The Tavis Smiley Show
September 29, 2004
Howard Dean: Great to be back on, Tavis. Thanks for having me.
Tavis: I'm glad to have you on. They say that your friend John Kerry is a good finisher, he's a closer, every race he's ever been in, he comes from behind and wins. I'd say now's a good time to start coming from behind, wouldn't you?
Dean: I think he's gonna do just fine. I can attest to the fact that he's a very strong closer.
Dean: If he wasn't, I'd be where he is, and he'd be here where I am. He's a good candidate. He's going to do great. I think the debates are gonna be very important for him. Interestingly or not, because it doesn't matter much what George Bush said. He's a very good debater, excellent debater. This gives John Kerry the first chance he's had since the convention to directly connect with the American people, and once he does that, he's gonna win.
Tavis: Al Gore, as you might have seen, wrote, I thought, a rather nice op-ed piece in today's "New York Times," and there are a couple of lines in there that I wrote down, that I want to share with you to get your thoughts on. The piece, for those who didn't see it, was a piece that Al Gore wrote offering advice specifically to John Kerry on how to debate George W. Bush. And the former vice president writes, and I quote, "Be prepared for the toughest debates of your career." He goes on to refer to President Bush as a skilled debater who uses the format to his advantage. Um, so Mr. Gore is giving his advice to Senator Kerry. What advice do you have for John Kerry?
Dean: Well, I have an interesting take on this whole thing. First of all, this is an election about the reelection of an incumbent president, so there are two questions for the voters, not one. It was very much like the 1996 election. The first question is do you want to reelect the incumbent president? In 1996, the answer was yes, and Bob Dole never got a chance. This year, the answer is no. All those polls that you see--oh, blah, to talk about he'sóBush ahead, well, maybe it's a tie. Every single one of them says that people are not satisfied with the direction of this country. That means they'd like to give George Bush a pink slip. So now we get to the second question, the chance that Bob Dole never had.
The second question is, is the guy that's running against the guy you want to give the pink slip to your-- good enough to be president of the United States? That they don't know yet. So this debate, interestingly enough, George Bush is a very skilled debater, but interestingly enough, the most important part of this debate is not who wins and loses the debate. It's whether John Kerry connects directly with the American people and shows them that he can be president of the United States. If he does that, he's gonna be the next president of the United States, 'cause they'd already like to fire this guy.
Tavis: All right, let me ask you something that I'm sure is gonna get me a lot of hate mail, but it won't be the first time, and I suspect it won't be the last. But I was in a conversation with some friends the other day about this issue, and it strikes me as something that I can ask you about, because you are one of those politicians who happens not to be of African descent who's very open and honest about race relations, which I've always appreciated. And the conversation went something like this--if George Bush--George W. Bush were an African-American or any other person of color, in an esteemed position like the one he holds, perhaps the most esteemed, the president of these United States, and consistently went about the business of communicating with the American people by splitting verbs, busting infinitives, dangling participles all over the place, he would not be heralded and revered and lauded for being this everyday, ordinary, every man's sort of guy. If he spoke that way and came across the way that he did and did not appear to be a thinker, trying to president as a person of color, that dog would never hunt. Why does this guy get away with that?
Dean: Well, that is a very good question. I'd never thought of that before. You know, by his own standards, George Bush would not have succeeded. George Bush wants to use the word "quota," which happens to be a racist--a racist word that is designed to appeal to the white people's fears about people of color taking their jobs away. He once used the word "quota" when he was describing affirmative action. Well, by those circumstances, if you imagine an African-American president using the word "quota" and suggesting that was a good thing, you could imagine how he'd be pilloried. George Bush should have pilloried for using the word "quota," suggesting that there was such a thing, 'cause in fact, there wasn't. So you know, I don't know how it, race plays into syntax, I really don't, but George Bush plays the race card all the time, and I think somebody who's African-American did that, they'd be in a lot of trouble.
Tavis: All right, let's move beyond the race card then and talk about how it is that this guy stands up at the Republican National Convention and literally makes--I mean, some call it, you know, self-deprecation, you know, and making jokes at your own expense, and that's cute. I mean, I think humor works. I hope John Kerry uses some humor tomorrow night at this debate, but how does the president get up and make a joke about the fact that he ain't the brightest, that he's not the most articulate, that, you know, that he's this--"I'm not this. I'm not this. I'm not this." Yet this guy is our representative. He's the leader of the free world, but he can say those kinds of things and somehow get away with it.
Dean: Well, Tavis, I think that's actually George Bush's strong suit. George Bush's weak suit is policy. He doesn't care about policy. He doesn't know anything about policy, and facts don't stand in the way. His strong suit is politics. He's got a charming manner. He does make jokes about himself. People like that kind of stuff, and I think they'd like that about any human being, I have to say, no matter what color they're in, what ethnic group they belong to. People like it when people can gently tease themselves, and I think that's George Bush's strongest point. Unfortunately, I don't think that qualifies him to be president of the United States.
