rights Action League Conference a few weeks ago, and Kate Michelman, head of it, stood up and said this. And let me show you that tape:
(Videotape, January 21):
MS. KATE MICHELMAN: When President Bush sends a Supreme Court nominee to the Senate for confirmation, I fully expect pro-choice senators to filibuster any nominee that does not affirm that the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?
MR. DEAN: No. I have appointed more judges than anybody in this race, including President Bush, the majority of the Vermont bench. I don't believe in litmus tests. Now, I can't imagine any circumstances that I would appoint a judge who is against Roe vs. Wade but not because I would ever ask him that question. I never asked them that question in the 20 or 30 judges that I appointed.
MR. RUSSERT: How would you know?
MR. DEAN: Because you ask a series of questions designed to look at their judicial temperament and their view of the Constitution. And, believe me, right-wing ideologues soon disqualify themselves under those—you can tell that they're ideologically more interested in a particular point of view without ever asking how they would rule on a future case very, very quickly. I really want people to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and I have some deep concerns about some of the people that the president is nominating to put on the bench.
MR. RUSSERT: But if someone said that they believe that Roe v. Wade was not decided correctly, and they were nominated to the Supreme Court, you would not...
MR. DEAN: Oh, I would be very likely to vote against them if I were in the Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: But you wouldn't filibuster?
MR. DEAN: Oh, I might filibuster. I fully approve of the filibuster against Miguel Estrada because he has not given the information that they've asked for. You know, when you appoint a Supreme Court justice, you get enormous amounts of information about their past writings, their past opinions if they've been on the bench; in the case of Miguel Estrada's case, briefings, internal memos. He gave none of that to the Senate. I would have as president the opportunity to review all of that. I would never have to ask those questions about specific litmus tests and I wouldn't. And I never have. I have...
MR. RUSSERT: That's confusing, 'cause that's what you told the Brattleboro Reformer in January. Let me show you. “'I've never asked and I've appointed 60 percent of the judiciary in this state-what party people are a member of and what their views are when I've appointed them as judge.'”
MR. DEAN: No, not what their views—perhaps, that had to do with Roe vs. Wade or pending cases and I don't ask that. I certainly ask them what their views are. What I do is I pose hypothetical questions about constitutional issues. And there are two ways you get disqualified. One is if you pander to what my well-known prejudices are and the other is if you clearly are outside the mainstream and have an ideological bent. I want people who will enforce the law. I think this president is appointing people in this Federalist Society which I consider to be pretty far right, and that becomes a litmus test.
Look, I don't agree with Kate, and I was asked at the NARAL meeting, “Would you have a litmus test?” and the answer is no. But I can assure you that because of the screening process that I use, it would be incredibly unlikely that I'd ever nominate somebody who didn't support Roe vs. Wade.
MR. RUSSERT: That sounds like a litmus test.
MR. DEAN: It's not a litmus test. It's a package that you look at. I don't ask about specific issues, but I do look for judicial temperament, opinions, things people have written, and it all goes into one package. I don't want right-wing ideologues on the bench.
MR. RUSSERT: In that same speech, you said this, “'The president of the United States and nine old folks on the Supreme Court—five of who are so far to the right that we can't see them anymore...what in the world can they be thinking...?'”
MR. DEAN: Well, there's only really three of them that are that far to the right. I was a little unfair to Justice O'Connor and Justice Kennedy, but I really do think that Justice Rehnquist, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas are very, very far to the right. And I—that's exactly the kind of person that I would never appoint to the Supreme Court.
MR. RUSSERT: But nine old folks?
MR. DEAN: Well, that was a little rhetorical hyperbole which I'll have to curve as this campaign goes along.
MR. RUSSERT: Civil unions for gay couples.
MR. DEAN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the American people will accept that even though...
MR. DEAN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...they may be morally opposed to accepting homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle?
MR. DEAN: I think that—well, first of all, I'm not sure you can say homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle. I think most evidence is that homosexuality is genetic. So people don't choose a lifestyle.
Secondly, I think most people believe in equal rights under the law. What civil unions does is it says marriages between a man and a woman but same-sex couples may enter into a civil union and have all the same legal rights as people who get married—hospital visitation, insurance, inheritance. Vermont is the only state in the country where everyone is equal under the law and I think that's a good thing and I think most Americans believe that's a good thing.
The more important part in some ways is even if you disagree with me—I signed that bill six months before my fifth re-election with 35 percent of the people supporting me. Now, if I am willing to do that, that means that what I value in my political career is doing the right thing as I see it and change and not just being re-elected and re-elected and re-elected. I think that's one of the selling points for me in this election is going to be that I am not politics as usual, that I am going to do what
I think is right and sometimes the American people will disagree with me, but I think I did the right thing in that instance.
MR. RUSSERT: Governor Howard Dean, we'll be watching you on the campaign trail and be safe.
MR. DEAN: Thanks very much, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on “Today” with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. Then the “NBC Nightly News” with Tom Brokaw. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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