Tavis: All right, so let me ask you then how John Kerry avoids what trapped and tripped up Al Gore--never mind his advice today in "The New York Times." What tripped him up four years ago, and that is going into the debates being perceived as the guy who is the thinker, the guy who might be a more stately, the guy who might be a little smarter, but that did not work for Al Gore four years ago. So how does John Kerry avoid the Al Gore trap?
Dean: Well, you know, I don't like to give public advice to John Kerry, since I do give him a little private advice. One thing I've discovered in politics, if you give somebody advice privately, you won't be doing it publicly--excuse me, if you give somebody advice publicly, you won't be doing it privately for very long.
Dean: But you know, John really is an extraordinary person. All throughout the campaign, when I was kicking his butt before he kicked mine where it really counted, in Iowa, I kept asking myself, you know, this guy went to Vietnam and he served in combat. You don't go through an experience like that without having a core. When is he going to touch his core? And of course, in the last three weeks, he did, and I was much the worse for it. He does have some real deep substance and a real deep core of steel, and I think that is gonna come out. But my thinking was, if I were the person debating right now, I would ignore President Bush. Everybody knows that he's gotten us into a mess in Iraq. Everybody knows that there's less jobs now than there were. People don't want to rehire him. That's what the polls all say. I'd just make my case to the American people about why I should be the president of the United States, and I'd give them a sense about what they can expect from me as president of the United States. If John does that, he'll be the next president of the United States.
Tavis: All right, enough of John Kerry. How about Howard Dean? Tell me, how we do in fact take back our country and how we restore democracy in America.
Dean: Well, of course we want you to buy the book, "You Have the Power." But what it is, --there's a few juice pieces of gossip from the campaign and all that. But it's really a blueprint. It's about how the Democrats got themselves in such a mess, mostly by trying to be Republicans, and what are we gonna do about it? What we do about it is we get ordinary people to run for office. You know, when I was governor, I used to give talks to high-school students and college about how it was their obligation to vote. I think voting gets you a "D." I think you've got to run for office. You've got to work in people's campaigns locally that you like or in the presidential campaigns. And you've got to give money. I know you can't write a $2,000 check, but if you treat it like church, you give $5 or $10 once in a while. Half a million people doing that, we raise more money than everybody, uh, just by getting people to give us $5 or $10 once in a while. That's how ordinary people take back their country.
Tavis: You talk in this book about party discipline. Why are Democrats so undisciplined?
Dean: Well, we have a long history of not having party discipline, and we've always kind of always enjoyed it. You know, people like to think for themselves and be independent. We're facing a machine of right-wing ideologues who don't represent ordinary Americans. They vote in lockstep on every issue. I'm not asking the Democrats to do that, but I am asking on key issues that we vote together, even though we may have different opinions. There's not many issues like that, but for example the prescription drug benefit. That was a ridiculous bill that passed only 'cause a few Democrats voted for it. The Republicans couldn't get their votes, so we gave them the extra votes. It gives more money to the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance industry than it does to senior citizens, and they know that. We shouldn't have any Democrats voting for bills like that, and those kinds of things have to be enforceable from now on.
Tavis: The Bible says where there is no vision, the people perish. And one of the things you write about in this book is that Democrats have not done a good enough job of having a long-term vision and strategizing for the future.
Dean: People in Washington in general, Republicans and Democrats, haven't done enough of that because there's too much short-term thinking about how to get re-elected. We've got to balance the budget. That's a huge, long-term problem. We've got to deal with renewable energy, a subject, I might add, that John Kerry is incredibly good on. Because that's a long-term problem, and if we don't deal with it, then we really are going to perish. We've got to deal with foreign policy. I've been out of the country three times since I dropped out of the presidential race. People can't stand the president, and they can't stand us anymore. We were the moral leader of the free world from the end of World War I until the day we went into Iraq. We ought to be the moral leader of the free world, and we need to be cooperative. And John Kerry understands diplomacy and George Bush doesn't. There's a lot of long-term vision that John Kerry has that we're starting to develop. Now we just need the courage of our convictions to say to the American people this is what the right thing to do is, and we're going to do this, and we're going to make America great again.
Tavis: I've got a tight 20 seconds here. You also offer some advice for the media. You say it's not just Republicans and Democrats, but a role the media has to play. What are we not doing?
Dean: Well, the biggest problem with the media, which of course, doesn't really extend to public television, is corporate ownership, where the bottom line has become more important than the content of the news. So entertainment rules the day instead of news, and I think that's a big mistake when you mix the two.
Tavis: The book by Howard Dean is "You Have the Power, How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America" written by the former governor of Vermont, former Democratic candidate and now supporter of John Kerry. We'll see how Mr. Kerry does tomorrow night. Governor, nice to have you on.
Dean: Tavis, thanks for having me.
Tavis: My pleasure. Up next, Branford Marsalis. Stay with us.
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